Here’s your UploadVR fun fact for the week: the headline for my impressions of Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s VR mission called it ‘Nostalgia-Fueled Comfort Food For Those That Can Stomach It’. I ended up going with a title that was a little different. Let’s talk about why that is.
I consider myself to be very lucky when it comes to VR sim sickness; I’ve only ever had it twice. My stomach once swirled as I put on an Oculus Rift DK2 and sat on a virtual swing in a child’s playground, and I had to remove the straps on my Gear VR unit so I could take quick breaks between attempts at a bullet-driving game named Drift. Other than that, I still remember being 10 minutes into my first VR experience – Half-Life 2 on DK1- and the kit’s owner curiously asking me “…you don’t feel sick at all?”
Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s gamepad-based navigation didn’t bug me once. I still utilize some of the best practices, like looking into turns when I use the right analogue stick and using the comfort turning when possible, but I walked around Lara’s mansion for a good hour and a half with free movement enabled and never began to feel dizzy.
Sadly, not everyone is as lucky as me.
Many other impressions of the level state that it’s a nausea-inducing experience. Before I sat down to play myself, I got a text from my brother-in-law saying that he had to stop playing it, and I explained to him that he might want to stay away from games with locomotion in them right now. Ultimately I pointed out in my piece that, while it didn’t affect me, there was a good chance it would you. Still, I took the stomach pun (as proud of it as I was) out of the headline because I wanted it to reflect the largely positive feelings I had about the experience.
As a fan of the industry, it’s frustrating that this is still an issue four years in. As a reviews and previews writer for a VR enthusiast site, it’s especially troubling.
Maybe this won’t be an issue in two or three years’ time but for now it seems like a problem without an answer. I think it’s a real shame seeing excellent PS VR launch games like RIGS get rated down because of their comfort factor, especially after studios like Guerrilla Cambridge go to great lengths to help tackle it, but at the end of the day critics have a responsibility to point out these issues if they encounter them. If you’re at a site like IGN, you can’t tell your millions of readers to go and buy Driveclub VR without warning them it might make them ill.
But how to warn them? Do you give the game a lower score? Should an 8/10 racer get bumped down to a 6 or a 7 because some people will take issue with it? To me, that doesn’t feel right, especially considering that some people may well be able to revisit the game in a few months’ time and have a much improved experience.
I feel like, as a VR specialist site, we have a little more leeway as to how we factor in sim sickness, even if we must at all times point out its presence. But how do you tackle that issue when you yourself don’t get sim sickness? I guess my answer so far has been to spot the design decisions that would be flagged up by many, and warn you that they’re there. But, unless a game is so intense that it’s unplayable for many – and I did give Drift a bad review because of that – I’d struggle to write something that largely damns a product based on its comfort factor alone.
Ultimately as a VR writer that isn’t affected by sim sickness I feel like I have a unique opportunity to speak to a specific audience that is similarly immune, as small as it may be. In an age where we encourage consumers to find the voices they trust when it comes to reviews, maybe the best I can do right now is let you know that about me and let that influence your impressions of my impressions based on that vital bit of information.