Update: Sea of Thieves is now out, and I experienced the same issues playing the full game. Tread carefully!
My time in virtual reality has taught me not to fight through feelings of nausea when playing a game. If you feel a little sick now, you’re either going to soon feel a lot sicker or you’re going to have to take a break. It can take hours to feel OK again once you tip over into full simulation sickness, so it’s wise to back off if you begin to feel sick.
Sea of Thieves isn’t a VR game, but it sure is making me feel sick. And it’s best to take a break before you get too sick if you’re starting to feel ill.
How is that possible?
It’s a good question, and I was surprised to find that seasickness itself isn’t very well understood, much less why I’d experience it while playing a video game.
We know that first-person games can make some people feel ill in general, and we know that some people are sensitive to getting sick on actual boats. Virtual reality enthusiasts and developers also know that keeping a steady, high frame rate is very important for comfort. If you move your head and the virtual world doesn’t immediately catch up, even if it’s only lagging behind by a few frames, you can begin to feel very ill, very quickly.
Sea of Thieves is a challenging game if you sometimes get sick while playing first-person titles. When I played the game’s current closed beta, its performance wasn’t great, even through I’m running a GTX 970 in my gaming system.
There were moments where I focused on a stable object, especially when below deck. Other times, I was looking off into the horizon and seeing a few islands lost in a sea of roiling waves. Some parts of the game also involved watching a fixed object on the ship against a background of a constantly moving sea.
And I had to move from each of these situations rapidly once I got into battle or began to work with my crew to perform even the simplest acts of sailing. There’s no reticle in the middle of the screen, either, which means that there’s never a constant, fixed point to focus on.
Sea of Thieves doesn’t offer a third-person camera. The first-person perspective does this odd shifting effect while running, and I often found myself rushing from one area of the ship to another. I doubt I can blame any one of these factors for my gorge rising, as it’s likely they all work together to make the game a deeply uncomfortable experience.
An informal poll around the Polygon offices found that I wasn’t the only person who felt sick while playing Sea of Thieves. Our own Jeff Ramos, who is nervous on the open ocean in general, lost his cool completely while playing. I almost put him down to salvage the mission, but he managed to convince me that he could stay calm until I found a safe port. The vastness of the sea, combined with the movement from the waves, created a toxic brew of hardcore nope.
me: Let's play Sea of Thieves!— Jeff Ramos (@ohjefframos) January 25, 2018
me: Oh no! My ship is gone. This nice merman will teleport me back!
me: IT TELEPORTED ME ONTO MY SHIP AS IT WAS SINKING AND NOW IT'S AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN AND OH GOD MY AQUAPHOBIA IS KICKING IN FUCK THIS MESS pic.twitter.com/gcOKrXHOpv
This isn’t to say that the game is broken or that everyone will feel this way. Plenty of players aren’t bothered by the effects of this virtual seasickness, and Sea of Thieves itself is almost ridiculously beautiful once you get out on the ocean. I wanted to see more of the world, because the game really does beautifully simulate sailing a boat with a few friends, but I didn’t want to keep playing until I became really ill in a physical way.
You may have issues, and you may not, but it could also be impossible to know until you try Sea of Thieves for yourself. There are a few changes that the team at Rare could make to help things be a bit more comfortable for people like me, including better optimization, a reticle in the middle of the screen and perhaps a third-person view.
For now, however, it’s best to just pay attention to how you’re feeling and take frequent breaks if you start to feel sick.