• Christy LaPerriere

5 Factors of Immersion

Immersive experiences have surged in popularity across many different sectors of the economy.These experiences, typically identified as “experiencescapes,” can offer visitors different levels of immersion, which can be measured based on five factors:

1. Cognitive Engagement In work conducted by Webster and Ho (1997), the term cognitive engagement was coined to mean “flow without the notion of control.” Since then, the concept of cognitive engagement has been studied in research focused on learning outcomes when technology-mediated distance learning tactics are employed. From this study, researchers Webster and Hackley (1997) determined that cognitive engagement was increased when individuals perceived the medium they were using to be fully formed, when levels of interactivity were high, and when attitudes of those around them were positive.

When looking towards immersive experiences, cognitive engagement can be measured by using these factors while adjusting them for the type of experience being examined. For instance, when using immersive technology such as virtual or augmented reality devices, cognitive engagement is increased when these tools present fully formed and high-fidelity experiences. Additionally, in group settings, it can be presumed that cognitive engagement would increase when those acting alongside an individual are as absorbed in the experience and viewing it through a positive lens.

2. Emotional Investment According to the research done by Falk & Dierking (2000), an individual’s main motivation for engaging in an experience is to “form, broaden or relive their own personal experiences”. How intensely one believes that an experience will fulfill these needs is often the determining factor for what activities one will seek out and how much engagement there will be once they arrive. While this is generally accepted, it is a hard factor to quantify as no standard measurement for a person’s involvement has been created. Despite this, the definition proposed by Laurent and Kapferer (1985) can provide some insight as it states that involvement is “a psychological state of interest, motivation, and arousal toward an activity or associated product.”

In a study done by the faculty of the School of Archaeology and Tourism at the University of Jordan, emotional investment was measured alongside motivation in a study on why tourists visit museums. This study concluded that when the main motivation was exploration, emotional investment was high, with visitors leaving with a sense of positivity and loyalty towards the institution. With these positive emotions expressed, guests were judged to be more devoted to their experience, thereby allowing for greater levels of immersion.

3. Real World Dissociation When one is able to complete a task without consideration for the mechanisms that allow for task completion or the world around them, they are considered to be “in the flow.” The concept of flow was first conceptualized in the 1960s by the psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Since then, the field of human computer interaction has used the word to refer to productive engagement in a task in which one becomes unaware of which technologies are being used to complete it and have attempted to optimize it for current technologies. When flow is achieved in immersive experiences, the outcome is often that those in the experience have an altered perception of time and view the system within which they are interacting with a high level of satisfaction.

This theory of flow is instrumental to understanding the concept of real-world dissociation. As hours go by without noticing and satisfaction is high, it is easier for one to forget about real responsibilities and pressures. According to Herodotus, the Lydians employed these methods as a defense mechanism against famine. In one of the first examples of immersive gameplay, the Lydians set a policy that individuals would eat one day and play dice games the next. Through immersion, these citizens were able to dissociate from their hunger and survive the eighteen years it took for a surplus to reemerge.

4. Challenge When experiences have the right amount of challenge, a balance between complacency and frustration is attained and higher levels of engagement can be seen. Thus, a sense of challenge is an important consideration for the design of immersive experiences. Research into gamification has long suggested that individuals benefit from gamification across emotional, social, and cognitive domains and that when challenge is introduced to activities, engrossment is encouraged.

Escape rooms are “live-action team-based games where players discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to achieve a specific goal” (Nicholson, 2015, p.1). These experiences are one of the most highlighted examples when looking towards designing for challenges in immersive experiences. By immersing an individual or group within a story and providing a task, individuals are challenged to overcome their circumstances and “escape” the environment.

5. Control It is important that individuals feel as though they can have an impact on outcomes and control their own level of engagement when involved in immersive experiences. The term “locus of control” is often used in this context to describe the extent to which individuals personally attribute the causes of events to their own behavior. Proposed by Rotter in 1960, this phenomenon can create the perception that following a set of behaviors will lead to one’s preferred outcome, thus prompting an individual to change their behavior.

The extent to which a participant feels this, as well as the sense they have that an experience is safe, free of judgement, and closed from the outside world, will impact how deeply they allow themselves to be immersed. Guides or mentors can help facilitate immersion by taking on roles and are sometimes used to provide this sense of security. Researchers Carù & Cova as well as Hansen & Mossberg are firm advocates of control as they believe that one’s worry about their physical belongings or wellbeing can distract them from fully immersing themselves.