Virtual reality. The next frontier. If you’ve ever been a child, you have desired it. Virtual Reality was the future. And now it’s come. Didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it has come. And as with most new technology, time has made it more affordable and accessible. The tech has its problems and flaws, as everything does, but it’s working, and it’s here. And recently one of the pieces of VR with the highest user base, the Playstation VR, has entered my home. So we’re going to take a look at it today. A review. But not in terms of gaming. Lost to the Aether has its place in the interbutts, and that place is not giving you the same sort of content you’d find everywhere else. Instead, we’re going to be looking at a more unique application of VR. So here’s a review of the Playstation VR… as an optikinetic treatment method.
Video games for your health is apparently a thing. We brushed on it a couple months back when we covered Duet, at a point where I had been prescribed video games as treatment. Some time back, the gods grew jealous of my majestic achievements and physical perfection and afflicted me with an inner ear condition that causes another inner ear condition that in turn messes up with a whole bunch of other things. Let me drop some science on you for a bit, here. Your brain gets its sense of balance and positioning from three areas; your inner ear, your vision, and muscles, particularly those in your neck and spine. When your inner ear stops working so well, your body compensates by over-emphasizing the other two. Which sounds resilient, but it’s problematic. It gets really weird when looking down as you’re descending stairs makes you feel like you’re Spider-manning up a wall, or walking through a crowd makes you feel like you’re spinning.
One of the ways of treating that visual motion hypersensitivity is to essentially overstimulate the part where the brain thinks you’re moving because of what it’s seeing, while you’re not in fact moving. Kind of force the body to recalibrate its overreliance on visual info to determine balance and sense of motion. The traditional at home exercises for that are to watch videos like this, which, if you clicked that link, you might notice is boring as hell. Hence why I’d been prescribed video games. Going through the likes of Fotonica, Duet, and Super Hexagon, both has enough visual activity to trigger that sense of movement, while also not feeling like you’re just sitting there wasting time. But what if you could take that to the next dimension. My physical therapist has been trying and failing to get a VR headset and proper apps for quite some time to help treat this. The problem with doing those videos or games on a screen is that only part of your vision will be moving like that, so your brain has plenty of the wrong anchor points to go “hey, this isn’t really moving”. I mean, that’s what you want your brain to say, but you want your brain to say that because it can tell you’re not actually moving, not because you can see a wall. VR, though, that’s all encompassing. So you can have everything in your vision tell you that you’re moving while you’re actually not. Get you that optikinetics on steroids. And, thanks to a friend for whom I’m not sure I’ve done enough to deserve this kindness, I’ve got a Playstation VR to be working through this with.
I have to say, I’m not super experienced in VR overall, so I’m not the most educated as far as how the Playstation VR compares with other headsets. Hardware-wise, being based on the Playstation 4, rather than the PC and coming it at a lower price point makes it significantly more accessible to me, personally, than other sets. That should be the most important consideration for any producer, really, “how likely is Aether to get this in his sexy hands?” It does seem to be missing a few features that come standard with other sets, as well, including a few odd omissions. It doesn’t really have an automatic feature to measure your eye position in relation to each other, and its automatic ‘take-a-picture-of-your-face’ get’s the measurements between your eyes way wrong. The picture was noticeably clearer once I figured out how to adjust that manually, which is really non-intuitive and required a user-made guide to get through. The Playstation VR will play VR videos through Youtube easily enough, once you have the app, but if you’re trying to get VR videos through any other source, it takes a lot of jumping through hoops to get it working, and it won’t reach up to 1080p, so the resolution is lacking. A lot of the videos I was trying to get working on it required me to extensively re-process them to get the right formats, codecs, and limited resolutions going. So as far as the traditional VR videos of bike riding that are usually recommended to help with this condition, it was either go to Youtube or spend an inordinate amount of time getting other sources working, which was a little problematic for those times when I was feeling picky.
But the Playstation is a gaming machine, so how about the games that help with this? Yeah, as you can probably imagine, that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time. What’s useful about the Playstation VR, at least, is that it’s been easy to find a lot of discussion about the difficulty of various games and apps, so I can be informed as I’m planning out what I want to play to deal with this condition. At least one list of game recommendations I’ve come across was helpful enough to have them organized into beginner, intermediate, and advanced VR levels, based on how physically difficult it is to get adjusted to the motion in those games. Glad to know they’re difficult for people with perfectly functioning inner ears as well.
As I’ve been exploring the system for the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a bit of a spectrum as far as the impact games will have on me goes, that doesn’t completely match up with the rankings most people seem to give them. At the gentlest end are games where they move you by fading in and out your view, rather than simulating walking, only move your POV when you move your head or otherwise under you control, and that you don’t need a lot of rapid head movement. Final Fantasy XV: Monsters of the Deep and Moss are pretty solid examples there. They’ve been useful for when I’m already stirred up by the time I’ve set aside to do my exercises, or otherwise want something light to get myself adjusted. There’s a bit of disorientation with these games, but otherwise they don’t really hit me hard. Up a level from there are games where they intermittently have some sort of movement of your viewpoint, but otherwise have long periods where its relatively stationary. Astro Bot Rescue mission and the Into the Deep experience in Playstation VR Worlds come to mind here, where you’ll be moved as you progress through it, and there’s a lot that moves within your view, but you do spend a significant amount of time with your viewpoint simply being stationary. This would be where I’d recommend spending the majority of your time first starting out, if there happens to be anyone else out there using VR as a treatment method for visual motion hypersensitivity or, as I’ve heard similar principles apply, concussions.
A step up from there would be the games with more constant movement, a lot of visual things going on, but you’re in a vehicle or otherwise separated from your playable character, such as in Battlezone or Rez Infinite. For whatever reason, the visual motion has more of an impact when you’re in a first person perspective walking than when you’re driving. So logically, the most advanced games would be the ones where you’re walking in a first person perspective. Skyrim’s where I’ve been spending most of my time at this level. Playing through an epic length game at the 20 minutes per day I’ve been able to bear it. This is also where the goal of treatment is to be able to handle, as this will be more where it’s having an effect. I wasn’t able to dive right into Skyrim, however, had to move myself up through the earlier levels in sequence.
Special mention goes to Scavenger’s Odyssey of Playstation VR Worlds, as well, which will absolutely kill me by rotating the view over and over again over the course of the game. So, rotation is killer. That might be a level above Skyrim I haven’t reached yet. So to may be Resident Evil VII, which came in the pack my friend got me but I just haven’t been brave enough to get into yet. Even people with functioning inner ears claim this game is guaranteed nausea for them. I would guess it’s missing a lot of the VR friendly features Skyrim has, such as dimming the periphereal vision when you’re moving quickly and snapping your turn rather than a smooth motion when you use the controller to turn. So there’s still more to explore if I find Skyrim ever starts to get too easy for me.
On the plus side, games like Rez, Skyrim, and Battlezone have you aiming with precision by moving your head. Which exercises the fine motor control of your neck. Which helps with the muscular issues your body can develop as a typical reaction to this condition. So it’s not just the motion VR can help with.
Of course, even at the advanced level, there’s things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Strafing is misery. Moving faster is harder than moving slower. Limit the amount of stairs you walk on. Things like that. This isn’t like working out, where you can push yourself to your limits and end up better off for it. Here, if you go too hard, you’re actually undoing progress, getting your systems maladjusted to the visual information. So it’s important to know your limits, and know either when you need to switch to a less aggressive movement or stop or take a break entirely.
As for how effective it is, that’s going to matter most in the long term, and time will tell for that. In the short term, though, I have noticed my symptoms impacting me less since I started using the Playstation VR for my at home treatment exercises. It’s not a complete cure, or anywhere close to it, and this is a condition that has a lot of ups and downs, so it could easily be just coincidentally corresponding with an up time, but I have to say, I’ve seen results from it so far. And that makes me happy.
Even if I can’t play as much Skyrim as I want.