By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF), OnRPG Journalist
I am sure that anyone who has ever played a game, even something as casual as Angry Birds, has noticed that their perception of time has become skewed. An hour flashes by in what you can't but help assume has only been ten minutes. You log on to your favorite game on the weekend in the morning, then alt-tab out for a quick break only to find that it's almost time for dinner. Or maybe you were waiting for someone and started playing a mobile game on your phone, and the next time you look up you find them waiting for you.
Time perception differs from person to person. In fact, things such as education and genetics can have an effect on your perception of time. Before we get too deep, we should discuss what exactly time perception is. To be brief, it is your ability to “sense” time. In reality, however, you cannot directly sense time, so what we see as time is really a reconstruction done by the brain. This means that the way your brain tells you how time is flowing may be different than the person sitting next to you.
An example of this was when I was playing Star Wars Galaxies. Whenever I played, time would soar by, and this would often cause me trouble. At the time, I was in High School and I cannot deny that my grades suffered because I wanted to play “just a bit longer”, which was really several hours. On the other hand, I had a friend who also tried it with me but could not stand to play longer than an hour or so because “everything took too long”.
I could never relate to his sense of time, except on rare occasions. Such as waiting for a shuttle in a Star Port when there was no one around. Thinking back on stuff like this tells me that a gamer’s perception of time is directly related to how enticed they are by the game. Doing something boring like waiting fifteen minutes for a space shuttle to get on with your adventures seems long and drawn out. While exploring the deserts of Tatooine was exciting and countless hours went by in the blink of an eye.
While everyone loses track of time, I have no doubt that gamers do it the most. Why? Simply because we do it the best. Honestly, we constantly immerse ourselves in enjoyable activities. Whenever we have a free moment, we are in another world doing amazing feats that others would have only read about in fictional books. You know you're a true gamer when you are surprised when someone tells you today is Saturday and you realize that you forgot to sleep.
The type of game you are playing can cause your ability to judge time to be stretched in different ways. For example, when playing a game in League of Legends, that forty minute game filled with close calls will impact you as if you’ve been in a two hour intense battle. But then again, if you're playing against a lot of easy foes, it could feel like only fifteen minutes has passed. As I mentioned there are a lot of factors that go in to determining your sense of time.
There are so many weird things in play when it comes to a gamer’s perception of time. I mentioned how gamers can't tell how much time has passed, but at the same time they can be extremely sharp. Have you ever been playing a game only to be interrupted by someone wanting your attention? You tell them, “Just give me ten more minutes!” and they agree. Five minutes later they come back and bother you again and it immediately clicks, “no way that was ten minutes.” But then again it could be the exact opposite. Maybe you had a bad day and you want to lose yourself in this game and instead of coming back five minutes later, they come back after fifteen minutes to tell you that you've been on five minutes longer than you agreed. It didn't seem like you had gotten in an extra five minutes at all.
The other and often scarier occurrence though is when we start discussing long-term impacts of gamer time. This can occur in the form of gamers missing an important exam date because they don’t realize it’s week 10 of a college course yet. It’s most noticeable if you’re a regular member of an online gaming organization and take a 4+ day break without logging in. Upon your return, the hardcore members of the group will literally act like they’ve seen a ghost, expressing the feeling that you seemingly haven’t been around for a month.
It all makes you think, though. Perhaps the game developers are designing their games with the idea of manipulating our perception of time. Perhaps all the incredible graphics and intense gameplay is all just a ploy to skew our sense of time so that we'll crave it more and more and time will fly. Or perhaps that MMO developer makes you do all those boring and repetitive quests with that wonderful carrot just before your nose so that you'll continue dishing out money to reach your goal. In fact, as sad as it is, I would say that the latter is more likely than the former.
It all comes down to who you are and what your past and current circumstances are. Maybe you just can't “get in the zone” because you no longer enjoy the game anymore and everything seems to take forever. Or perhaps you are super hyped about a game and you just spent twelve hours playing non-stop. It's so different for each and every gamer that there is no real way to define it. As gamers, our experiences with time differ wildly and there is no way to truly measure Gamer Time.