Enriched narratives reduce cybersickness in virtual reality depending on video game experience

Enriched narratives can reduce cybersickness in virtual reality (VR) for people with little-to-no video game experience, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Waterloo’s Multisensory Brain and Cognition (MBC) Lab in the Department of Kinesiology and the Games Institute.

Authors Séamas Weech, Sophie Kenny, Markus Lenizky, and Michael Barnett-Cowan posed the question: How does a narrative—the context and details that surround a virtual environment—affect your sense of presence (the feeling of “being there”), and cybersickness (nausea, disorientation, and eye strain in VR)?

The findings revealed a tendency for increased presence when a rich narrative context was provided, but a more nuanced pattern of data was found for cybersickness. Specifically, the authors report that individual differences in video game experiences strongly impact the way enriched narratives relate to cybersickness.

Increased presence was reported after the delivery of an enriched narrative context, although enriched narrative only reduced cybersickness for non-gamers. These results confirm that both factors can be modulated in a beneficial manner for virtual reality users by means of [narrative context] interventions. 

- From the article published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

Video games offered a powerful tool for these researchers to learn more about their participants, and allowed them to tap into a “highly complex relationship between narrative, presence, and cybersickness in VR”. They speculate that, while people with more video game experience are predisposed to less cybersickness, those with little gaming experience would benefit significantly from enriched narratives before immersing themselves in a VR environment.

The authors partnered with THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario, in order to run a large-scale replication of their lab experiment with an age-diverse sample of over 150 participants. Their results  found that, enriched narratives decrease cybersickness when participants have little-to-no video game experience.

According to the study authors, the results provide important insights into how the brain’s processing of multiple sensory inputs can be affected by high-level information, such as the narrative of a VR game. They report that those with little gaming experience are highly sensitive to conflicts between information in VR, and that for these individuals, “enriched narrative is expected to enhance presence and reduce cybersickness due to the decreased focus on… their own physiological response to multisensory conflicts in VR.”

The research of these University of Waterloo scientists and others brings us closer to understanding cybersickness. This will, according to the authors, lead to critical targeted interventions that change the way we, and our brains, experience VR.

Read a summary of the article on UW News

Read the full journal article here

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