New study: virtual reality “compresses” your time

A new study reveals the unique “time compression” effect of virtual reality technology.

Has it ever happened to you that in a virtual reality game you lose track of time? That you don’t know if 10 minutes have passed or 40 or more?

Virtual reality (VR) users and developers have informally reported that time seems to pass faster while playing games in virtual reality. We refer to this phenomenon as time compression: A longer actual duration is compressed into a shorter perceived experience.

There’s also research showing that video games can make gamers lose track of time, but now UC Santa Cruz designed an experiment to try to get to the bottom of it in virtual reality.

The Experiment: Monitor vs Virtual

Previous studies of time perception in VR have often asked participants about their experiences after the fact, but in this experiment, the research team wanted to integrate a timing task into the VR experience to capture what was happening at the time.

The idea was to know how the effects of virtual reality, in the sense of time, of a player differ from those of conventional monitors, so he designed a maze game that could be played in both formats.

Participants played in virtual and conventional reality formats, and the researchers randomized which version of the game each student started with. Both versions were essentially the same, but the mazes in each varied slightly so that there was no repetition between formats.

Participants were asked to stop playing when they felt five minutes had passed. Since there were no clocks available, each person had to make this estimate based on their own perception of the passage of time.

The researchers recorded the actual amount of time that had passed when each participant stopped playing, and this revealed a gap between the participants’ perception of time and reality.

what they discovered

The results showed that the participants of the experiment played for 28.5 percent more time with virtual reality than with a monitor. This effect, in which time passes faster than you think, is called “time compression.”

One particularly well-known earlier study applied virtual reality time compression to shorten the perceived length of treatment for chemotherapy patients, but that experiment did not compare virtual reality to conventional screen formats.

It’s the first time that it was really possible to isolate that it’s not just that you’re playing a video game or the content of what you’re seeing, it’s really the fact that it’s virtual reality versus a conventional screen that contributes to this compression effect. of time.


Time compression might be useful in some situations, such as enduring unpleasant medical treatment or spending time on a long flight, but in other circumstances, it could have detrimental consequences.

In fact, as VR headsets become more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time, and as more immersive games are created for this format, it would be good to prevent it from becoming a virtual casino, where you end up playing more because you don’t realize how much time you’re wasting.

Research on gaming addiction shows that losing track of time during gaming can negatively affect sleep cycle and the state of mood of a player. These effects could be more pronounced in virtual reality. However, game designers can help minimize the risk, perhaps by integrating a clock that would appear at regular intervals during gameplay.

Possible explanation for this time compression

The researchers suggest that the time compression phenomenon could be because the player has less body awareness. In VR, when you look down, you may not see anything where your body would normally be, or you may see a schematic of a body, but it won’t feel like your body.

There are theories that we can rely on our heartbeats and other body rhythms to help our brains track the passage of time, so if you have a less vivid sense of your body in VR, you may be losing the pulses of this timing mechanism.

Future experiments to test this theory could yield new insights to help designers maximize the benefits and minimize the harm of time compression as virtual reality technology continues to grow.

Original research:
“Time Compression in Virtual Reality” by Nicolas Davidenko and Grayson Mullen.