'Virtual nose' may reduce simulator sickness in video games

March 24, 2015 by Emil Venere
Virtual reality games often cause simulator sickness – inducing vertigo and sometimes nausea - but new research findings point to a potential strategy to ease the affliction: insert an image of a virtual human nose, or "nasum virtualis," into the center of the video display. This screenshot is from one application where the user rides a roller coaster. Findings suggest the virtual nose reduces simulator sickness. Credit: David Whittinghill/Purdue University image

Virtual reality games often cause simulator sickness – inducing vertigo and sometimes nausea - but new research findings point to a potential strategy to ease the affliction.

Various physiological systems govern the onset of simulator sickness: a person's overall sense of touch and position, or the somatosensory system; liquid-filled tubes in the ear called the vestibular system; and the oculumotor system, or muscles that control eye movements.

"Simulator sickness is very common," said David Whittinghill, an assistant professor in Purdue University's Department of Computer Graphics Technology. "The problem is your perceptual system does not like it when the motion of your body and your visual system are out of synch. So if you see motion in your field of view you expect to be moving, and if you have motion in your eyes without motion in your you get sick."

Anecdotal evidence has suggested simulator sickness is less intense when games contain fixed visual reference objects - such as a racecar's dashboard or an airplane's cockpit - located within the user's field of view.

"But you can't have a cockpit in every VR simulation," Whittinghill said.

His research team was studying the problem when undergraduate student Bradley Ziegler suggested inserting the image of a virtual human nose in the center of the video display.

"It was a stroke of genius," said Whittinghill, who teaches video game design. "You are constantly seeing your own nose. You tune it out, but it's still there, perhaps giving you a frame of reference to help ground you."

The researchers have discovered that the virtual nose, or "nasum virtualis," reduces simulator sickness when inserted into popular games.

Findings were presented earlier this month during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Also working on the research are undergraduates James Moore and Tristan Case.

Forty-one test subjects operated a number of applications of varying motion intensity while wearing a . In one of the applications, the user navigates the interior of a Tuscany villa. In another, it's the white-knuckle thrill ride of a .

Some of the subjects played games containing the virtual nose, while others played standard versions. They were not told that the nose was there.

"Surprisingly, subjects did not notice the nasum virtualis while they were playing the games, and they were incredulous when its presence was revealed to them later in debriefings," Whittinghill said.

Findings showed the virtual nose allowed people using the Tuscany villa simulation to play an average of 94.2 seconds longer without feeling sick, while those playing the roller coaster game played an average of 2.2 seconds longer.

"The roller coaster demo is short, but it's very intense at times, spinning upside down, jumping across chasms, plunging fully vertical, so people can't do it very long under the best of circumstances," Whittinghill said. "We had a reliable increase of 2 seconds, and it was a very clear trend. For the Tuscany demo it takes more time, but eventually you start getting queasy, and 94 seconds is a huge improvement."

Researchers also used electro dermal activity (EDA) sensors to record electrical conduction across the skin, which is affected by sweating due to excitement, a proxy indication of simulator sickness. The measurements indicated EDA differences between subjects playing games with the nose and without.

It isn't clear why the virtual nose evidently reduces simulator sickness.

"Our suspicion is that you have this stable object that your body is accustomed to tuning out, but it's still there and your sensory system knows it," he said.

The research is ongoing.

"Our long-term goal is to create a fully predictive model of simulator sickness that will allow us to predict, given a specific set of perceptual and individual inputs, what level of simulator sickness one can expect," Whittinghill said.

Explore further: Study uncovers genetics of motion sickness

More information: Nasum Virtualis: A Simple Technique for Reducing Simulator Sickness, Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, 2015.

Related Stories

Playing a video game using thoughts

March 18, 2015

The start-up MindMaze has opened up a new dimension in the world of video games: moving with thoughts through a virtual environment or even directly interacting through certain emotions. Introduced earlier this month at the ...

Recommended for you

Microsoft aims at Apple with high-end PCs, 3D software

October 26, 2016

Microsoft launched a new consumer offensive Wednesday, unveiling a high-end computer that challenges the Apple iMac along with an updated Windows operating system that showcases three-dimensional content and "mixed reality."

Making it easier to collaborate on code

October 26, 2016

Git is an open-source system with a polarizing reputation among programmers. It's a powerful tool to help developers track changes to code, but many view it as prohibitively difficult to use.

Dutch unveil giant vacuum to clean outside air

October 25, 2016

Dutch inventors Tuesday unveiled what they called the world's first giant outside air vacuum cleaner—a large purifying system intended to filter out toxic tiny particles from the atmosphere surrounding the machine.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2015
Ha! Genius idea! Also hilarious that they were incredulous about the nose.
not rated yet Mar 26, 2015
The idea that video game research is the US economy makes me nauseous.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.