What is Time Compression (Time Warp) in Virtual Reality?

When I was a teenager I was way into gaming, I played almost all the versions of Grand Theft Auto and Midnight Club I could get my hands on, I really only stopped playing to go to the bathroom, when my parents made me stop, when I couldn’t hold in the hunger anymore or when there was a power outage (typical of Nigeria). Losing track of time was normal to me then, I didn’t know what time compression was then, but I lived the phenomenon fully, to me it felt like daytime went by in an instant and night times was way too short. Live-action games seemed to have had more of that effect on me, after becoming a Virtual Reality Software Engineer and an avid lover of VR games, like Deja Vu I started remembering some of my teenage gaming moments, and I found that I could be in an enjoyable experience in VR for what seemed like 20 minutes only to find out I had spent twice that time, this was what drove me into researching Time compression (or Time Warp as I choose to call it).

Time compression is a phenomenon where a longer real-time event gets compressed into a shorter perceived experience and this is even more pronounced in Virtual Reality because time goes by faster than we think when playing games in VR compared to other conventional methods.

Why this phenomenon occurs?

Time is a man-made construct, we could easily abandon the 24hr a day concept and adopt a 50 hours a day time scale — though the hours or minutes would have to be shorter, our reality definitely won’t break. There are some leading theories about why time warp seems more pronounced in VR, one theory pointed out by researchers from the University of California Santa Cruz has to do with a player’s lack of bodily awareness in Virtual Reality. Professor of psychology Nicolas Davidenko, one of the co-authors and advisors of a study named Time compression in VR, highlighted why this is significant: In virtual reality, when you look down, you might see nothing where your body normally would be, or you might see a schematic of a body, but it won’t feel like your body, there are theories that we may rely on our heartbeat and other bodily rhythms to help our brain track the passage of time, so if you have a less vivid sense of your body in virtual reality, you might be missing the pulses of this timekeeping mechanism.

A study carried out:

An important study carried out by Grayson Mullen and Nicolas Davidenko published in the journal Timing and time perception dove into time compression, the study enlisted the participation of 39 undergraduate students from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Participants completed 13 timed levels of a VR and conventional monitor (CM) labyrinth-like maze game with the goal of rolling a ball into a predetermined goal space.

Illustrations of virtual reality and conventional monitor display conditions. Timing & Time Perception 9, 4 (2021)

The size, intricacy, and difficulty of the levels increased. Participants were given the option of playing the VR or CM game first, followed by the opposite version. They were urged to press a button every time they thought 5 minutes had passed during the game. Participants were polled about their experiences after playing both game versions.

The sixth level of maze set A as viewed by participants in both the virtual reality (VR) and conventional monitor (CM) condition. The superimposed yellow line (not shown to participants) indicates a path to the goal. Timing & Time Perception 9, 4 (2021)

Previous research indicated that time compression effects are only noticeable over extended periods of time (30 minutes or longer), so it is likely that the short 5-minute duration, may have constrained this study.

Findings:

The researchers discovered that test subjects using headsets were off on their estimate of time passed by an average of 28.5 per cent more than those using a typical computer screen or CM.

Conclusion: Consequences and effects

The findings and the perceived effect of time compression in VR were as followed:

1) Positive effect: Time compression Phenomenon in VR has the ability to mask time spent on disagreeable tasks and also could help people endure difficult medical procedures, such as chemotherapy and to reduce the negative psychological impact of painful medical treatments.

2) Negative effect: On the flip side, time compression Phenomenon in VR seems to imply that people who play virtual reality games for a prolonged time are more likely to experience unpleasant side effects like sleeplessness which could also influence their moods & health, increasing the risk of addiction which can be associated with depression and insomnia.

It is obvious that much more research needs to be made to better understand the phenomenon, I look forward to writing more on this phenomenon and maybe even doing a study. Until the next, keep learning.

Reference:

Time Compression in Virtual Reality

Time Perception, Movement and Presence in Virtual Reality

With love and high regards,

Babatunde.

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Fatai Babatunde

Fatai Babatunde

Extending all realities (AR/VR/MR/Metaverse)