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So. I've come up with a live-action video game, essentially like Ready Player One or The Matrix. You put on a helmet, which then intercepts your brain signals and causes you to enter a virtual reality.

The game itself is an escape-based game, where you have 1 hour to get into the next level. Of course, going through 20 or so levels like this would take a long time, even if you beat each level first try.

So, I decided I needed to make time go faster for those in the game than for those outside the game. I would prefer each level to last around 5 minutes for the real world (despite being an hour for those inside the game).

This kind of speed up would be tough on the brain, so how can I help mitigate that from being a major problem?

In response to comments:(TurtleTail) You are able to leave the game between levels, simply by pressing a button which allows you to take off the helmet and continue with your life.

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    $\begingroup$ What makes you think that this isn't the case? What rules have you chosen to impose upon yourself that would prevent this? Questions like this where the answer is entirely at the discretion of the worldbuilder are to opinion based for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 25 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ Are people forced to remain in it for an entire hour irl or 12 hours in their minds? If so this is gonna be a terrible experience, the brain will tire quick and it will stop being fun quickly. If they are not forced to continue on then why make it go faster at all? It would be a waste of development resources. There are already games that take hundreds of hours to complete, just adjusting the timer accordingly seems more efficient for the creators of the game. $\endgroup$
    – TurtleTail
    May 25 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ To extend Sphenning, realistic is more often than not a question of "believability" rather than "in regards to real-world" (what I believe you meant). When you're at the stage you can make a virtual game world directly connected to the brain, you're already in quite high sci-fi tech (though the research dough has made some interesting progress in it), so... $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 25 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @TurtleTail I concur; Game designers get to spend a lot of time learning how to adjust the game's duration. And if the game's investment need to be high (e.g.: for immersion), split it into multiple sessions/chapters/episodes. For instance, a puzzle game will split every level into clearly divided and short puzzles as both tutorials and time session dividers. Most shooters cut the game into missions, and RPGs will open new areas over time to create their chapters. These lead to a far better experience for the player overall. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 25 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Is it possible to not have it actually accelerated, but rather seem accelerated? EG: dreams. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 15:35

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In theory the simulation itself wouldn't be the problem, you can easily run something designed to play for an hour in 5 minutes, just like you can fast forward a movie.

However the issue is that the brain would need to be able to keep up, otherwise it would actually just appear as a sped up movie and not like an hours long game.

I can think of two ways to get around the problem. Either by actually speeding up the users brain somehow. Or to link it to a dream like state where the actual gameplay elements would be a couple of minutes then coerce the brain to fill in blanks with dream like memories and emotions in between.

Depending on your setting both could be viable. Be weary though that the first option includes the actual capability to "do an hour of thinking" in a couple of minutes. This kind of tech would ripple through your entire world with all it's possible up and downsides.

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    $\begingroup$ “Either by actually speeding up the users brain somehow.” Sounds like a job for drugs. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    May 25 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ I like that dream state solution. Good for a fictional game and I like very much the idea that this would have ramifications for other endeavors. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 25 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ A dream-like state also means your fictitious game developers don't have to try as hard to make the plot make sense, because the brain will just accept whatever disjointed nonsense you shove at it. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    May 26 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ "Be weary though"...Why would it be helpful for OP to become tired? $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    May 26 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Muuski No, I'm always tired and it doesn't seem to help much. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy L.
    May 26 at 17:44
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Gradually speed up your levels

In the old days, when we played Tetris, it was comfortable to play the first 4 levels. The game went very slowly and you had all the time of the world, the Tetris bricks would take 10-15 seconds to fall.. enough time to learn the proper keyboard keys to turn-and-drop the brick.

Later on.. level 11, the speed of the Tetris bricks required a turn-and-drop decision in about 500 miliseconds.

The previous levels seemed dull to play.

Looking at your screen, the outside person watching your level 11 Tetris wouldn't be able to keep up with your fingers and gets to think you must be clairvoyant, or know all the moves..

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    $\begingroup$ Actually ... yes. To the outside observer, you've played 1 hour worth of game (level 1) in significantly shorter time ... $\endgroup$ May 27 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Nuclear03020704 indeed the level 1 observer will regard the time I spend on level 11 time-warped factor 1:30 in case of classic Tetris. The same counts for any ignorant observer watching the higher levels of modern racers and single person shooters. Events are incredibly fast. "Where did that bullet come from ?". or "How did you know so quickly there's a guy on the roof?". For the gamer, it is all a matter of concentration and skill. A game requires the gamer to waste time as quick as possible. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 28 at 0:29
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You don't justify your premise that the brain would have trouble dealing with the faster in-game time. I play games right now where the in-game time is faster than real-time and I don't even get a headache. The movie Inception justifies its premise using the suspension-of-disbelief assertion that time passes faster in a dream than in reality. There doesn't seem to be a real problem here (other than you won't simply state that as a rule of your world people can process faster in-game time than reality time without harm), but for the sake of argument, let's say there is one...

Reduce the detail

People get confused, headaches, even very real psychological problems because too much detail is happening too quickly for the mind to process. Heck, amusement parks depend on this human limitation for most of their fun! The problem is that, barring an act to block things, you can't actually stop your brain from hearing all the noise going on around you or from processing everything it sees to the level of detail the eye permits, or from smelling everything that's out there.

Except that the brain actually does stop those things. Automatically it will filter out noise it doesn't want to listen to (within limits, an air horn is awfully loud) or things it doesn't want to focus on, or smells that have been around too long.

You need to do the same thing in your game

You need to pre-filter the detail so the enhanced speed doesn't overwhelm the mind. Humans can frequently see individual leaves on trees from an awfully long way away — but is it actually necessary to have that level of detail in your game? While our eyes can see that detail, what we end up comprehending is that the trees behind the person we're talking to are green.

Pre-filtering also has the advantage of allowing you to control the flow of the game by forcing the focus of the player to be drawn to necessary detail rather than unnecessary detail.

Pre-filtering is also valuable economically as computer time isn't wasted rendering details that serve no useful purpose in the game.

Honestly, do you actually need to see the pores on your friend's nose when you're talking to them? Reduce the detail to reduce the distraction, control the flow, and be economically efficient.

And at the same time you'll save their brains, which is a good thing because they'll be needed when the zombie apocalypse starts.

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Not realistically, or not much

There is a hard cap on how fast a human can think. Specifically, there are neurochemical reaction speeds to contend with that simply take time. Thoughts don't happen instantly, and reacting to any external stimulus has a delay. Specifically, it is widely recognized that a human has a reaction speed of around 250ms to visual input to execute a "prepared action". This can be reduced with training to make a specific reaction instinctual instead, and there are some studies that show you can increase reaction speed by eating specific foods, but generally, reaction speed is something that's mostly determined by fitness, age, and genetics.

Interestingly, as the information-bandwidth that you need to react to decreases, reaction time decreases too. Reacting to a sound is faster than reacting to something visual, and reacting to a touch sensation is even faster, reaching about 150ms.

That said, in certain scenarios, time acceleration is already used. Many people listen to audiobooks or podcasts at an accelerated speed, and switching a video to play at a higher speed is also rather common. Unfortunately, the human mind is simply limited on how much "bandwidth" it can intake per certain amount of time. From personal experience, I know that I can watch a video at 1.25 speed and only negligibly impact retention, but when I crank it to 2x speed, I need to turn on captions to keep my information retention high because I simply can't process all the video and audio at the sped-up pace but I can read and comprehend at that pace.

You can try this at home. Pick an information-heavy video, and crank the speed until you reach the point where you aren't understanding anything anymore.

Because of this, I don't think you could crank the speed of a VR or even a "Full Dive" significantly. Maybe if you start off slow, you could crank the speed by a couple percentage points: TV channels have gotten away with cranking speeds to 104% to increase advertiser time with only very few people noticing, but anything more would immediately be noticed and likely perceived as very uncomfortable. Maybe, provided your equipment can interact deeply with the brain or people take reaction-speed increasing drugs, you could crank it into the tens of percentage points (110%, 120%) but anything more would likely be uncomfortable and disorienting.

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It all depends on whether the human brain is overclockable. Does a human brain even have a clock speed (and are humans more intelligent if theirs is raised significantly... or do they just arrive at the same conclusions more quickly)?

If the human brain operates on principles significantly different than one where a clock speed metaphor is appropriate, then time can't go faster in the Matrix without the inhabitants of it being incapable of "keeping up" with the events in the Matrix.

On the other hand, even if it does have a clock speed, the methods and technology to ramp that up seem far-fetched. Meat just isn't that quick. Signals only propagate along synapses so fast, proteins can only be synthesized so quickly, etc.

Most of the sensations of a dream having lasted much longer than the sleep that it was born from have to do with malfunctioning faculties that let an awake brain track time.

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    $\begingroup$ If Peter Watts (sci-fi author) is right, the speed of a signal in the brain is about 59,000 k/s (see page 13). $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 25 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ The human brain already consumes a huge fraction of our oxygen and food supply. If you could make it go 12x faster as the OP proposes, that would have drastic (likely fatal) effects on our physiology. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    May 26 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom I like Peter Watts, he's insightful. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    May 26 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom Um, actually ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_conduction_velocity mostly more like 50-60 m/s (or perhaps up to 200 m/s in some shrimp (quora.com/What-is-the-speed-of-a-electric-signal-in-a-neuron) $\endgroup$ May 28 at 8:56
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Why does the escape room take an hour? Well, we know it doesn't. It takes 5 minutes. But it sounds like your goal is to have the humans playing it perceive an hour has past.

Chronoception, or the perception of time, is an intriguing topic because we really don't understand it yet. We have many hypotheses about how the brain links together events to from a cohesive stream of time, but hard neurochemical arguments are hard to come by.

You could easily pick one of these theories and argue that your game stimulates the brain carefully to create this illusion. However, the harder challenge would be "overclocking the brain" as others have put it. The brain can only think at a certain pace. You would not be able to simulate a nice leasurily drive through the countryside with a simulated F-1 car careening around corners. The decision making has to happen too fast.

One interesting thing you could play with is the theory that "time slows down" for people in high-adrenaline environments like sky diving. Studies have shown our brain doesn't actually operate faster in these environment, processing stimuli as it always did, but it does seem to respond faster. You could argue that this is because the brain is "disconnecting" the slower higher order thought processes and falling back on the more instinctive paths through the neurons.

This could be troublesome for an escape room, where typically one is relying on higher order thinking, but you may be able to re-invent the escape room to reward more flowing forms of thinking. Indeed, there are some who argue that there is a "flow" state where data progresses through the brain more laminarly than usual. If the game encourages people to enter this state, it will be easier to generate unusual chronology.

That being said, the answer may be a writing solution. why does the escape room need to take an hour? What purpose did that provide? If the idea of the book is that people spend hours in these games and then are suddenly confused that little time has passed, then you'll have to have this particular perception. If you just want a scene which plays out as-if it were an hour long escape room, there may be writing ways to avoid needing such longevity.

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I think the best way to handle this is to sidestep the question of "can you speed up the brain?", if you're okay with a pretty advanced technological level you could have the device scan the brain, recreate it digitally and put the real one to sleep.

Once you have that simulated brain created you can make that simulation run arbitrarily fast (dependant on the available processing power), the player wouldn't actually experience the game, but an exact digital copy of themselves would.

When you log out of the game, the memories of the replica would be inserted into the real brain, the digital brain would be purged and the real one woken up.

This method essentially bypasses any biological speed limit that the brain has, the only thing to worry about is "writing" memories into the brain.

It's definitely far past the technology level of Ready Player one, but close to The Matrix.

(The method does open the door to some weird philosophical situations if the technology is flawed, stuff like a replica surviving the purge and a person existing in multiple forms at the same time, but you can ignore these if the technology works reliably)

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  • $\begingroup$ yes, this one, I was going to comment precisely this. Emulated brains running faster than real time is a common trope in that sort of fiction. Greg Egan, I think, wrote about it in Diaspora. $\endgroup$ May 27 at 22:56
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The first point is that you really can't speed up the human brain. They've performed experiments attempting to recreate "flashbulb memories," where it feels like time slows down, but what they've learned is that your perceptions don't speed up, your brain just retains more information after the fact.

They've demonstrated this in experiments with fighter pilots. The pilots develop a more organized brain structure through training, but it was very task-specific.

You can improve reaction time to a specific task, but that speed improvement is entirely in problem recognition time, not resolution time. Improving recognition time also makes the person more susceptible to false positives.

What you can do is reduce the intermediate garbage. Most of a person's time in an escape room involves moving from one place to another to find the next set of clues. If you make the escape room twice as big, it takes twice as long (roughly), even with the same set of puzzles. If you want it to take less time, you can reduce "travel time" in the virtual world.

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I recommend you take a look at Accel World, a Japanese novel and animation where the players of the game enter a world where time is accelerated 1000 times. It enables the players to enter and exit a game while standing at traffic lights or wherever, and be back in the real world fast enough that there is little danger from 'zoning out' in a public place.

The author's reasoning behind the ability to accelerate time is that time is related to the speed of your heart beat. He proposes that when people are in love, or in an emergency situation, your heart beats faster and your consciousness slows down. By that logic, if the game can accelerate your heart beat, it can also accelerate your consciousness, causing time in the game to pass by much faster than in real life.

Of course, this idea presents lots of other questions, such as, is it really healthy to speed up someone's heart so much that their consciousness is accelerated 1000 times? But then, it's fiction, so the science doesn't need to be perfect.

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    $\begingroup$ I can confirm that being in love can make time seem to pass slower for whole weeks at a time. Not enormously slower -- 1 objective minute does not take 60 subjective minutes. (No idea if this has anything to do with heart beat.) $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 25 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ The effect isn't due to the heart beating faster, the effect (and the increased heartbeat) is due to increased adrenaline. The adrenaline causes the body to shift from its idle parasympathetic nervous response to the heightened sympathetic nervous response, which is what lets your body react faster and the mind absorb data faster (making it feel like time slows down). It also burns you out, which is why the body eventually shuts down from the adrenal rush. (The author's reasoning is self-justifying.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 26 at 6:25

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