The topic for this week is centered around “immersion”, running parallel to the theme within the Audience & Experiences lecture. The viewings for this week are as follows:

  • A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games by Alison Mcmahan (Chapter “Immersion, Engagement, and Presence”, pages 67–83), 2003)
  • The Virtuous Cycle of Immersion by Janina Saarnio (article, 2017)
  • Voices of VR Podcast #130: Richard Skarbez on Immersion & Coherence
  • Voices of VR Podcast #740: Facebook/Oculus Head of Experiences discussed on Immersive Storytelling

Within this piece, Alison Mcmahan begins by providing an overview behind the meaning of the term “immersion” which she describes as the player being caught up in the world of the game’s story on a diegetic level; counterbalanced by the non-diegetic aspects such as the player’s love of the game and the strategy involved. To support this, Mcmahan discusses Janet Murray’s definition of a player being transported to an elaborately simulated place and likens this to being submerged within a pool. This definition suggests the strong role that narrative has in relation to immersing a player within the game. Such as narrative is often used to define the main conventions of the game world and to help the user align their expectations with the logic within the world. This is most commly found within role-playing and adventure games which feature a linear time-based narrative, similar to film.

The next sub-section covers the aspect of engagement which involves players enjoying a video game on a non-diegetic level. This is closely linked to the idea of “deep play” as defined by Jeremy Bentham which refers to a player’s state of mind of being completely obsessed with playing a particular game, even if it impacts their daily life to do so. Another meaning of “deep play” is defined by Diane Carr as a “player accessiing layers of meaning that have a strategic value” such as knowing all of the monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. This overall, is a means of measuring a player’s level of engagement.

The last section features an overview of the progression of 3D graphics through the years from Battlezone in 1980 until present and introduces the idea of presence within first person shooter titles. This leads into a summary of the background behind the term “presence” in the sense of one’s perception being mediated by technology; players are made to perceive two separate environments at once, the physical and the simulated. Overall, presence can be broken down into the aspects of:

  • Quality of social interaction — actions being perceived by others is important
  • Being “transported” to a different place — bringing the world to the user
  • Realism — How well the environment represents objects, events and people (not just in relation to graphics)
  • User’s ability to complete tasks or agency
  • Social impact of actions

Finally, the case study on Myst III: Exile proved to be particuarly interesting as it brings all of these different aspects of presence together and provides examples of them being employed within a game. One idea argued is that desktop computer games feature a low degree of perceptual immersion as the player is always aware of their viewing area (screen) and that they are using a mouse to play. As virtual reality features neither of these illusion breakers, could this be the key to full perceptual immersion?

This was an interesting brief read which covered existing theories associated with virtual reality and immersion, which supports Janina’s Virtuous Cycle of Immersion chart.

For example, the first theory discussed was that of Marvin Minsky’s concept of “telepresence” which is also mentioned within Alison Mcmahan’s chapter on “Immersion, Engagement & Presence”. This was originally a term coined to describe a users interaction with teleoperation systems but was later swapped out to immersion with a broader definition of having “a deep mental involvement in something”.

The second subsection introduces Janina’s theory of the “Virtuous Cycle of Immersion”, also known as the never ending story, which is depicted via a diagram. This refers to aspects such as presence, embodiment, engagement and empathy all playing an important role in an immersive experience.

This leads into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow which we covered in the Audiences & Experiences unit last week. This is also depicted via a diagram and shows the close link between a users emotional state as compared to their challenge or frustration and skill level.

I particuarly enjoyed this instalment within the Voices of VR podcast series which featured Richard Skarbez as a guest, discussing the relationship between coherence or plausability to the state of immersion. Within this interview, Richard coins the term coherence when referring to “Plausability Immersion” and Immersion when discussing Place Illusion.

The main topic for this discussion is centered around plausability immersion. This sub section refers to the environment being believable. This is mainly by ensuring that processes and the appearance are consist to how you would expect things to work or look in the real world. A good example is within “Disney Imagineering” which designs and creates the Disney theme park attractions, in particular, the walkthrough or waiting areas which help to place the participant in the world such as the Disney Pirates of Caribbean ride.

Richard continues by discussing the impact of presence surveys and the data relationships shown. For example, if the user has a high score, they also typically featured a strong sense of immersion and coherence within their experience. On the other hand, if these two aspects were weak then the corresponding presence score would also be low. The main summary is that immersion + coherence = presence. However, it is also described that despite the lengthy process involved to immerse a player, one non-coherent factor is enough to bring them out of the experience. This could be a bug or another example is by not matchingthe behaviour fidelity to the fidelity of the graphics such as if Mario featured a realistic voice and characteristic traits in a cartoon world.

This discussion closely follows Alison Mcmahan’s understanding about immersion due to the chapter stating that:

“(1) the user’s expectations of the game or environment must match the environment’s conventions fairly closely; (2) the user’s actions must have a non-trivial impact on the environment; and (3) the conventions of the world must be consistent, even if they don’t match those of “meatspace.”

The overall interview is themed around the question of “what is a game and what is an experience?”. To argue this, Colum Slevin explores the idea of experiences being hybrids of other existing forms of media such as immersive theatre and film in combination with featuring elements from game design. On the other hand, the main feature of what makes a game is the apparant agency, mastery and skill level involved (win and fail conditions). However, boundaries are merging as more experimental experiences are being produced that feature more agency for the user which one might expect from a game. More film makers and narrative designers are dabbling in creation but they are finding it hard to adapt to the agile workflow; other media features the waterfall method of pre-production to design to outcome. Agile involves the process continously changing as aspects need to be altered or different items introduced as and when needed.

An interesting point that Slevin described was how there is no existing business model for these types of experimental experiencee and therefore they often struggle to receive funding and have little to no budget for marketing. Here, he highlights how the Oculus subsidary of Facebook is supporting up and coming experience content developers. Another method is by showcasing at Sundance Festival which has traditionally always been a film festival but is opening its doors with its “immersive content” section. This features a lot of VR experimental projects and is a good way for developers to directly interact with their community and for users to view the new emerging, innovative uses of the technology or VR medium.

To conclude, Colum summarises that the quality, content, context and story are all important defining factors for a successful experience.



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