Virtual Reality User Experience (UX) Terminology

Below is a curated list of terms relating to virtual reality user experience.

  • active presence

    (also known as ‘hand presence’)

    an immersive state that is reached as a consequence of using a handheld tool/device (peripheral) within a VR experience

  • agency

    (see also: ‘local agency‘ and ‘global agency‘)

    the capacity of an entity (a person or other entity) to act in, and influence, an artificial environment

  • analytics

    the information resulting from the systematic analysis of both events occurring within the artificial reality and of the device being used to create the artificial reality.

    Virtual reality analytic metrics are therefore often divided into two groups:


  • avatar

    a virtual representation of the experiencer within the virtual world

    They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.1

    1. Stephenson, N. (2011) Snow Crash. Penguin. Pg 33.

  • cockpit

    a virtual anchor that is fixed to the experiencer’s view and helps to ground them in the virtual world e.g. a fighter jet cockpit

    Research has shown that grounding the experiencer’s with virtual anchors can help curb symptoms of virtual reality sickness.

  • data glove

    an interactive device – often resembling a glove worn on the hand – which connects to a computer system and facilitates fine-motion control within virtual reality

  • Duck test

    a colloquial name for a method of testing if an experiencer has reached a state of presence by monitoring their behaviour when threatened by a virtual object


  • embodied cognition

    the idea that cognition is not just limited to the brain, but distributed across the entire body

  • embodied presence

    acknowledging the existence of your body within a virtual reality VR experience

    In physical reality and first order virtual reality there is something very simple that you can do to physically establish your presence. Look down, and you will see your body, or see parts of it continuously in peripheral vision.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 10.

  • emotional presence

    a state that evokes an emotional response from the experiencer e.g. empathy, joy, or fun, within a virtual reality (VR) experience

  • erfahren experience

    an external, objective event, which the experiencer learns from

    An erfahren experience typically means that the experiencer gains something from it, usually knowledge. It is therefore directly linked to a specific moment in time, and is an experience that can be recalled in order for future decisions to be made. E.g. If I were to observe someone becoming ill from eating a certain type of berry, then I would learn not to eat that type of berry in future.

    ‘Erfaren’ is one of two German verbs that are used to define experience. The other is ‘erleben‘.

  • erleben experience

    an intense, personal experience that deeply effects the experiencer’s inner life

    An erleben experience typically describes a singular, exciting, and profound event, however these can be both positive or negative. It often involves the experiencer embodying the experience on some level.

    ‘Erleben’ is one of two German verbs that are used to define experience. The other is ‘erfahren‘.

  • Experience Manager

    (also known as a ‘story generator’)

    a generalisation of the ‘drama manager’ concept put forward by Joe Bates in Virtual reality, art, and entertainment. Originally published in Presence: The Journal of Tele-operators and Virtual Environments, Pg. 133–138, 1992.

    an intelligent, omniscient, and disembodied agent that monitors the virtual world and intervenes to drive the narrative forward according to some model of quality of experience. Often used as a surrogate for the human author.1

    1. Mark O. Riedl and Vadim Bulitko. Interactive Narrative: An Intelligent Systems Approach. AI Magazine Pg 3.


  • experiencer

    experiencer is another word for ‘user’ or ‘player’

    It originates from a quote by Donald Hoffman, Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, who said:

    “One aspect of conscious experience is that it seems you can’t have an experience without an experiencer.”

    And was offered up as a more appropriate alternative to ‘user’ in Steve McCarthy’s article: Has ‘User’ Become An Outdated Term


  • field of view (FOV)

    is the view that is visible to the experiencer while rotating their head from a fixed body position

    The average human field of view is approximately 200 degrees.

  • flow

    (also known as: being in the ‘zone’)

    the mental state whereby an experiencer is so involved in the process of an activity that nothing else seems to matter

  • Game Transfer Phenomena (GTM)

    are the phenomena that occur when virtual reality elements – primarily from video games – are associated with real life elements triggering subsequent thoughts, sensations and / or behaviour among experiencers / players


  • gaze

    the direction the experiencer is looking in

  • gaze-activated content

    when content e.g. the way actors within a scene behave, or the narrative, is directly impacted by the experiencer’s gaze

    See Believe VR from LA-based VR filmmaker Kevin Cornish and AMD.


  • gesture

    a form of non-verbal communication through the body – typically the hands or head – that, when tracked by a motion sensing camera attached to a computer, can be interpreted as movement and mirrored in virtual reality


  • ghost story

    (see also: the Swayze effect)

    a virtual reality (VR) experience where the user is a disembodied observer in an unfolding narrative – as if watching a movie – but incapable of making changes to the world or talking to the characters

  • global agency

    (see also: ‘agency‘)

    interactivity where the experiencer’s actions could yield some sort of outcome or have a consequence on the narrative

  • haptics

    haptic technology simulates the sense of touch through the sensation of pressure (usually on the hands via a glove)

    This helps to support agency by enabling the experiencer to control virtual objects or sense physical forces within the virtual environment. Haptics are a significant component in peripherals.

  • heatmap

    a graphical representation of data relating to the experiencer’s gaze during a virtual reality (VR) experience

    Gaze heatmaps are one type of analytics. They utilise a hot (red) to cold (blue/green) system of colour-coding to represent areas of interest within the experience.

  • hotspot

    an interactive spot within the artificial experience that reveal more content or options

    Hotspots can be animated and are often shown as a glowing orb.

  • immersion

    a psychological sense of being in a virtual environment

    Immersion provides the boundaries within which place illusion (PI) can occur.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 6.


  • interactive narrative

    (also known as: ‘responsove narrative’)

    a form of digital interactive experience in which experiencers create or influence a dramatic storyline through their actions

    When the balance between an ordained narrative and freewill interaction is tweaked just right, it creates the perception of great “game play” – a sweet feeling of being part of something large that is moving forward (the game’s narrative) while you still get to steer (the game’s play).1

    1. Kelly, K. (2016) The Inevitable Penguin. Pg 229.

  • latency

    the time delay or lag between activating a process (change in input from the experiencer) and its accomplishment (the visual effect)

    High-latency can lead to a detached experience and can also contribute to motion sickness / dizziness.

  • local agency

    (see also: ‘agency‘)

    interactivity that flavours the experience, but is unlikely to send it down a different narrative path

  • locomotion

    refers to the process of moving from one place to another

    This is most commonly used to refer to movement within the virtual environment e.g. how an avatar navigates the virtual world, but can also refer to movement outside of the virtual environment e.g. how the experiencer navigates the real-world while in a virtual experience.

    Locomotion mechanics in virtual reality can be broken down into three primary categories:
    1. Perambulation
    2. Teleportation
    3. Transportation


  • occlusion

    the obscuring or hiding an object from view by the positioning of other objects in the experiencer’s line of sight

  • peripheral

    a device that helps enhance a virtual reality experience by enabling greater immersion within the virtual world

    The most common VR peripherals are gloves or controllers e.g. the Oculus Touch that look to mirror the experiencer’s innate movements and help to facilitate better active presence.


  • pitch

    rotation around the horizontal (x) axis

  • place illusion (PI)

    the feeling of existing in a place

    Place illusion (PI) was put forward by Mel Slater as one of two illusions that contribute to a sense of presence. It is often discussed in conjunction with the Plausibility illusion (Psi):


  • plausibility illusion (Psi)

    the acceptance that the scenario being depicted is actually occurring

    Another way of thinking of this illusion is as the automatic and rapid response from the experiencer to the important question: Is this really happening? If the response is ‘no’ then the illusion is broken.


  • player modelling

    refers to the process of learning a model of the experiencer’s individual differences (e.g. preferences, play style, etc.)

  • Poison Berry theory

    the ‘Poison Berry’ theory is an evolutionary idea behind virtual reality sickness

    It suggests that experiencing sensory input that is different than what is expected, combined with dizziness, are symptoms associated with being poisoned. From an evolutionary perspective people who are poisoned benefit from throwing up quickly.

  • positional audio

    audio that is triggered based on the position of the headset

    For example, in a crowded scene the experiencer would be given the ability to choose which conversation they listen to based on where they are looking.

    New Wave by Directors Samir Mallal and Aron Hjartarson demonstrates the positional audio approach.


  • presence

    (also known as: ‘telepresence’)
    (see also: active presence, embodied presence, emotional presence, and social presence)

    a feeling of being in and of the virtual world, and the ignoring of physical world distractions

    It is the strong illusion of being in a place in spite of the sure knowledge that you are not there.1

    1. Mel Slater. Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments Pg 5.


  • redirected walking

    is the name given to a technique used to extend the possible size of a virtual reality environment by imperceptibly rotating the virtual scene without the experiencer being aware

    Redirected Walking causes people to change their real walking direction without noticing it, allows for larger VEs [virtual environments], and does not induce appreciable simulator sickness.1

    1. Sharif Razzaque, Zachariah Kohn, Mary C. Whitton Redirected Walking. The Eurographics Association 2001. Pg 1.

    The technique is notably utilised in experiences created by The Void.

  • response-as-if-real (RAIR)

    a state that describes when an experiencer responds to a virtual reality as if it were real

    If you are there (PI) and what appears to be happening is really happening (Psi) then this is happening to you! Hence you are likely to respond as if it were real. We call this ‘response-as-if-real’ RAIR.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 11.

  • reticle

    the reticle is a visual aid for the experiencer to target objects within a virtual reality environment with their gaze


  • room-scale

    a design paradigm that allows users to move freely within a room-sized environment while partaking in a virtual reality (VR) experience

    Through the use of kinetic locomotion mechanics (in the Perambulation category), the experiencer’s physical movements are mirrored within the virtual world and helps to contribute to a greater sense of immersion, with the body being directly engaged – a key contributor to creating a state of embodied presence.

    The term room-scale is often used to differentiate between other types of virtual reality experiences e.g. a self-contained environment of a VR room or seated or standing VR, in which the user remains stationary.

  • sensorimotor contingencies

    sensorimotor contingencies (SCs) refer to the actions that we know to carry out in order to perceive

    …for example, moving your head and eyes to change gaze direction, or bending down and shifting head and gaze direction in order to see underneath something1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 3.

  • signposts (signposting)

    environment cues with the added purpose of helping the user to interpret the virtual environment

  • social presence

    choosing to actively engage with others within a VR experience


  • Swayze effect

    (see also: ghost story)

    the sensation of having no tangible relationship with your surroundings despite feeling embodied in the virtual world

    The phrase was coined by Story Studio and the name is a reference to actor Patrick Swayze who played the protagonist in the 1990’s film Ghost. In the film, Swayze’s character dies and returns as a ghost to help his wife solve the mystery of his death. The effect observed by Story Studio, looks to describe the struggle of affecting a virtual environment and the people who occupy it when no observable feedback from the world is being received.


  • valid actions

    the actions that an experiencer can take that can result in changes in perception, or changes to the environment

  • virtual reality sickness

    (also known as: ‘motion sickness’ or ‘simulation sickness’)

    is the feeling of general discomfort caused by experiencing virtual reality

    Symptoms can include: headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and disorientation. Research suggests that discomfort – of which virtual reality sickness is a contributing factor – is a major barrier for initiating engagement with virtual reality. Therefore, significant development time has been spent trying to reduce and eradicate virtual reality sickness through innovation in technology.

    The ‘Poison Berry’ theory is one evolutionary idea behind virtual reality sickness.

  • zeitgeber

    any external or environmental cue that entrains or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to the Earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle and 12 month cycle