My Monday post on studies suggesting that women are much more likely to get motion sickness from using virtual reality has generated a lot of feedback -- it's been shared dozens of times from my Facebook page alone -- so I sent a quick e-mail to someone far more qualified than me to talk about that topic: John Carmack, CTO of Oculus VR and an evangelist of virtual reality for some twenty years: "Since several studies suggest women are much more likely to get sick using VR than men," I asked him, "has Facebook or Oculus ever extensively studied VR and nausea by gender?"
"I’m not involved with any of our user studies," Carmack told me, "so I don’t have any insight there." He pointed me to Oculus' media contact, who I'm following up with now.
Does that mean, I continued, "that you don't see nausea as a deal-breaking problem for VR ever going mass market?"
Carmack's reply to that question was an interesting one:
"A properly designed experience with no forced body motion on hardware with good position tracking and optics will not be nausea inducing," Carmack told me. "A VR roller coaster will make many people nauseous no matter what the hardware. So no, I don’t see nausea as a deal-breaking problem for VR ever going mass market."
In other words, he's arguing that poorly optimized VR experiences are the problem, not VR itself -- and any nausea that does accrue is not that much different from a comparable experience in real life. (Lots of people puke from riding real world roller coasters, after all.) Other VR experts, developers, and users have made similar arguments in my Facebook thread, arguing that the cited studies were using sub-optimal VR experiences, for instance, or that the problem is more apparent in some headsets, but not others.
I'm skeptical of this argument, for two reasons: In the studies I cited, difference in nausea rates according to gender are huge -- 34 in one, and 45% in another. If it was simply a matter of poorly optimized VR experiences in the studies, the rates of nausea between gender would be about the same. And from a marketing perspective, just one bad VR experience is very likely to be a deal-breaker to nearly every single person who winds up throwing up -- especially when the VR industry is expecting those consumers to pay hundreds of dollars to take a 3 in 4 dare on vomiting from their product.
All that said, more about Oculus' research on this topic when (and if) I get a reply.
Image via this video interview with Carmack on crass commercialization and the metaverse.