Imagine walking around a cluttered room but then having little idea of where you have traveled. This frequently happens when people move around small virtual environments (VEs), searching for targets. In three experiments, participants searched small-scale VEs using different movement interfaces, collision response algorithms, and fields of view. Participants' searches were most efficient in terms of distance traveled, time taken, and path followed when the simplest form of movement (view direction) was used in conjunction with a response algorithm that guided (“slipped”) them around obstacles when collisions occurred. Unexpectedly, and in both immersive and desktop VEs, participants often had great difficulty finding the targets, despite the fact that participants could see the whole VE if they stood in one place and turned around. Thus, the trivial real-world task used in the present study highlights a basic problem with current VE systems.

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