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Video Games

I thought VR sickness was a myth. Then I played Mario Kart in VR

Commentary: It nearly made me hurl. I loved it.

mario-kart-vr-htc-vive-3

Hope I don't yak on the racetrack.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Mario Kart VR has arrived in London, and I'm playing it, and to my great delight I'm much better at it than I am at Mario Kart on a console. 

Before its public unveiling, set for Friday, I get to have a go, and guess what? I come in second. I usually come in last, or second to last. This is obviously a great improvement for me. And so no one's more surprised than me by my reaction to my stunning silver medal.

"You know what, I think I feel a bit... nauseous," I confide in my CNET colleague Andrew Hoyle, who's buzzing so much after the experience that he looks like a human version of the heart-eyes emoji. It's a deeply weird experience for me -- someone who, until now, thought VR sickness was a myth.

There've been some duds and unconvincing use cases along the way, but overall I'm a fan of VR. I've been known to pull out the ol' HTC Vive of an evening and float over the rooftops of Paris pretending to be an eagle, feeling nothing but a sense of calm. I've ridden two different VR roller coasters (one simulated, one real), and my stomach didn't even twitch.

What're all these snowflakes talking about with their VR sickness? I'd think to myself whenever I saw the supposed malady mentioned in reviews. I thought they were referring to nausea in a theoretical way, like maybe it was something that could happen if the game was too extreme and you played it too long. But surely it wasn't a regular occurrence?

Then I go and play Mario Kart in VR, and not only must I take it all back, I must also confess that I am a victim. I am the snowflake.

I should add: I don't necessarily think it's Mario Kart's fault that VR sickness is striking me down at this particular moment in time.

This summer, a childhood ailment has returned with a vengeance. Out of nowhere I've suddenly started feeling like I might hurl every time I'm in a car -- just in time for a 2,600-mile road trip across Europe's various mountain ranges. It's because of this relapse that I suspect my VR-ache probably has less to do with the game and more to do with what's going on with me.

Things don't get really bad until I'm offered the opportunity to join in a second race. I say yes, and once again take up my place as Peach, even though I already feel sick. This is my downfall: going back for more.

I know it's a mistake as I skid round the first corner and the haptic feedback makes my stomach start to feel wibbly. I'm being thrown around violently by the mechanism under my seat, and the other players are battering me from the back and sides. I get a few seconds respite when I fly through the air between stretches of road and wonder why I thought it would be a good idea to climb back on this metaphorical horse.

I've been here before: asking my parents to pull over to the side of the road after I've been surreptitiously trying to read in the back seat; having to lie down after I took a spin on the waltzers at the funfair, even though I knew I couldn't stomach them; turning green after purposely flying too high and too aggressively on the garden swing.

Mario Kart always makes me feel nostalgic, but this time the memories it's dredging up are more traumatic than fond.

Bowser thwacks me with a VR hammer, and my kart spins out in a cloud of dust. I have flashbacks to feeling woozy on the playground merry-go-round. Some older boys are pushing it while cackling like hyenas, and they won't stop it to let me off. Someone call my therapist.

Back on the course, I kind of hang back and watch the whirligig of colours pass me by. I just want to get to the end now without actually throwing up in front of the wall of my peers who I know are watching from the other side of my VR headset.

I reconcile myself to coming in last, content to bear the shame of being useless over the shame of being the one journalist who can't keep lunch down during a press preview.

Then, just before I cross the finish line and rip the plastic mask from my eyes with relief, there's some kind of bust up on the track. And what do you know? I've come in second again.

I slink off somewhere quiet, in case I need to do a secret victory vom.

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