HomeTechnologyVirtual RealityWhy Controlling Your Perception of Time Might Be Key to Better VR

Why Controlling Your Perception of Time Might Be Key to Better VR

  • A new article claims that mastering your perception of time in virtual reality could be a way to make it more engaging and realistic.
  • VR users experience the passage of time in simulations mainly because of the mental effort they put into using the software, the authors of the article write.
  • An expert says that in the future, you may feel time passing in VR through visual and audio effects.

Evgeniy Sholenko / Getty Images



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


According to a new article, the key to making the metaverse a more realistic experience may be determining how users experience time. The authors argue that visual cues about time and fatigue are essential 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.


“If a VR app keeps the user busy, they experience time as passing quickly”, Roderick Kennedyfounder of simultaneously, a virtual reality software company, told Lifewire in an email interview. “If the user is bored, they see it as passing slowly.”



Virtual time

The new paper refutes previous claims that simulating the sun’s motion in VR affects perception of time, giving the user the sense that time passes faster as the virtual sun moves faster. Instead, the authors said the experience in VR affects perception of time because of the stress and mental effort it puts on the user.


Most game engines used to render VR have elaborate air/sun/atmospheric systems to faithfully reproduce the time of day and specific geographic location. Todd Bryanta technologist who has worked on projects including HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” told Lifewire in an email.



Often developers want to hide or freeze the passage of time in VR, Bryant said. “In the same way that casinos don’t display clocks, developers want VR gaming experiences to exist outside of normal space and time and relieve the pressures of time and place that could interrupt gaming,” he added. “For other virtual events, VR worlds maintain a fixed time of day that matches the conceptual nature of the experience, for example a cinematic experience that is always in the golden hour, a concert venue showing talent in the middle of the night, or fishing simulator at sunrise when the fish bite the most.”


Kennedy pointed out that VR should allow users to follow the real world. VR headsets increasingly offer “pass-through”: the user can see what is around them using cameras on the headset, which can be used to warn of obstacles or provide a hybrid virtual environment.


“The tremendous power of VR to change our perceptions should not be underestimated,” he added. “Time can be represented spatially. In a work environment, for example, a block of time for a specific task can be represented by a block of sand blown away by the wind. This kind of representation can be more tangible to the user than something abstract like a clock, for example.”


Your experiences in VR can even influence your perception of time in real life, Alex Fletcherthe VR user experience design leader at the virtual reality platform provider immersetold Lifewire via email.


Oliver Helbig / Getty Images



“Even the most immersive app isn’t without its limitations, though, as standing experiences will eventually lead to fatigue and users will notice if they’ve been standing for hours,” Fletcher added. “Shorter experiences don’t have the same effect, but sometimes it’s designed that way; in training you may want to indicate the passage of time as part of a process or provide a reference to the real-time for users who are on a tight schedule. In some scenarios can be displayed much in a shorter amount of real time than would be necessary in real life.”



The future of time

Qi Suna professor at New York Universitywhere he leads the Immersive Computing Lab, which focuses on perception-aware VR and AR, said in an email to Lifewire that in the future you could feel the time pass in VR through the use of visual and audio effects.


“Or even haptic sensations now that haptic devices and brain-computer interfaces have been extensively developed,” he added.


Kennedy pointed out that VR could eventually be used to explore deep time in simulations. It is difficult for the human mind to fathom the scale of geological time.


“But by playing with spatial scales, we were able to show the vast eons between, say, the Cretaceous and the present,” he added. “Represented as physical layers in a piece of rock, scaled up to the size of a skyscraper or scaled down to fit the user’s hand.”

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