I nearly tossed my cookies in the middle of Sony's media lounge at E3, while hosting a Facebook Live stream and playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on PlayStation VR. This wasn't a case of Nerd Flu or a bout of food poisoning -- I finally experienced the notorious curse known as VR sickness. For years I've been drifting from headset to headset without a care in the world, content in the knowledge that I didn't get nauseated while playing games in virtual reality. I'd read about people feeling queasy after playing Elite: Dangerous or Project Cars, but I never fully understood why it was such a big deal. Couldn't these people just chug some Pepto Bismol and get on with their immersive gaming experiences? Where did all these weak-stomached crybabies come from anyway?
Crybabies, consider this my formal apology, courtesy of PS VR and Resident Evil 7.
I was incredibly excited to play Resident Evil 7 in VR. I'm a long-time franchise fan and I loved the direction that Capcom decided to take with this installment. It's in first-person, a departure from other games in the series, and at first glance it looks more like PT or Outlast than a traditional Resident Evil title. This is great news for me; I adore psychological thrillers and the recent wave of exploration-based, haunted house horror games has been pure nectar for my adrenal glands. With a team of terror masters behind the Resident Evil 7, I was prepared to be scared. However, I was not prepared to puke.
A third of the way through the demo, with Engadget Social Media Editor Mallory Johns streaming my every move live to the internet, I suddenly felt feverish. In an instant I was burning up, sweat building on my hairline and at the base of my neck. I fanned myself and assumed it was the adrenaline kicking in. After all, I was wandering around a dilapidated, carcass-filled house that was supposed to scare my pants off at any moment. Nerves were normal.
With Mallory feeding me questions from the live stream, I continued to talk and search the house despite a growing discomfort in my chest and stomach. The first wave of nausea crashed over me shortly after I climbed the stairs for the first time, my head tilted upward as I peered around a dark loft space occupied by a group of naked mannequins. I wondered if I was coming down with the flu.
Two minutes later, I was barely paying attention to the game. My stomach churned and my skin steamed. Mallory asked what I was seeing on the screen and I snapped back into presenter mode for moments at a time, but the nausea only increased. Ten minutes into the demo, I had paused to fan myself once and lifted the headset away from my eyes three times. At that point, I knew that if I put the PS VR back on, I was going to puke all over Sony's media lounge, live on Facebook. I called it quits. Mallory ended the stream as I asked the Capcom employee if people complained of VR sickness a lot. He shrugged.
I was on the brink of vomiting for 10 minutes following the demo. Mallory rushed with me to the bathroom but the fresh air and real world filling my vision gradually dulled the nausea. It was all incredibly strange -- I'd never felt anything like it, especially not while playing a game in VR.
We asked around and found that my experience wasn't unique. Multiple people reported feeling sick while playing Resident Evil 7 on PlayStation VR, including some who said they'd never experienced VR sickness before. A friend sat down to play the demo and as we talked afterward, he paused multiple times to cover his mouth, on the verge of vomiting. A staff member at a neighboring demo station said that people regularly left the Resident Evil booth with VR sickness, including one man who removed the headset to reveal a head drenched in sweat.
This was a shame, largely because the demo was legitimately wonderful otherwise. The house was claustrophobic and mysterious, the graphics were immersive and the story was just starting to reach a fever pitch by the time I had to quit. Despite the overwhelming nausea and clammy sweats, I remain interested in Resident Evil 7 (the full game lands on January 24th, 2017, by the way) -- just not in VR.
Maybe I fell ill because I used the right analog stick too much to look around instead of simply turning my head (old habits die hard). Maybe the sickness struck because I hadn't eaten lunch and my stomach was overflowing with excitement at playing Resident Evil in VR. Maybe I was pregnant. OK, it wasn't that one -- but the thought did cross my mind before I heard the stories from other people who felt pukey after playing the demo.
It's worth noting that the Resident Evil 7 demo on PS VR runs at 60fps, the minimum specs that Sony will allow on its new headset. In comparison, the Vive, Oculus Rift and Razer's HDK 2 all require at least 90fps. VR sickness is a tricky beast -- it stems from a wide range of factors, including frame rate and latency issues, and disparate games can induce nausea for different reasons. A dropped frame here or there can turn an immersive experience into a roiling vomit catalyst, and subtle lag between a player's head movements and the on-screen reaction can destroy an otherwise wonderful game. Low frame rate isn't the only culprit when it comes to VR sickness, but it's definitely on the list.
Again, I've never gotten sick while playing a VR game before, no matter how long I've worn the headset or how quickly I've turned my head in-game. The nausea that assaulted my body while playing Resident Evil 7 in VR was so sudden and sweaty that it was scary -- just not in the way Capcom intended.