There’s a lot of very different things being called “immersive” these days. Everything from VR to restaurants have been called immersive and there’s a lot of people who say they work in immersive.
But when a word means a lot of things to a lot of people you can get a lot of misunderstandings.
I find it useful to understand where the creators are coming from and what’s important to them when they say “immersive”.
This helps you know what to expect from the experience of their work, as well as how you might work with them.
Here’s some of my own interpretations of how to categorize the different interests in “immersive”.
From the Theater World
- Their most important value: Story
- What do they want to create in an immersive world: A play of performance in which the audience plays a role.
- What does an immersive world look like to them: The set is usually in the physical world, maybe on a stage or an entire room or building or city block.
- When they think of immersive they first think of: The actors often interact with the audience. The interactions’ impact on the story can be anything from inconsequential to meaningful
From the Video Game World
- Their most important value: Gameplay
- What do they want to create in an immersive world: Challenge in the form of competitions, missions, scoring, and other gaming mechanics.
- What does an immersive world look like to them: Elaborate explorable worlds that attempt a realistic look or – if not realistic – an internally consistent look and feel. Usually filled with things that are not possible in normal reality.
- When they think of immersive they first think of: Instead of the traditional 2D screen, the game is played in 360 degrees. “Normal reality” is not visible on the margins.
From the Art World
- Their most important value: Self-expression
- What do they want to create in an immersive world: A world of discoverable, surprising, wondrous, imaginative, inspiring art.
- What does an immersive world look like to them: A real life physical space to explore as they might a cave system of funhouse. Typically manifests as a colorful psychedelic sort of world, experimenting with materials and mediums. Space and “other dimensions” are popular themes. Through-lines are secondary to individual creations.
- When they think of immersive they first think of: Meow Wolf.
From the Maker World
- Their most important value: Making things.
- What do they want to create in an immersive world: They want to create things that inspire a wonder about the making of the thing or show of their maker prowess.
- What does an immersive world look like to them: There’s less of a focus on the end world to them than on the making. They want something people will enjoy and appreciate, but it’s more about their individual contribution and skills than the full end world.
- When they think of immersive they first think of: All the tools and materials they will get to play with and experiment when making something. It might be LEDs, sensors, screens, and the latest technology but it could also be of a more traditional craftsperson trade like crochet or carpentry.
Different Backgrounds, Different Needs
If you keep these backgrounds in mind when working with people who say they do or like “immersive” stuff, you’ll be able to reduce misunderstandings and find common ground. Or find the right people to work with in the first place.
If you decide to be a low-budget operation, then your artist types might relish the creative limitation but your maker-types may be frustrated that you don’t have the resources to do anything they consider fun or rewarding.
If your project is a challenging game-like experience that doesn’t involve much story you might excite your people who have a video game background but you’ll drive a theater person crazy. And if you want to involve actors on a stage you might put-off the gamer-types. After all, those are most interested in pushing IRL human interactions out of the picture with 360 degree worlds.