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Self-Observation Distance in Virtual Reality: Why Is It Important?

The more we immerse ourselves in virtual reality, the more it becomes clear that there are certain limitations that need to be addressed. It’s not enough to simply slap on a headset and expect a full-immersion experience.


Although VR is now already used in multiple areas of our life, from entertainment to education to relaxation, with some resources like even applying VR technology to the content adults would use in their private time, the technical limitation of VR tools do not allow for a fully immersive experience yet.

The problem with VR is that it doesn’t really give us any way to self-observe: what does it mean for me when I look down at my own body? Where am I located in relation to other people in this environment? These are interesting questions, especially since there are so many ways we can use our bodies as interfaces with technology already (from smartphones to smartwatches).

The Sense of Presence in VR

As VR becomes more immersive, its disadvantages become more apparent. This isn’t a bad thing—it’s just an indication that the technology is still in its early stages and there are many ways in which it can be improved.

VR has been around for decades but only recently started to gain traction due to improvements in technology (e.g., graphics processing) and lower costs of entry into the market (e.g., headsets). While we’re still far from perfecting this new medium, we’re getting closer every day!

For now, we don’t know how immersive VR can ultimately become. As a technology, it’s still in its infancy and there are many different types of experiences available today. Some are said to be more effective than others at inducing a sense of presence, but we can only hypothesize as to what the best practices will be as research advances and technologies improve.

The technology has already been used for training and education purposes where an experience is designed with a specific goal in mind (for example, teaching someone how to use tools in their job). It has also been applied effectively at entertainment events such as concerts or sporting events—where the goal isn’t necessarily educational but rather immersion itself becomes the purpose (although there may be some educational value if attendees are allowed access before or after an event).

Virtual Avatars and Real Bodies

In VR, you can interact with the world as a virtual avatar. You can move your avatar around and interact with the virtual world using movements from your actual body. But when it comes to seeing and feeling our bodies in VR, there are some problems that we haven’t quite figured out how to solve yet.

You can’t see yourself in VR. The only way for you to see your own body is by looking at your reflection on the screen or by turning around and looking behind you—but neither of those options is great! Looking at yourself on screen isn’t very immersive because you’ll always be staring at another person’s face instead of your own. It feels awkward, so developers are working to find other ways to improve the situation.

The relationship between your real body and the virtual body you inhabit in a VR experience is delicate. If we want to create a truly immersive VR experience, we need to figure out how to bridge the gap between your body in real life and your body in virtual reality.

Self-Observation in VR

When you’re in VR, the problem is that you can only see yourself from a limited distance and your movements aren’t necessarily fully synchronized with the avatar. That’s why, for example, you have to use your hand to look around when playing a game that allows you to move around with your head.

That limited self-observation distance means there are some things you can’t do in VR—like change clothes or look at yourself from every angle—which limits the kind of experiences it can offer us. Thus, self-observation distance is an important limitation to keep in mind when evaluating VR technology.

As a VR user, you’re essentially creating two distinct experiences: first, the virtual world itself, and second, your own perception of it (how it actually feels). The self-observation distance refers to how far apart these two experiences occur: if they’re too close together or too far apart, users may experience discomfort or sickness.

Immersion in Games

When you observe yourself in a game, it changes how you view the game. This means that there are many ways for self-observation distance to affect immersion and the resulting quality of games:

  • You might not feel like you’re in the world of a game if your character doesn’t look like you or has different body proportions. This can also make progress difficult—it’s hard to remember what moves your hands can do when they don’t look like yours.
  • If characters around you look different from how you would expect, then this could affect whether or not they seem real and alive—and therefore whether or not players will care about them as people when playing games with moral choices.
  • In VR educational experiences (like museums) where students are given multiple options for interacting with objects, if those options aren’t presented clearly enough, then students might be confused about what they’re supposed to do next because they can’t see themselves clearly enough through their headset’s lenses without moving away from their current position (which would break immersion).


Virtual reality is an amazing technology that has great potential to shape our future. But in order for it to be truly successful and immersive, we need to figure out how to bridge the gap between our bodies in real life and virtual reality. The self-observation distance is an important limitation to keep in mind when evaluating VR technology.