Friday Slide: Motion Sickness, The Bane of Handheld Gaming

My innards are made of wily, contradictory stuff. Example: Even though portable gaming is my favorite kind of gaming, I can’t play my DS, PSP or iPhone while riding in a moving vehicle. I am a sufferer of motion sickness.

Oh, I can try to force my stomach to put up with my whims. And I often do. Sometimes all goes well and I barely notice anything beyond a twinge of nausea. But sometimes my body wants no part of Angry Birds as played on a moving bus.

I have never emptied my lunch on the floor of a subway, though if my body rebels, I’m guaranteed to spend the rest of the ride feeling green.

My condition, which has afflicted me since childhood (I can’t read in a car, either) drives me to swap advice with kindred (and slightly nauseous) spirits. More than 60% of the world’s population has experienced motion sickness at some point in life, according to motion-sickness.org, though we tend to outgrow it. Some adults are not that lucky. Is there any way for a dedicated portable gamer to conquer this affliction?

First of all, a quick education: What causes motion sickness?

Big important doctors believe that motion sickness is an evolutionary holdover that likely saved our ancestors who were dumb enough to ingest bright mushrooms and the like. If Cavewoman Nadia ate a funny toad and was whisked into a world full of shifting walls and floors, her inner ear would warn her, “Wait, your eyes are telling you that you’re upside-down, but it’s obvious you’re on good, solid ground. You ate something weird, didn’t you? Out with it!”

And then the body works hard to purge whatever’s gone into it.

Modern motion sickness works similarly, though uselessly. Your eyes see motion onscreen that doesn’t match up with what the balance-related gears your inner ear are sensing. Old instincts fire up and prompt nausea in hopes that spewing your Lunchable will save you.

In other words, motion sickness is an ingrained human survival instinct that isn’t going to budge anytime soon. You can’t conquer it, but you can live with it by lessening its effects. Here’s what I’ve learned.

-Ginger. Ginger has been used for ages to control nausea, and it works. Gulp a bit of the spicy stuff before starting a long trip and see if that settles your stomach long enough to get in some gaming. Pharmacies sell ginger pills that are effective, but I personally love a nice cup of ginger tea.

-Eat lightly before traveling. Spicy and greasy, heavy foods that sit in your stomach are guaranteed to make you feel cruddy on a car or bus trip, whether or not gaming is involved.

-Open a window. For some reason, this helps me a lot and I can usually game on the go without any problems. This can be a difficult solution to push on someone who’s obsessed with their air conditioning, though.

-Motion sickness bands like Sea Bands can be a huge help. These are cheap, drug-free, and available at any pharmacy. They’re probably the most effective motion sickness remedy I’ve used thus far. The drawback is that they’re tight and a bit uncomfortable, but they have to be in order to apply the pressure needed to relieve queasiness.

-Don’t think about it. If I’m reading or playing a game on a bus or in a car and I think about how I’m going to court motion sickness, nausea usually takes its cue and settles in to stay.

Thus ends my list of tricks to make life a bit easier for the gamer on the go. Do you have any you’d like to share? My finicky stomach is all ears.