Virtual Universe: How Good VR Design Helps You Avoid Feeling Queasy

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am choosing to participate in the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program. Why? Two reasons:

  1. After my recent guided tour of VU, I feel very strongly that this is going to be a successful and popular virtual world/MMO hybrid platform, and I want to be a part of it when VU launches their beta this summer. This is the very first blockchain-based virtual world that I actually feel excited about!
  2. As a Canadian citizen, I reside in one of the three countries where I am currently legally forbidden from purchasing VU tokens (the other two are the United States and China). This means that the only way I can legitimately earn VU tokens to use in this social VR space before the beta launch is via the VU ICO Partner Program.

I want you to know this up front: this blogpost is a promotion for VU, in exchange for VU tokens.  You can follow on this webpage to see how many VU tokens I have earned by completing tasks in this Partner Program if you wish (right now, I am at number two on the VU Token Leaderboard). There’s nothing stopping you from participating in this Partner Program yourself, and earning some VU tokens!

IMPORTANT: VU Tokens are not a real currency. They are ERC-20 based blockchain tokens intended to permit players of Virtual Universe exclusive access to digital assets within a VR game known as Virtual Universe (VU). They are a form of in-game virtual currency.  Virtual value attributed to the VU Token will be as a result of in-game efforts by players, and no future value is represented or guaranteed.


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Ciaran Foley, the CEO of Ukledo and Immersive Entertainment, Inc. a Southern California virtual reality software company which is developing a new virtual world/MMO hybrid platform called Virtual Universe (VU), has written an interesting article about the various ways which VR software developers can avoid users experiencing motion sickness and nausea while using their programs.

In summary, those five ways are:

  • Using high-quality VR headsets;
  • Developing haptic feedback systems;
  • Developing a “virtual nose”: Researchers at Purdue University have suggested the mere act of including a virtual nose to the VR headset display can significantly reduce the effects of nausea by 13.5% (small but still significant);
  • Keeping things steady by tethering the player to a single spot;
  • Focusing on the environmental design of a VR platform.

Ciaran writes:

There is a slight learning curve to the mechanisms and feel of VR, and it is something that participants of VR will have to have patience with, monitoring their own tolerance, levels of use and ideal comfort settings. Those growing up with VR will adopt it far more easily, much like what we are seeing with Gen-Z having grown up with cell phones. VR has the potential to be just as common as gaming consoles, and people who spend a lot of time around these types of devices will also find it much easier to adapt to VR hardware.

Using what we and the industry as a whole have learned about optimal VR, our VU — Virtual Universe aims to improve on existing models and technologies without detracting from the experience. Instead of restricting core functionality like free movement as in other titles — which can be less immersive and perhaps a bit restrictive — visual tricks will be implemented such as playing with perspectives and field of view to give the environment a smoother feel, improving comfort for the player and helping them keep their lunch in the real world.

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Exploring Sinespace in VR: Finally!

Well, I’m happy to report that I was finally able to visit Sinespace in my Oculus Rift VR headset! The latest version of the client software seems to work much better for me.

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Now, all is far from perfect. I’m no longer sitting in the floor, but I still seem to looking out from within my avatar’s chest rather than his head, and shorter than the other avatars around me. Every time I tried to turn right, I turned left instead! And the screen of the pop-up user interface is a little too close to my eyes for my liking. When I pulled up the Explore screen, it twitched enough to make me feel sick.

But it’s a start. I can now officially add Sinespace to my list of virtual worlds that support VR!

UPDATED: Virtual Reality in the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety

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Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

I have been up-front about my lifelong battles with clinical depression on this blog. I’m doing my small part to help fight the negative societal stigma against mental health problems, by sharing my story. If doing so helps one other person who may be struggling, then it’s worth it to me. And a great many people are struggling. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada:

Mood disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the general population. According to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, 5.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over reported symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder in the previous 12 months, including 4.7% for major depression and 1.5% for bipolar disorder.

I’ve been under a doctor’s treatment for depression since my mid-twenties, and I probably would have benefitted from seeking treatment even sooner than that. At times, my episodes of depression have been so severe that I have had to go on extended sick leaves from work. I’ve even been hospitalized twice when I was at my very worst. I have had to work very hard to crawl back from the edge of the black pit of despair, more than once in my life.

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Some would no doubt argue that too much use of a VR headset is isolating, which I can understand if you are only playing solo games, or spending innumerable hours immersed in VR. However, in many games, and especially in most social VR spaces, you are often interacting with other people, which would counteract the isolation aspect somewhat. I also strongly recommend taking the time to build up your tolerance to VR, starting from sessions as short as 10-15 minutes, and building up slowly from that. I am a little concerned when I hear about people who boast logging 5, 6, 7, 8, or even more hours at one stretch in VR. Everything in moderation is the key here.

And when you’re too depressed to set foot outside your front door, it can sometimes be easier to slip on a VR headset to visit people and places! No need to get dressed up, or to put on your “happy face” to face the world. There have often been times in the past when I have felt extremely anxious, and I was able to load up the Nature Treks VR app in my Oculus Rift and relax on a calm, sandy beach lined with swaying palm trees, listening to the pounding surf, or just put myself within a mountain-ringed meadow of wildflowers, watching birds and butterflies. Much cheaper than an actual flight to a vacation spot! And you can revisit any time you like, with very little fuss.

To date, there really hasn’t been much in the way of rigorous scientific investigation into the effect of VR on mood disorders. A recently published review of research in the area concluded:

Findings favor VR exercise in alleviating anxiety and depression symptomology. However, existing evidence is insufficient to support the advantages of VR exercise as a standalone treatment over traditional therapy in the alleviation of anxiety and depression given the paucity of studies, small sample sizes, and lack of high-quality research designs. Future studies may build upon these limitations to discern the optimal manner by which to employ VR exercise in clinical settings.

So more research work needs to be done. Based on my own experience, and stories I have heard from others, I wouldn’t be surprised if/when scientists do discover some sort of benefit to using VR as a form of therapy for those who suffer from depression and anxiety. Perhaps some day soon, your mental health professional may prescribe a VR app instead of (or in addition to) anti-depressant medication and talk therapy!

And if you are suffering from a mood disorder, there’s absolutely no shame in reaching out for help. Doing so has made all the difference in my life. If I can survive, so can you!

UPDATE May 5th: Today I just read a great talk by actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) who is open and candid about his own lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression. He says:

So I am here today to tell anyone who can hear me: if you suspect that you have a mental illness, there is no reason to be ashamed, or embarrassed, and most importantly, you do not need to be afraid. You do not need to suffer. There is nothing noble in suffering, and there is nothing shameful or weak in asking for help. This may seem really obvious to a lot of you, but it wasn’t for me, and I’m a pretty smart guy, so I’m going to say it anyway: There is no reason to feel embarrassed when you reach out to a professional for help, because the person you are reaching out to is someone who has literally dedicated their life to helping people like us live, instead of merely exist.


If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:

If you are not in crisis, but still need help, here are some other good places to get started:

When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers: “Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”


Whatever you do, don’t give up. NEVER. Give. Up!

UPDATE June 19th: There is now a new official KindVoice Discord server. The original server I linked to above still exists as a service, but it is now called Zen Gardens. Both seem like pretty good places to go if you just need someone to talk to online.

Rec Room: A Brief Introduction

I just realized today that there is one fairly popular social VR/virtual world platform I haven’t covered in this blog yet, and that is Rec Room by the company Against Gravity, which was first released in 2016.

Here’s the description of the social VR app from its Oculus Home description:

Welcome to Rec Room, the virtual reality social club where you play active games with friends from all around the world. Customize your appearance, then party up to play multiplayer games like Paintball, 3D Charades, Disc Golf, and even four player co-op adventures! Or just hang out in The Lounge (free membership required). Plus new activities and fun stuff added frequently.

The first thing I noticed about Rec Room was the avatars, which are blocky and cartoony, basically a head, torso and hands, without arms, legs or a neck.

Rec Room 14 Apr 2018

Now, those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have a pet peeve about cartoony avatars (hello, Facebook Spaces!). However, in the case of Rec Room, there is more of an emphasis on an all-ages, children-friendly environment, so I’m more willing to accept cartoon avatars. (Kind of like those Saturday morning cartoons I used to spend all Saturday morning watching as a kid. Is that still a thing?)

The emphasis in Rec Room is on fun and games. The main room is a gymnasium, which is usually full of other avatars running around and yelling (mostly children). There are about a dozen doors leading to separate game-playing areas: everything from disc golf to paintball to laser tag, even charades! You can earn in-world currency by completing activities and completing daily challenges, which you can then spend on exclusive merchandise (like a red fireman’s hat) that you can wear.

If you’re looking for something different and fun, Rec Room might just be up your alley. It’s available as a free app for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR headset. (Note that there is no desktop-only version of this app; you do need to have one of the three VR headsets to play.)