If I’ve learned anything so far from this research, it is that virtual reality and “real” reality are not that different. Virtual environments, after all, are based on our conception of reality as well as physical quantities. I started pondering this over the weekend after experiencing time pressures simultaneously in both virtual and physical worlds – I was sitting at the computer, totally enthralled in a conversation with a resident artist when RL brought be back to reality; my cats started screaming their heads off. While this incident has happened numerous other times, and I could have simply overlooked it as another instances of pet ownership, I realized that virtual worlds could never be truly “virtual” as long as they obey the same physical quantities as the real world. In other words, at the moment, our physical conception of time exists in both virtual and physical worlds.
We are eons away from “Matrix-like” time gaps were 10 minutes in the physical world translates to a virtual lifetime. And then again, is the issue really of time or of immersion? In other words, to use the kitty example noted above (quite ironic, I know given Schrodinger’s iconic thought experience, but please bear with me) – I exist both in the virtual and physical world at the SAME time, experiencing both simultaneously. As I am navigating the virtual landscape and creating memories in that space, I am also experiencing a physical space where both virtual and physical experiences are measured using the same physical quantities (one being time). When I am immersed in the virtual space, I may forget about “time,” but the second a physical world event makes me lose my focus, I am back in the flow (to borrow Csikszentmihalyi’s terminology) of physical reality. When described in such a way, immersion in virtual reality is akin to extreme concentration. When experiencing a virtual space, I am not, for the most part, “immersed” in a world with different physical quantities. That, in my opinion, is the largest barrier to true immersion in a vertical space.
Time is defined by Wikipedia as “…the continuing progression of events occurring in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future” and as “…a measure of the durations and frequencies of events and the intervals between them.” Ultimately, virtual and physical time must both share the former definition. It is the latter, the definition of time as a measurement, that could be effectively altered in virtual reality, making virtual and physical reality unfold simultaneously, yet at different rates. Which begs the question – if time measurement in virtual reality can be altered, can boredom even exist? Interestingly, virtual reality is currently often used as a relief from real world boredom. It is only once we grow bored with the virtual reality that we return to physical reality and so on.