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RECORDS

  • Writer's pictureBhuvanesh Tekavade

Immersion, Engagement & Presence

In this article, we would be looking at three main topics:

  1. The Video Game Theory Reader, edited by Mark J. P. Wolf, and Bernard Perron, Taylor & Francis Group, 2003

  2. The Virtuous Cycle of Immersion, Janina Saarnio, [Article], 2017

  3. Voices of VR Podcast #130, Richard Skarbez on Immersion & Coherence

  4. Voices of VR Podcast #740: Facebook/Oculus Head of Experiences on Immersive Storytelling


The Video Game Theory Reader


The first sections of the chapter that piqued my interest were the 'immersion' and 'engagement,' as they provided brief but clear and concise definitions of those terms. With them in mind, I was able to sketch out some of my project ideas. As a result, I can say that those sections were extremely beneficial. As a "quick draft," here's what I came up with:


To attain the degree of involvement I desire, my experience will not necessitate a hefty dose of 'deep play.' To get the most out of it, I want to create an immersive experience with which the player will want to engage, even if they will not be required to master any complicated features (patterns, rules, skills, etc.). The best approach for my experience is to allow users to see the whole thing clearly, feel absorbed in it, and get the maximum level of engagement without having to do anything difficult. I think, it's immersive as it is, treating the experience as a game and giving it some kind of competitive side, but that's not what I want (because it also breaks the immersive feeling). .. Therefore, there must be a carefully planned line of immersion and commitment that must be achieved without the need for these complex ideals.


The second part I found particularly interesting was ‘The use of a Social actor in the medium’ and how it addressed and explain the example of The Thing Growing, which I found quite fascinating, both the technology and the design behind The Thing’s character, but also the philosophy behind the impossibility of establishing some intimacy between human ser and virtual character, which is the exact barrier I am trying to break with my VR experience, though in my case, the “thing” is actual existing animals from the Arctic.


The third section that piqued my interest was the one that came after the previous one: 'Intelligent Environment.' Even before I read it, the title piqued my interest and drew me in. In terms of presence and immersion, I found the author's project The Memesis Project to be quite revolutionary, with data gathering playing a significant role. Though the concept of gathering data to improve a specific audience's experience is not new, the flexibility the project aims to achieve is truly revolutionary for the time (considering the time the text was written, 2003), and something we now see everywhere, from games that learn from your playstyle (e.g. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's enemy AI system learns your preferred killing methods, such as headshots or stealth approaches) to the use of "big data" (creepy and dangerous in my opinion). As I previously stated, I believe The Memesis Project, or at least its essential principles, were groundbreaking for today's 'internet world.'



The Virtuous Cycle of Immersion

Janina’s physical mind map of “The virtuous cycle of immersion” (aka. never ending story).


I was able to reevaluate various notions and principles I thought I knew better thanks to Janina Saarnio's writing, which did an excellent job of comparing and putting them into context. The "immersion factor" is a critical component of any VR experience. However, the creator is not solely responsible for reaching an "immersed condition." The developer is in charge of creating a sense of presence. They must make the user feel as if they are a part of the experience. It comes with a sense of embodiment: the user should feel like themselves in the encounter. They should see their bodies reflected onto their character's bodies if it's a first-person experience.


The most difficult aspect of achieving immersion is the user's capacity to achieve that state of immersion. Some people can easily separate themselves from the "outside world," while others find it difficult to fully immerse themselves in the virtual reality environment and feel it is their reality. For example, some people are so engrossed in the book they're reading that they can "disconnect" themselves (and their minds from their surroundings, ignoring events that might be happening near them for example, a fly flies over them), while people on the other end of the spectrum may not be able to believe what is right in front of them if they are wearing a VR headset, because they are still aware The surroundings and helmets just show a virtual image, not the reality they are experiencing fully (I'm more at the end of that range so it hurts me not to fully immerse me in VR experience).



Voices of VR Podcast #130, Richard Skarbez on Immersion & Coherence


I liked this episode because it taught me a lot about immersion, presence, and coherency, which are all ideas I thought were similar but differ in more ways than one. One of the most important aspects of achieving a good sense of immersion and coherency is to use technology correctly, which means that it is preferable to not have something in the scene if it does not add/bring anything useful to it (e.g. having a good model of a human character is pointless if they are the only model that cannot be interacted with).


It's also important to evaluate if the items we see are behaving correctly (misbehaving is almost always worse than not having them at all) and if they make sense in the context of the scene (if they fit and boost the scenario's credibility).


To me, Richard Skarbez's concept of coherency in VR links directly to Gestalt Theory, as it is critical to creating a cohesive composition in both 2D and 3D, as one misplaced (wrong, faulty) item will disrupt that coherency and destroy the sense of presence. Another thing I learned that I didn't know before was that immersion and coherency have a direct impact on presence: "when both immersion and coherency are high, you obtain a much higher presence," yet if one or both are low, a high presence is impossible to acquire.


When it comes to behaviors and appearances, they should be matched to improve scene immersion and coherence: if a cartoony character (think Super Mario) has a complex history, motivations, and beliefs, they are more likely to be perceived as out of place than if they have a funny voice and a generic psychological design. If the tables were turned, a super realistic human character with no goals or personality would feel entirely out of place (assuming the environment is also realistic and the narrative is well constructed).


The disruption of belief produced by flaws, which I was aware of and was stated, is something that is exceedingly difficult to undo once done (the belief). Skarbez's answer, on the other hand, was to expose the user to more content while avoiding more problems, which required a lot more work (to avoid more errors/bugs).


Finally, I thought his perspective on the importance of coherency being greater than that of immersion (while still requiring both) was a good one for project management because immersion will vary depending on the user (as shown in the analysis above), whereas coherency is more likely to be universal.


Voices of VR Podcast #740: Facebook/Oculus Head of Experiences on Immersive Storytelling


This podcast was fascinating since it provided insight into the present market for purely narrative-based virtual reality experiences, which I found hilarious and had considered making myself (though I modified my mind to include a few "game-like" features). It's encouraging to see a large corporation like FACEBOOK, which owns Oculus, take a bold step forward in supporting these developers, especially when the market is just getting started. Immersive storytelling and narrative-driven experiences in VR are a perfect match, and the idea of creating location-based narratives (real venues where these narrative-driven experiences can be experienced) is certainly one to examine. If people enjoy going to the movies, especially with the introduction of IMAX, then VR and its immersive factor will undoubtedly leave users/viewers stunned! I'd also like to pay attention to their great goal of uncovering the business model potential for creators, which provides them with the resources they need to build their projects (essentially, they feed the developers' aspirations, which is awesome!).


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© 2022 by Bhuvanesh Tekavade

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