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The VRT Concept

One of the problems with global, persistent, shared virtual environments, is time. More specifically, time zones. To demonstrate this problem, go to any non-roleplay virtual environment or even a simple chatroom with a fair number of participants, and ask people what the time is:

  • :17:03
  • :10:02
  • :Its 11pm
  • :Its too early

The problem is thus co-ordinating a shared experience across different time zones. Whilst this issue will be with us as long as time zones exist in any meaningful fashion, examples such as the following only serve to muddle the situation:

Person1: Meet back here at five?
Person2: Ok
Person2: Wait, five my time or your time?
Person1: Huh?
Person2: Do we meet back here when it's five for you, or five for me?
Person1: Five for me
Person2: Oh, ok. What time is it now?
Person1: What do you mean what time is it now? Look at your clock
Person2: What time is it now, for you?
Person1: noon
Person2: Ok :) See you in five hours

The above transcript is fictional, of course, but is made of elements seen over and over again in actual conversations. People get drawn into the virtual environment, which is good, but they see it through their own time zone, and easily forget that other people have different time zones, which is bad.

At least one virtual environment system has offered a possible solution for this. ActiveWorlds runs a standardised time zone, Virtual Real Time, or VRT. VRT is based in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, between the landmasses of Iceland and Greenland, in a time zone bisected by no country, to ensure international fairness. The time in VRT is always displayed at the bottom of the ActiveWorlds client browser, ticking away like the normal clock.

This fairly basic, but ingenious solution gives people a shared time zone to work from. No matter what the local time zones are, if people work from VRT, there can never be any confusion:

Person1: Meet back here at 19:00 VRT?

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