Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mirror's Edge & Motion Sickness

A few of my less game-related RSS feeds are pointing to a Wired article which suggests that Mirror's Edge is a proprioception hack. IE, it screws up your sense of where you real limbs and body are.

I guess, technically, you can call motion sickness (which is what he's talking about) a proprioceptive effect, because it originates from visual cues not matching up to your body's more subtle cues about movement, speed, etc. But to imply it's something new and amazing is really pretty silly.

Motion sickness is a pretty complicated subject, and most people don't realize the full spread of cues and effects. For example, my mom is fine on boats, in cars, and so forth, but revolving cameras in movies and first-person video games give her serious trouble. Similarly, I have a friend who can play FPS games all day, but if you expand the view angle to more than ninety degrees, he gets really ill.

What we're seeing in Mirror's Edge has nothing to do with the fact that you can see her hands and everything to do with the motion of the camera. We're not used to this kind of bobbing, tilting camera work in a video game. You know the only thing it's been used for until now?

HORRIBLE MONSTERS. We use it in movies to show the viewpoint of a werewolf or some other slavering beasty. Why do we use it? Well, one of the reasons is BECAUSE IT MAKES PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE AND NAUSEOUS.

I will say that I am 99% sure Mirror's Edge is not doing some amazing new "proprioception hack". It's just making you (well, some people) motion sick.

It's riding the edge of providing too much visual data about motion your real body isn't doing. The more data it provides, the more realistic the game will feel... but the more people will tend to get motion sick. If that realism is a "proprioception hack", people's standards on the matter are way, way too low.


Greg Tannahill said...

I think this is a media literacy issue. People need to adjust to new methods of information display. In the same way as (perhaps apocryphally) remote tribespeople have been said to have trouble recognising a two-dimensional photo of a person as being that photo, we need to learn to interpret these new cues.

For example, the original Doom used to be make me sick as all hell if I was watching it but not playing it. Vomiting sick. These days it's just another game. I've gotten used to it.

Or then again maybe I'm talking bollocks. :-)

Craig Perko said...

To some extent, I think you're right, but I also think different people have very different capacities for this kind of adaptation.

For example, I don't feel motion sick when playing Mirror's Edge at ALL. Instead, I feel very angry: angry that I failed an 11-minute run (really 15 minutes because of elevator rides) by half a second, angry that a helicopter that has never hit me before kills me at random, angry that running at a wall and jumping sometimes does a wall run, and sometimes it just jumps.

Presumably, all the people who adore this game are feeling too overwhelmed by the visual input that they don't notice these weaknesses.

In ten years, maybe everyone will be a whiny bastard like me, unswayed by the bobbing camera. But, right now, I appear to be one of the few.

Craig Perko said...

What I'm trying to say is that the vertigo could be considered a central part of the experience. I don't feel the vertigo, so, to me, it's just a game. I don't see it and thing "WOWSA NEW AND AMAZING!", I see "prince of persia minus the interesting bits and in first person".