Friday, March 28, 2014

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Does Virtual Reality Literally Make Most Women Sick?

Jerri Ellsworth Augmented Virtual Reality

danah boyd has a very important post that anyone even remotely interested in the future of Oculus Rift and other virtual reality platforms should read this weekend. It suggests a fundamental challenge most people in VR haven't been dealing with (far as I can tell), and as danah often does -- being among the very best academics specializing in technology -- she obligates us all to think about the solution. Essentially, based on some preliminary research she cites and has conducted herself, she believes virtual reality technology like Oculus Rift might disproportionately make most females nauseous. Her key conclusion:

I’d posit that the problems of nausea and simulator sickness that many people report when using VR headsets go deeper than pixel persistence and latency rates. What I want to know, and what I hope someone will help me discover, is whether or not biology plays a fundamental role in shaping people’s experience with immersive virtual reality. In other words, are systems like Oculus fundamentally (if inadvertently) sexist in their design?

Read the rest here, especially the research which supports her concern. (I have some more thoughts here, related to danah's skepticism over Second Life during its hype period.) The thing is, I know several women who work in VR technology, like Jeri Ellsworth (pictured here) who co-created CastAR, the Augmented/Virtual Reality System. At the same time, the fact remains that VR is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Why is that?

My initial assumption: Oculus Rift is mainly appealing to men simply because the VR system is first being embraced by hardcore first-person shooter gamers, who are overwhelmingly men. But now I'm concerned that I have it backwards. If danah's concerns are borne out by more research, VR mostly attracts men for the same reason first-person shooters also mostly attract men: We men are much more likely to find these experiences immersive and enjoyable. While women (if this bears out) are much more likely to vomit.

I've seriously been thinking about devoting much or most of New World Notes to covering VR technology. But just yesterday, New World Notes writer Janine Hawkins told me this: "I'm very sensitive to motion sickness so I've always sort of written off the Oculus Rift as a thing I won't really be able to make use of." And if her sensitivity extends to most women, we all need to step back and look at this problem at a fundamental level. Because if VR is apt to make half the world's population sick, its future is very much in doubt.

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Saffia Widdershins

Well, people of either gender suffering from motion sickness might be the largest group to feel negatively ...

But there are people who would find Occulus Rift difficult in various ways.

People with visual problems, for a start - can you even wear it over spectacles, let alone people who have more complex visual problems who might need screen readers?

And can you use a keyboard while you're locked in to the headset?

Within Second Life, people who use translators to communicate - it's one of the key reasons why a lot of volunteer work is done in typed chat.

In a first person shooter, such issues might be trivial. But in an environment so carefully socially nuanced as Second Life, such issues may become seriously significant.

Clearly anyone who suffers from motion sickness may have a problem - these things are seldom clear cut and the continuum is unlikely to cut at the point of all men v all women - it's more likely to be, if this is a problem, many women and some men v. many men and some women.

But, yes, 50% of the potential audience closed out is significant.

One assumes that Facebook carried out due diligence on such matters, rather than going for the shiny.

Iggy

The violence of FPS games makes me want to vomit.

Let's hope VR tech can be used for other sorts of games and we can address any motion-sickness issues. One wonders if a wrist-band or similar might reduce the effects?

Adeon Writer

Not to discredit Janine, but has she tried it? VR has a lot of historical bad rep to overcome. DK2 addressed much of motion sickness, the final thing should be ideal.

Adeon Writer

(Of course there are also those who will get sick no matter what because they think they'll get sick, check out the term "nocebo")

Amanda76

Adeon, if you read her article you can see this wasn't just her opinion of the OR but her opinion based on research. She certainly has enough data backing her up to call for more research.

RULosingHair

VR Sickness is well researched, not only females are affected

Simulation Sickness and Motion Sickness due to Vitual Reality http://ht.ly/vaG19

The world's most advanced simulator, the NADS-1, located at the National Advanced Driving Simulator, is capable of accurately stimulating the vestibular system with a 360-degree horizontal field of view and 13 degree of freedom motion base. Studies have shown that exposure to rotational motions in a virtual environment can cause significant increases in nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness http://ht.ly/vaFYW

Video Game Simulator Sickness http://ht.ly/vaFVP

Oculus Rift is working to solve simulator sickness http://ht.ly/vaFTF

Oculus Rift Team Working to Stop the Motion Sickness http://ht.ly/vaFRQ

Ada Radius

It's not just Oculus Rift, though that would make it much worse. Virtual reality onscreen can cause it too - I've been doing design workarounds since I joined SL in 2006. I am a sufferer - migraine triggers, and nausea. It's mostly women who are triggered, but I've met one man iSL who did too. It isn't virtual reality itself, it's the same visuals and sounds that trigger it in RL - certain frequencies of blinking lights and rotating textures, along with same speed rhythmic sounds, such as police lights and siren. In VR they're a problem mostly at clubs and battle games. So a Second Life dance club at Christmas or a whup whup helicoptor with rotating blades firing particles can be hellishly awful, not fun at all, and I otherwise LOVE playing with attack helicopters. Every battle builder I complained to was more than happy to make adjustments (slow down the rotates and blinkies, usually) so I could play. Club owners, not so much.

Arcadia Codesmith

I think declaring this a problem that affects "most" or "nearly all" women is premature based on the available data set.

That said, any research that improves the technology to make it more accessible to more people should definitely be top priority. VR is a significant piece of the future, naysayers notwithstanding, and VR sickness is going to be a substantial barrier. If we can eliminate it early, it will help the field along.

Pussycat Catnap

@Ada:
"certain frequencies of blinking lights and rotating textures, along with same speed rhythmic sounds, such as police lights and siren."
****************

That can get people who don't suffer from motion sickness in other ways (that they know of yet).

I've not experienced motion sickness in RL (have never tried to mount an Octopus on my head so I don't know for VR)...

But the list you've got there is on my 'garish design' list. I see it sometimes in SL, and very often on the web in general. Especially in Asian web-design. Living in a global city I am exposed to foreign websites all the time, and designs from China, Korea, but especially Japan love brighter colors, more moving parts, and animated adverts - like a 1990s Portal website, but in Broadband. Can make one sick to try and read a page on such a website while a million things are flashing and moving all around the content - even normal portions like frame borders.

It doesn't take long in exploring mainland to encounter places using this kind of 'everything is bright, flashing, and moving about' design.

It makes me wonder what sorts of content people in the research were exposed to - whether the issue here is color, motion, or conflicting motion (things moving in multiple inconsistent patterns, or out of sync motion (like how motion sickness in a vehicle can be triggered by seeing movement that is different from what the body is feeling).

Pussycat Catnap

@Ada p2:
Every battle builder I complained to was more than happy to make adjustments (slow down the rotates and blinkies, usually) so I could play. Club owners, not so much.
*************************************
I often turn off glow and particles not just because it speeds up my system, but because some venues think 'garish' means 'more lively' and turning these two off can do a lot to make a place less visually jarring.

Arcadia Codesmith

Pussycat said: "out of sync motion (like how motion sickness in a vehicle can be triggered by seeing movement that is different from what the body is feeling)."

That's an important point. Parallex and shading are vital cues, but when your eyes tell you you're moving and your inner ear is telling you you're stationary (or visa versa), there's bound to be issues. And we haven't even touched the issue that men in general are culturally conditioned to ignore and suppress feelings of illness that women have no problem reporting.

Monalisa Robbiani

"VR mostly attracts men for the same reason first-person shooters also mostly attract men: We men are much more likely to find these experiences immersive and enjoyable."

What if you have confused reason and result in this one? Maybe shooters are enjoyable by men, because men are being told that, being a man, they sure must like it. So they spend a lot of time with their oh so masculine shooting games getting used to the experience while playing. Girls tend to avoid this kind of games, because, yes you guessed it, it's a male only culture. Then, when the men try out VR later, they are much less likely to vomit, not because they are men, but because they are already used to the VR experience.

On the other hand: Virtual worlds being populated my men only, half of them in female disguise, is that really something new? ;)

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