Players of Virtual Reality Video Games Experience a Time Compression Effect

man with virtual reality goggles on
man with virtual reality goggles on
The researchers investigated an informally reported effect in which time seems to pass more quickly while playing games in virtual reality.

Virtual reality (VR) was found to have a time compression effect. These findings were published in Timing and Time Perception.

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz recruited 39 undergraduate students to participate in this study. Participants played a VR and conventional monitor (CM) labyrinth-like maze game in which there were 13 timed levels with the objective of rolling a ball into a designated goal space.

Levels increased in size, complexity, and difficulty. Participants were randomized to play either the VR or CM game first followed by the opposite version second. During gameplay, they were asked to hit a button every time they perceived the passage of 5 minutes. After playing both game versions, participants were surveyed about their experience.

Participants were aged mean 19.5 (standard deviation [SD], 1.7) years and 24 were women.

There was a significant block effect, in which mean interval duration was significantly longer during the second game (341.9 s) compared with the first game (290.1 s; F[1,37], 9.94; P =.003). There was an effect of starting display, in which participants who played the VR game first had longer durations (327.4 s) than the CM (254.8 s; F[1,37], 6.45; P =.015). Intervals during the first and second game were correlated (r, 0.62; P <.001).

Intervals were significantly longer while playing the VR game (mean, 327.4; SD, 114.0 s) compared with the CM game (mean, 254.8; SD, 95.1 s), indicating that intervals while playing the VR version were 72.6 (95% CI, 4.6-140.6) seconds longer. Increased interval time was not associated with differences in maze difficulty (t[37], -0.147; P >.5).

There was no evidence of interval variability during the VR game (F[1,37], 0.195; P >.5).

More participants indicated that after playing both game versions, they felt as if they were not in the real world, but in the game world while playing the VR version (t[36], 2.215; P =.033).

This study may have been limited by not varying the time interval during the experiment or the short 5-minute duration. Previous studies have found that time compression effects were only evident during longer intervals (30 minutes or longer).

The study authors found 28.5% more time passed while playing a VR game compared with a CM game. These findings suggest that players of VR games may be at an increased risk for negative effects from gaming such as insomnia. However, the time compression effects of VR have the potential to be beneficial for obscuring time spent on unpleasant tasks such as long-distance travel.


Mullen G, Davidenko N. Time compression in virtual reality. Timing Time Percept. Published online May 3, 2021. doi:10.1163/22134468-bja10034.