Sharing the Stage: The Effects of Social Dynamics in Immersive Experiences
Updated: Feb 28
Immersive experiences have surged in popularity across many different sectors of the economy as industries have shifted away from traditional goods and services and toward opportunities for customer engagement with a brand or institution. These experiences, typically identified as “experiencescapes,” can offer visitors different levels of immersion, which can be measured based on five factors:
1. Cognitive Engagement
2. Emotional Investment
3. Read-World Dissociation
These interactions can take place across a spectrum of social dynamics, which this paper will quantify based on the types of relationships and levels of agency that individuals encounter in an experience—group active, group passive, individual active, and individual passive. In doing so, this paper aims to investigate how these social dynamics impact the factors of immersion previously outlined by looking towards examples of existing immersive experiences.
To conduct this investigation, the factors of immersion will be thoroughly defined and plotted to identify how social dynamics impact the level of immersion. The results suggest that not all factors of immersion can be accounted for when social dynamics shift. Therefore, when designing immersive experiences, one must determine which factors of immersion are most important to the experience and its design goals before deciding the social dynamics within which individuals will participate.
Keywords: Experience Design, Immersive Experiences, Experience Economy, User Experience
In 1973, the Hershey Company did something that none of their competitors had considered: creating a themed “world.” This hybrid between a museum and a theme park featured interactive exhibits, gift shops, and even a dark ride tour of the factory. No longer was the company only focused on producing chocolate products; they had expanded their scope to create a destination fans could seek out in order to become even more immersed in the brand. Hershey’s World offered guests an innovative way to learn about the chocolate-making process and was one of the first examples of a brand actively participating in the experience economy by creating an experience around their product.
The term “experience” has since become the amorphous new buzz word used to describe anything from restaurants providing themed dining, such as the Rainforest Café, to airlines offering unique in-flight opportunities to draw in new customers. The group of immersive experiences to be discussed exists for the purposes of not only entertainment but also education, brand recognition, or simply monetary gain as companies seek to differentiate “real-life” experiences from what one can accomplish through the internet alone. Thus, for the sake of this paper, it is important to begin by giving the term a firm definition and grounding it within the larger context of the experience economy.
The term “experience” when associated with the experience economy and immersive experiences is closed activities carefully planned by designers in order to facilitate a desired effect. What makes these experiences unique is their level of execution and the decision making that is applied to every step an individual takes when participating. When the term experience is coupled with the term immersion, it takes on a new definition as the desired outcome becomes to fully embed the participant(s) into a designed space and activity.
Daniel Hjorth and Monika Kostera, co-authors of the book Entrepreneurship and the Experience Economy, define the “experience economy” as a new economic model “which invites producers as well as consumers to jointly make the economy into an arena for aesthetic and emotional encounters” (Hjorth, 11). Although the term was first conceptualized by Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in their 1999 book The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage, the model has since taken on a life of its own and grown in ways neither could have initially predicted.
With this motivation comes the pressure to create experiences that are both memorable and enjoyable for those that encounter them. Often, this means developing experiences that will fully immerse guests, as this provides participants with an immersive experience and companies with the most opportunity to control every aspect and leave little room for outside influence. Immersive experiences are those defined by Rackham in Interfaces of Performance as “a profoundly moving corporeal experience, being visually exaggerated and sonically saturated, electrically enhanced and tonally tweaked to produce emotional intensity” (190). All of this is to say that immersive experiences are those that create an alternate world around the guest in which they can feel like they can exist for the duration of the experience.
2. Reviewing the Literature
With the experience economy growing, it is important that designers of these new immersive experiences recognize the impact they have on their participants and acquire a set of best practices to follow. Since the field is still defining itself, it is imperative that a lexicon be established and questions such as those this paper seeks to identify be asked. This paper’s particular goal is to determine which social dynamic or set of dynamics allows for the best immersion in an experience.
As immersion is difficult to quantify on its own, for the sake of this analysis, immersion will be broken down into its most important factors. Types of experiences can therefore be more directly judged. While all experiences have some degree of these five factors, the quality of the design is dependent on how well each factor is understood and incorporated. No standard set of factors or immersion has been adopted in the field; however, a few have been proposed in the literature.
One set of immersive factors was proposed in a study conducted by Jennett et al. for use in the Immersive Experience Questionnaire (IEQ), which sought to quantify the level of immersion in an experience based on three factors: flow, cognitive absorption, and presence. In further research, Jennet et al. concludes on the five factors this paper uses as the basis for the investigation—cognitive involvement, dissociation, emotional involvement, control, and challenge. While these factors were proposed, definitions were not provided and there is no evidence to suggest they were influenced by other factors identified in the field. In addition, factors like challenge and control were applied to gaming systems rather than the humans that interact with them. Therefore, for the sake of this paper some terms are changed to represent this nuance and definitions are provided which take into account the thoughts of other researchers.
Blumenthal & Øystein represent one set of researchers which propose factors of immersion in their paper on “Consumer Immersion in the Experiencscape of Managed Visitor Attractions: The Nature of the Immersion Process and the Role of Involvement”. Their set spans beyond those discussed in Jennett et al.’s research and incorporates the following seven factors (physical challenge, group assimilation, personal resource utilization, intellectual challenge, memories, imagination, involvement in the present, involvement through personal narrative, and immersion). While these factors were useful for evaluating consumer experiences in which individuals participate actively in groups, they do not adjust well for social dynamics which are passive or solitary. Therefore, Blumenthal & Øystein’s factors, although the largest set, cannot stand alone and must be coupled with other factors mentioned.
Hudson in her work “With or Without You? Interaction and Immersion in a Virtual Reality
Experience” uses six factors (identification with the experience, enjoyment, realism of the system, ease of use, interactivity, and social interaction). These factors are used in order to determine how a virtual reality experience is affected by the social interactions one has while involved in it. While addressing these factors, Hudson admits that most research has been grounded in gaming and online experiences so definitions must be adapted in order to accommodate non-virtual immersive experiences.
The table below provides a visual representation of the factors proposed by these sources and demonstrates how they contributed to the five factors this paper will define and test. The factors that are not associated with one of the five factors represent those that could not incorporate well when testing immersive experiences that encompass both individual and group dynamics.
Table 1: Immersive Factors Proposed by Field
Once these factors were identified, it was imperative to provide definitions that were grounded not in the field at large, but specifically in immersive experiences. In order to accomplish this, a wide array of sources had to be consulted. The five sources that contributed to these definitions, respectively, are Ritu & Karahanna’s “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun: Cognitive Absorption and Beliefs about Information Technology Use”, Allan & Yazan’s “Museums and Tourism: Visitors Motivations and Emotional Involvement”, Doherty & Sorenson’s “Keeping Users in the Flow: Mapping System Responsiveness with User Experience”, Kennette & Beechler’s “Gamifying the Classroom, and Blumenthal & Øystein’s “Consumer Immersion in the Experiencescape of Managed Visitor Attractions: The Nature of the Immersion Process and the Role of Involvement.” Further discussion on each of these sources will be provided when defining the immersive factors in the following section.
The common theme between these sources is the investigation into how immersion is affected when aspects of design change. Each of the factors discussed plays a significant role in providing some insight into the different contributing elements that make an experience immersive. However, none provide insight into more than one factor and therefore the following section is critical before one can plot the factors of immersion amongst the various social dynamics. It is also important to note that while some of these sources discuss only one form of immersive technology, this paper will offer analysis on immersion as a whole and will not delve too deeply into one of these experience types alone.
3. Factors of Immersion
While the sources listed above provide a good basis to start identifying the factors of immersion (cognitive engagement, emotional investment, real world dissociation, challenge, and control), none perfectly adjust to the needs of this study or are applied to the types of real-world immersive experiences this paper will discuss. For instance, Jennett et al.’s concept of flow and presence are encapsulated by real-world dissociation and cognitive absorption and remain relatively unchanged. From Blumenthal & Øystein, factors such as memory, imagination, and involvement in the present can be defined under emotional investment. Physical challenge and intellectual challenge are grouped while factors such as group assimilation and personal resource utilization are abandoned. While Jennet et al’s later work provides the most comprehensive insights for the five factors, the definitions provided below represent firm grounding for the field and incorporate the findings of Blumenthal & Øystein, Hudson, and others in order to be fully comprehensive and contextualized within the field of immersive experiences.
3.1 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.
3.2 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.
3.3 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.
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.
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.
4. Outline of Social Dynamics
The way in which individuals participate in immersive experiences, and whom they participate with, has an effect on the type of experience they will encounter. Despite the myriad of formats immersive experiences utilize to deliver their “experiencescape”, all immersive experiences can be described in terms of two axes in the cross-chart depicted in the figure below: immersive experiences can either require that individuals participate alone or with groups; and they can prescribe that these individuals play either active or passive roles. The scope of this paper will define group dynamics as those only encompassing “users,” or people that are directly experiencing the immersive environment, rather than “bystanders”, or those simply watching the experiences of others.
Not all technologies support all types of social dynamics, so it is imperative that one surveys all formats of immersive experiences to understand which dynamics are in play. For instance, virtual reality (VR) is often a solitary experience, with each individual seeing their own visual display and hearing their own stream of audio. On the other hand, augmented reality (AR) and immersive environments allow for an increased level of collaboration, as individuals have the opportunity to interact with one another.
By their very nature, immersive experiences tend to invite participants to take on active roles where their actions will impact the story; however, this is not always the case. With pre-programmed experiences like VR, choice is often more limited, as not every action can be predicted and written into the story. In this type of VR experience, the individual takes on a more passive role, simply engaging in the story as a listener. For instance, the work of Hudson illustrates an example where only VR is explored and thus, further research must be conducted in order to investigate if her findings can be applied to immersive experiences at large.
Brief definitions of each of the four quadrants are provided below and a visual representation of where the experiences discussed fall amongst the four social dynamics can be seen in Figure 1.
4.1 Individual Active Participation
In these types of immersive experiences, an individual acts alone and performs as if they are the main character of the story. Individuals engaging in these experiences feel as though their actions will directly affect the arc of the story and can choose whether to be the hero or the villain.
In 2011, the National Maritime Museum created an immersive responsive environment called High Arctic in which individuals were transported to 2100 AD to experience an imagined arctic landscape of the future. Rather than utilizing touch screens, panels, or photographs, guests were each given an ultraviolet “torch” with which they could reveal previously invisible elements of the environment. These invisible elements were scattered amongst thousands of columns, each representing one of the real glaciers of Svalbard. Further adding to the immersion was a soundscape of arctic adventurers recounting their explorations.
Besides the external environment itself, this soundscape was the only element that all participants shared. Apart from it, each individual interacting with the environment had a solitary journey, making their own path through the exhibit and revealing only what they found interesting with the torch they were provided. Through this, each individual took on the role of an arctic adventurer creating their own journey through the ice and learning about the landscape through their own unique lens. By not forcing guests to share an ultraviolet torch, no compromises needed to be made, enabling a greater sense of roleplaying.
4.2 Individual Passive Participation
Immersive experiences which utilize individual passive participation are those that invite the participant to be an active listener in the experience. While an individual may choose where they want to explore, their actions will not affect the story and they are simply serving as an audience member.
The Last Goodbye is a VR experience in which a participant goes on a tour of the concentration camp Majdanek with Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter. In this camp, where Gutter lost both his mother and his sister, a participant is able to watch as Gutter relives his time there and recounts his experiences. Located in Poland, this immersive experience brings Majdanek closer to home and provides a guided tour by someone whose life was so affected by the events that took place within the camp’s borders.
In this 20-minute immersive experience, the guest is alone and simply listens to Gutter’s solemn tour. The guest is not able to take the tour with anyone besides Gutter as the VR headset makes the experience a solitary one, with only the individual wearing it able to hear and see what Gutter says and does. The experience is passive, and the only choice the guest has is how closely they want to follow their guide as he leads them through the Majdanek grounds. While the guest may wander off during certain moments, this will not affect the story or Gutter’s dialogue. Additionally, the guest is not able to ask Gutter any questions, as the dialog is preset and identical for everyone who engages in the experience.
4.3 Group Active Participation
With this type of social dynamic, groups must work together to affect the arc of the story and the success of the experience. A sense of comradery must be developed to bring the group together to achieve a common goal, and each individual will feel as though they have a role to play in the results.
The Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark differs from more traditional museums as it creates an immersive environment (IE) for guests to roleplay within. Set within the bounds of a replica Viking ship, eight to fifteen visitors of the museum are transformed into members of the ship’s crew as the museum sets off for fifty-minute expeditions of the Roskilde fjord. Staff of the museum take on personas of crewmembers and craftsmen who interact with guests, teaching them different skills – boat building, rope making, woodcarving, sail weaving, etc. Likewise, visitors of the museum are prompted to try their hand at sailing, steering, and rowing the ship, working together to make the voyage a success.
In experiences such as this one, individuals are brought together through their shared interest and devotion to the task. Strangers are united as crewmembers and fellow Vikings. Moderators such as the crewmembers and craftsmen play a pivotal role in facilitating interaction and building a sense of community within the group. Interviews from a study conducted by Blumenthal and Øystein on the Roskilde Viking Ship found that guests felt like they were part of a bigger plan and that each member of their group was a necessary component to making the experience worthwhile.
4.4 Group Passive Participation
Like an audience, group passive participation is that in which a group comes together to watch a story unfold. While individuals have the support of a group, no individual spectator, nor the group as a whole has an effect on the outcome of the experience. Roller coasters allow guests to experience this type of participation as they board ride vehicles with no control over the course they will take. While immersion hasn’t always been the focus, themed entertainment parks such as Disneyland and Universal Orlando make it a priority to provide their visitors a story and to make them feel as though they are part of the action. One of the latest, Disney’s Rise of the Resistance, seeks to be the most immersive ride to date as it allows unparalleled access to the world of Star Wars.
Storytelling is presented from the queue until the ride’s end as guests are told they have been recruited to join the heroes and might face unanticipated dangers – namely, being abducted by the story’s foe. While guests are given a semblance of control, in reality the story cleverly plants actors and devices that conveniently perform all the actions and make all the choices. For instance, while guests receive the instruction to escape there is little they can do but board an automated vessel piloted by a droid. The ride has a set track and there are no decisions a participant could make that would divert them from their course.
The element of group dynamics is incorporated as guests are repeatedly told that they are now part of the Resistance and will be greeted by fellow allies. Staff further adds to this dynamic as they play the part of Resistance leaders who will direct them through the steps necessary for safe passage. While the group one participates with could change, the story itself does not and no matter how many times a guest engages in the experience they will encounter the same elements in the same order.
4.5 Difficult-to-Categorize Experiences
Not all experiences are as easy to classify as the ones previously discussed. For example, the experience Stowaway City, an immersive audio experience that makes use of extended reality (XR) technology, toes the line between all four quadrants. In this experience, the participant is brought into a walking tour with a narrated soundscape with a capacity of up to ten listeners. In order to engage with different pieces of the narrative, participants are presented with voicemail messages played when they reach different sections of the environment. However, this narrative has no particular order and individuals are invited to wander with no real direction.
Due to this, the narrative’s order could differ from guest to guest, with no guest having the power to impact the content of the story itself. In the research conducted by Michael McKnight on this experience, guests remarked that they had a sense of curiosity towards those interacting with them, adding to their experience. Although the experience didn’t facilitate group cooperation, this sense of curiosity impacts immersion and differs from experiences that fall strictly within the bounds of individual passive dynamics.
While this could suggest a strong argument for this experience to utilize group dynamics, an argument can be made that it is just as solitary as National Maritime Museum’s (NMN’s) High Arctic exhibit as individuals don’t impact the experience of others. Additionally, a clear distinction can be seen between this experience and that of Rise of the Resistance. In the Disney ride, participants are told from the onslaught that they are now part of a group and individualism fades as the general role of resistance member is taken on.
The argument between active and passive participation presents a similar level of difficulty. For instance, the nonlinear nature of Stowaway City presents contrast between it and The Last Goodbye which brings with it some level of variability and control. In addition, there are fewer differences between it and NMN’s High Arctic exhibit as the only key element missing is the torch. For these reasons, for the sake of this paper, Stowaway City will be loosely classified as individual active. From this analysis, it is clear why experiences such as this one fall closer to the center when plotted within the quadrants of group vs. individual and passive vs. active.
5. Plotting Factors of Immersion Across Social Dynamics
The following is an analysis of how the previously defined factors of immersion are impacted by different social dynamics. Figure 2 presents a chart of the four social dynamics – group active, group passive, individual active, and individual passive – with the five factors of immersion – cognitive engagement, emotional investment, real world dissociation, challenge, and control plotted.
Figure 2: Plotting Factors of Immersion
As depicted, when participation in an immersive experience changes from active to passive, the factors of challenge and real-world disassociation are reduced. This difference is due to the lack of engagement an individual has and their acknowledgement that their decisions do not have any impact on the experience. There can be no challenge when there is no activity to participate within, so the degree of challenge is automatically reduced when this occurs. Likewise, one of the largest contributing factors towards real world disassociation is the state of being “in the flow”. Since flow is attained when one is productively engaging in a task, it too is reduced when there is no active participation.
As seen through the descriptions of experiences like The Last Goodbye and Stowaway City, participants acting as members of a tour simply take in the experience around them. Unlike the real world, these designed experiences offer no opportunity to take control over the system in order to create a story more in-line with the individual’s desires. In this sense, full immersion may decrease as the individual knows that they are simply actors within a set reality. In group passive experience such as Rise of the Resistance, a semblance of control is given to participants as they receive shouted instructions. This series of instructions give individuals the illusion of choice as they are told the mission of the group and the steps that must be achieved in order to accomplish it. Even though there is no way to personally follow or deviate from these steps, designers of this experience chose to give its participants the notion of control, highlighting how important this factor is in immersion.
The factors of cognitive engagement, emotional investment, and control are more difficult to gage and therefore must be analyzed with a bit more nuance. For instance, the factor of control can either hinder or increase immersion depending on the emotional and cognitive involvement of one’s group members. If a group has high emotional and cognitive involvement overall, immersion will be more successful in a group setting. On the other hand, group settings have the potential to hinder immersion when the group is not as committed to the experience.
In experiences like the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum, the experience of those participating would have been dramatically different if half of the group decided not to commit to the roleplaying necessary to make the experience immersive. In experiences like this one, all actors must fully commit to their role in order to increase the cognitive engagement of those around them. While factors like ensuring the medium facilitating immersion is fully formed and providing ample opportunities for interaction can be controlled by the designer, the attitudes exhibited by members acting in a group is a variable and can greatly impact cognitive engagement when immersion is experienced by a group.
Despite this nuance, the work of Sarah Hudson and her work “With or Without You?” sheds some light on the variability. Hudson builds off of the work of Payne, Storbaka & Flow, and Minkiewicz, Evans & Bridson to suggest that when individuals work together in a staged performance the immersive experience has an advantage over its competitors. Taking these findings into account, along with the results of plotting immersive factors suggest that designing an immersive experience that allows for group active participation yields the greatest level of immersion.
Designers have tackled this duality by first questioning whether or not group involvement makes sense for the immersive experience being produced. For instance, one might expect to see others when acting as a crewmember of a Viking ship, but not when involved in an immersive experience exploring the ocean floor. Therefore, designers must first consider the context of the immersive experiences they are building and ask themselves whether or not group dynamics make sense in context. It is believed that depending on this environment, cognitive engagement and emotional investment will increase or decrease based on how well the social dynamics fit the experience at large.
Designers can also work to ensure that emotional investment is high among all participants by first gaging whether they are motivated to immerse themselves and are seeking to relive past experiences or create new ones. By taking this extra step, designers of immersive experiences can guarantee that all members participating in group immersive experiences have an equal desire to fully commit themselves. This has been seen in practice by setting a price point on immersive experiences. For instance, the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum charges its guests $115 DKK to participate in the immersive opportunity to become a Viking. By setting this charge, the museum not only turns an extra profit, but also dissuades those who are not interested in the activity from participating.
There is little evidence to suggest that the experience economy is going away. This fact brings with it the guarantee that more and more institutions, both corporate and educational, will seek to create experiences for their patrons. With experience comes the desire for immersion, with institutions wanting to control their mission and guests wanting to forgo the real world and the concerns and responsibilities that come with it. Therefore, designers must have an understanding of how these experiences and the factors that contribute to the levels of immersion are impacted when social dynamics shift. By plotting these factors, it can be seen that some social dynamics, particularly the group active social dynamic, contribute to the highest levels of immersive factors, while passive participation leads to the lowest.
While active versus passive participation is easy to track, more nuance is needed to discern whether group or individual participation is a more immersive choice. Due to this variability, there is still disagreement in the field on whether or not group or individual experiences lead to higher levels of immersion. On the one hand, social dynamics may have the effect of reminding individuals of the real world, especially if not all participating have the same level of cognitive engagement or emotional investment. On the other hand, experiencing immersive activities alone may not provide the immersion that comes with working towards a common goal with a group of similarly immersed and committed individuals.
Due to these nuances and the importance of considering context, the following table is provided in order to present a series of recommendations for designers of immersive experiences:
Table 2: Recommendations for Designers
While it must be kept in mind that there are other factors that affect immersion that have not been discussed – for instance, ease of use, realism, and the closeness with which one identifies with the experience – this research presents a starting point off of which designers of immersive experiences can work when building immersive attractions. Further research will need to be conducted in order to support this analysis, and of course, context should come above all else, as one must first question the kind of experience they are trying to achieve and the effect they want to have on participants, from which decisions on the social dynamic should follow. It is paramount that the field of immersive experience design analyze questions similar to those posed through this research and incorporate all factors listed to fully understand the impact these experiences have on their human participants.
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