Why controlling your perception of time may be a better key to virtual reality

  • A new paper claims that controlling your perception of time in virtual reality could be a way to make it more engaging and realistic.
  • VR users perceive the passage of time in the simulation mainly because of the mental effort they put into using the software, the paper’s authors wrote.
  • One expert says that you may feel the passage of time in virtual reality through future visual and audio effects.

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The adage that “time flies” may also be true in the metaverse.


According to a new research paper, the key to making the metaverse a more realistic experience may be controlling how users perceive time. The authors claim that visual clues about time and fatigue are necessary to make virtual reality experiences more engaging. It’s part of an ongoing effort to use time perception to make virtual reality more realistic and exciting.


“When the VR app keeps the user busy, they see that time is passing quickly.” Roderick KennedyFounder simulation, a virtual reality software company, told Lifewire in an email interview. “When a user is bored, they see that it’s going slowly.”



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The new paper refutes previous claims that simulating the movement of the sun in virtual reality affects the perception of time – making the user feel that time passes faster if the virtual sun moves faster. Instead, the authors said, the experience in virtual reality affects the perception of time due to the stress and mental effort it places on the user.


Most game engines that are used to deliver virtual reality have elaborate sky/sun/atmosphere systems to faithfully reproduce the time of day and specific geographic location, Todd Bryantwho is a technologist who has worked on projects including “Game of Thrones” on HBO, told Lifewire in an email.



Developers often want to hide or freeze the passage of time in VR, Bryant said. “In the same way that casinos do not display clocks, developers want virtual reality gaming experiences to exist outside of normal space and time and relieve stresses of time and space that can disrupt gameplay,” he added. “For other virtual events, VR worlds maintain a perpetual time of day that corresponds to the conceptual nature of the experience, for example, a cinematic experience always at the golden hour, a concert venue that showcases talent at midnight, or simulated fishing at sunrise when The fish are the most bitten.”


Kennedy noted that virtual reality should allow users to track the real world. Increasingly, VR headsets offer “pass-through”—the user can see their surroundings using cameras on the headset, which can be used to warn of obstacles or present a hybrid virtual environment.


“The tremendous power of virtual reality in changing our perceptions should not be underestimated,” he added. “Time can be represented spatially. For example, in a work setting, a block of time for a particular task can be represented by a block of sand blown by the wind. This type of representation can be more concrete to the user than something abstract like a clock, for example.”


Your experiences in virtual reality can affect your perception of time in real life, Alex FletcherVR user experience design leader in virtual reality platform provider immersionTell Lifewire via email.


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“Even the most immersive apps are not without limitations, because persistent experiences will eventually lead to fatigue, and users will start noticing if they have stood for hours,” Fletcher added. “Shorter experiences do not have the same effect, but sometimes this is by design; in training, you may want to indicate the passage of time as part of a process or provide a reference to real time for users on a tight schedule. In some scenarios, too much can be shown In a shorter period of time than is actually required.”



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Chi Sunwho is a professor in New york universitywhere he leads the Immersive Computing Lab, which focuses on perceptual perception of virtual and augmented reality, said in an email to Lifewire that in the future, you might feel the passage of time in virtual reality through the use of visual and sound effects.


“Or even tactile sensations now that tactile devices and brain-computer interfaces are widely developed,” he added.


Kennedy noted that virtual reality could eventually be used to explore deep time in simulations. It is difficult for the human mind to understand the geological time scale.


“But by playing with spatial scales, we can show the vast eons between the Cretaceous period for example and the present day,” he added. “They are represented as physical layers in a section of rock, scaled to the size of a skyscraper or reduced to fit the user’s hand.”

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