News, Technology, Virtual Reality

Immersive Storytelling Reduces VR Cybersickness

Amie Haven

Amie Haven, Journalist

New research says immersive storytelling reduces cybersickness for novice VR gamers

Stories with an emotional narrative help new virtual reality (VR) users reduce feelings of cybersickness. This is according to new research from the University of Waterloo (UW) in Ontario, Canada. Researchers from Waterloo’s Games Institute found that new gamers experienced less cybersickness when the VR storylines were emotionally engaging. 

Regular gamers, however, did not experience the same results. In a UW press release on 13 Feb, Kinesiology professor and paper co-author Michael Barnett-Cowan said that, “People with little gaming experience are highly sensitive to conflicts between VR technology and the information they are taking in.” The researchers noted that regular gamers do not have the same sensitivity to feelings of nausea, disorientation, and eye-strain – otherwise known as cybersickness. 

Tested both in laboratory and field conditions, VR users were split into two groups. One group heard a rich narrative about the VR world they were about to enter, whilst the other group were given a basic description. The group hearing the rich, emotionally engaging narrative reported an increased sense of “presence” within the simulation. Non-gamers within the same group also reported feelings of reduced cybersickness. 

“What that tells us is that the actual design of the VR simulation’s storyline itself can reduce the negative impact some people experience with VR technology,” said Séamas Weech, paper co-author and postdoctoral fellow in Kinesiology at UW. 

The first experiment was conducted using 42 participants from the University under controlled lab conditions. The second experiment took place using a larger sample of 156 people at a museum technology exhibition in Ontario, Canada. The participants relayed their experience via a questionnaire designed to measure the subjective experience of cybersickness and presence.

Another co-author and postdoctoral researcher at the Games Institute, Sophie Kenny, said, “What’s really striking is that we saw the benefits of enriched narratives across a sample of people from 8 to 60 years of age.” She added, “This brings us closer to an inclusive way to enhance experiences in virtual reality through game design.”

The research suggests that new VR gamers may benefit from immersive storytelling prior to using the technology. As a result, novice VR gamers may enjoy a greater sense of presence and reduced sensitivity to the unpleasant symptoms of cybersickness.


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