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How to survive a week of virtual reality

Almost all of my meetings at GDC this week involve virtual reality in some form or another.

I've already played multiple games between the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 and Gear VR. Tomorrow is the big Project Morpheus event, and we'll be seeing Valve and HTC's headset on Wednesday. Razer will be showing off its VR platform, and in between will be demo upon demo that use one or more of these devices. If you're a virtual reality enthusiast it doesn't get much better, but this many varied demos on multiple different piece of hardware comes at a price.

A poor demo — and lord knows there are going to be a few of those — or hardware that can't maintain a steady framerate can make you sick.

It's a very quick effect, and there's not much you can do when virtual reality makes you ill other than relax for a bit away from a screen, which isn't really an option during a day packed with meetings and article deadlines. I'll finish GDC, dammit, even if I have to haul my puking carcass across the finish line.

Going from one demo to the next in rapid succession is incredibly hard on your eyes, gut and brain, so I'm taking precautions to try to prevent any problems before they happen.

There are a few tricks you just learn in VR that can help, such as closing your eyes and waiting for the demo to load completely before beginning. I'm bringing ginger to try to calm my stomach before it gets upset, and I'm traveling with at least one container of ginger ale at all times. I also have an emergency supply of dramamine and eye drops for red eyes.

In other words, surviving a week of virtual reality of variable quality across multiple platforms requires you to act as if you're pregnant or at least operate under the assumption that you could vomit at any time.

The act of meeting someone, putting on a headset, immersing yourself in a game, taking it over, getting used to the real world again, and then rushing to your laptop to write about it is physically and mentally punishing in a way I wasn't quite expecting, and this is just the first day.

"If you start feeling sick, you have to stop right then," Minority Media's Vander Caballero told me before showing me his latest game. He also assured me framerate wouldn't be a problem. He gets it. "Once you get sick, your day is over," he said.

This week will be more or less a torture test for our tolerance for virtual reality. I have my folksy remedies, and learned best practices in place, and I'm looking forward to seeing how long I can keep my lunch down. Virtual reality done poorly is a hard thing to experience, so I'm praying for great games on good hardware. Gabe willing, the show will deliver.

"You feel good after your first VR meeting?" Caballero asked me. I nodded. "That's great! Let's see how you feel after your last." He thought it was funny. I drank my ginger ale.

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