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What It’s Like To Experience Video-Game Lag In Real Life

To advertise its new broadband service, a Swedish ISP strapped volunteers into virtual reality headsets and made them live life with a bad Internet connection. Playing Ping-Pong with forced delay sucks.

What It’s Like To Experience Video-Game Lag In Real Life
[Image: Ping pong via Shutterstock]

In a sense, we’re all living in the past.

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According to some neuroscientists, our consciousness lags 80 milliseconds behind actual events. For gamers playing competitive multiplayer action games, that’s roughly equivalent to the maximum amount of lag you can deal with before your reflexes start suffering. Any slower than that, and you’re a sitting duck.

To market its new 1 gigabit per second broadband service, Swedish ISP UmeNet took volunteers and simulated what the worst video game latencies would feel like in real life. It’s kind of like the Decelerator Helmet, except far less Matrix-like. Forget dodging bullets. With enough lag, even cooking yourself breakfast is an impossible challenge.

In UmeNet’s “Living With Lag” experiment, four volunteers were strapped into Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets with webcams mounted to the faceplates. Although the webcam fed each volunteer video, it did so with a considerable delay of between one third of a second to three seconds. The volunteers were then pushed out the door to do everyday tasks, such as play ping pong, go bowling, attend dance class, and cook meals.

Not surprisingly, UmeNet’s volunteers didn’t do so well. Bowling was probably easiest with lag, but hitting a ping-pong ball became a farce, and dance class a free-for-all melee. Even doing something as simple as cracking an egg over a bowl was impossible with multi-second lag. And the less said about what happened when UmeNet asked two people experiencing different lags to have sex together, the better. (Kidding!)

You can fault UmeNet for some artistic license to make a point here. When it comes to broadband, lag isn’t just about the speed of your connection. In fact, there are all sorts of contributing factors that can cause your latency to go up.

For advertising purposes, though, this is a very clever campaign–and now that Facebook has purchased Oculus Rift, it might turn out to be strangely prescient as well. If Zuckerberg has his way, after all, we’ll all be experiencing the real world through the lens of a VR connection.

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