Soon, my girlfriend and I will start a world tour to get a better understanding of what is an immersive experience.

At first, we had to define what an immersive experience was. After some research, we realized that this question was more complex than it seemed and “immersion” covers very different realities! ( +1 for the word play!)

Immersion is first and foremost physical!

In the global Internet, the first proposed definitions expose above all a physical phenomenon :

Immersion is the “Action of immersing or immersing oneself, that is, of entering completely into the water, of immersing a body or one’s own body in a liquid”.

Damn it ! Neither Charlotte nor I had jumped into a basin full of water to feel like we were immersed. Fail !.

On the other hand, by reflecting a little on this definition and our feelings during so-called immersive experiences, we were able to formalize 4 key points:

credit @unsplash

1.Immersion changes our distance to the object: we “enter the water”. It is a question of moving from an external point of view, of the spectator type (I see water), to an internal point of view, of the actor type (I am in the water and I interact with it).

2.It is accompanied by a sensory response since our senses are considerably impacted by this change of universe. Try listening in the water vs. the air, you’ll see, it’s a little more messy.

3.It provokes a cognitive reaction since our brain must understand this new space in order to be able to help us better understand it.

4.It is related to an action: “Action of immersing or immersing oneself”. So it would be a movement. On the other hand, at this stage we do not know if we deliberately choose to immerse ourselves or not.

These elements already allowed us to better understand the experiences we had both had. In most of the other definition attempts we found, many associated immersion with virtual reality. We had participated in some experiments, at the Mk2 VR or the VR course of La Villette, in Paris, and we loved the feeling.

Virtual reality is a tool at the service of immersion, particularly because it is capable of creating a sense of presence, that is, “the psychological perception of being “there”, within the virtual environment and in which the person is immersed”.

But we also knew that immersion was not only related to technological fact. We knew the formats were multiple: there is, for example, immersive theatre and we had experienced it with Le Secret some time before.

The trip to better understand immersion

The term immersion is also used in the context of travel. It is often said that the best way to discover a culture, a country, a people, is to go there in immersion.

To be immersed in a country is to “feel transported, captured by these foreign cultures in order to better understand it”.

We have wanted to go around the world, to connect immersion and the notion of discovery & travel was totally right for us!

By approaching the notion of immersion from a travel perspective, we could add two new elements to our thinking:

1 – Feeling “transported” into a reality that is not ours. In exchange in Canada, I had an intense experience, understanding the Canadian way of life and its culture; while having a bit of French culture in me and knowing that it was only a paranoia in my life. It’s an intense experience, very emotional in this case. To discover magnificent landscapes, to be surprised by the complexity of a culture, is to experience strong emotions. Whether positive or sad, immersion is always accompanied by emotion to varying degrees ; and this significantly enhances our ability to pay attention.

2 The “understanding” characteristic of immersion: one of the purposes of immersion can be to improve the understanding of an object. For example, we have discovered that immersion can be used to combat discrimination since by activating emotions that are similar to empathy, we project ourselves into the other and potentially become more understanding of our situation. And by the way, we often see it: we learn a language much faster when we immerse ourselves in a culture.

That didn’t mean we were naive. Immersion is not always positive. We had the feeling that immersion could completely hack our attention; sometimes even by offering a more attractive universe than reality. Ready Player One or Matrix are perfect examples: some people, even if they are aware of reality, prefer to opt for a virtual world to forget a real situation they refuse. There is a risk of abandoning reality with immersion, you can let go of it to experience even stronger and more captivating sensations.

It remained to be defined how the terms “experiences” and “immersion” would merge. We were indeed familiar with the definition of experience, particularly that of the user experience, which we sometimes used during workshops in our jobs. These are the feelings and behaviours of a user when he or she is in a situation of using a product or service.We were thus touching with our fingers (as long as it was not an illusion!) the understanding we wanted to have.

Our definition of the immersive experience

Following these initial reflections, we have decided to opt for the following V1 of our definition:

“An immersive experience invites us to enter a creation in which the boundaries between reality and imagination are blurred in order to significantly impact our feelings and/or modify our behaviours”.

This broad definition makes it possible to find an interesting consensus among the plurality of existing immersive experiences, particularly because:

We move from the logic of the spectator to participant. The participant enters : he was outside the scene and becomes a real internal stakeholder in the experience. The degree of interactivity is then to be defined: from the ambulatory stakeholder, to the stakeholder actress, or even the author of the scene.

The experience is conceived by a creator: any experience has its creator with his desires, his objectives, his biases etc. The experiment was thought out and designed by someone. It is therefore a question of voluntarily creating immersion, with a defined objective.

The immersive experience creates an illusion: the boundaries between reality and imagination fade and allow you to deceive your participant.

The emotional and cognitive intensity of an immersive experience is powerful: the use of sensory, cognitive and emotional mechanisms can create shocks that can lead to radical and unexpected changes in behaviour.

The immersive experience is only a tool: The immersive experience is not an end in itself. It is a tool serving very different objectives: understanding a culture, recreating the link between Man and nature, changing purchasing behaviour, or simply marvelling at it, etc.

Technology is not necessary: An immersive experience may use immersive technologies (VR, AR, etc.) but this is not mandatory. Narrative and scenographic turns can also create immersive atmospheres.

What do you think about that ? What would be your definition? Feel free to discuss it in commentary or come and chat with us over coffee if you are visiting in Paris !

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