Fundamentals of Immersion

Jun 20

Nicholson, S. (2012, June). A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification. Paper Presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.

  • My hunch is that immersion need be largely self-directed (or internally motivated). The Organismic Integration Theory may be useful for helping me define my taxonomy
  • Deterding on gamification: “use of game design elements in non-game contexts”
  • can remove the internal motivation a user has for an activity, replaced with external motivation
  • suggests “pointsificiation” for adding scoring to a non-game activity
    • focuses on  goals without play
  • suggests “exploitationware” as a better description of what is going on
  • almost all forms of rewards reduce internal motivation
  • once you start giving someone a reward “you have to keep her in that reward loop forever”
  • the goal of the paper is to explore theories in user-centered gamification that is meaningful to the user and therefore does not depend upon external rewards
  • Organismic Integration Theory: a continuum of motivations based upon how much external control is integrated along with the desire to perform the activity
    • an activity is more likely to be integrated if it is meaningful to the user. If too many external controls re integrated the user can have negative feelings about engaging in the activity
  • In order to be meaningful the activity must be relevant to the user
  • by involving the user in the creation and customization of the gamification system the user can select or create meaningful game elements and goals
  • Situated Motivational Affordance: a user is motivated only when there is a match between htat aspect and the backgorund ofthe user. example: if an element of gamification in a company is tied to financial reward, the perception of this as a controlling activity is greater than if the element is tied to a badge
  • Universal Design for Learning: courses should be designed so students can demonstrate learning in a number of ways.
  • Gamification needs to allow different ways for users to achieve goals so that users can be involved in the ways most meaningful to them
  • external rewards are not user-centred

Nicholson, Scott. (2016). Ask Why: Creating a Better Player Experience Through Environmental Storytelling and Consistency in Escape Room Design. Paper presented at Meaningful Play 2016, Lansing, Michigan.

  • Nicholson is primarily concerned with narrative consistency within escape games and the associated player experience. His “Ask Why” paradigm is valuable for designers of narrative-driven experiences.
  • embed the challenges in the game along with the narrative into the environment using the concept of Narrative Architecture
  • consistent genre, setting, world, challenges make more engaged player experience
  • player is their own avatar and are thus more sensitive to inconsistencies
  • cognitive dissonance between who they are supposed to be in the game and what they are doing in it
  • game designers should start with the experience they are trying to create, then every design decision should move players closer to that experience.
    • question a decision which does not move players toward the core experience
  • Narrative Architecture (Henry Jenkins, from the theme park industry) gmae mechanisms are embedded in a larger world. players explore that world as they explore game mechanisms, the story is woven into the space the player is exploring. they are also exploring the story as they explore the mechanisms.
  • Ask Why: ask “why is this here” when looking at every element of a game space.
  • Lee Sheldon: audiences want 3 things from storytellers:
    • Take me to a place I’ve never been
    • Make me into something I could never be
    • Let me do things I could never do
  • players should have a meaningful reason for taking on a task other than “its in the room”
  • Meaningful Play: for play to be meaningful, the actions a player take have to be discernible, meaning the player understands the result of what they are doing, and integrated, meaning the actions the player takes makes a difference.
  • Meaningful challenges:
    • engage with an element of the narrative that has been presented to the player
    • interact with the world in which the player exists
    • have a direct impact on the player or other characters
  • When the world is incoherent, and immersive elements are not put into place, players can’t psychologically step into the world and imagine navigating it
  • a good puzzle is about creating frustration for the player
    • the player experiences some frustration but also provides checkpoints so the player knows they are on the right path
    • they have a clear solution
    • a puzzle with no choices is a task
    • a puzzle must balance the requirement for effort and inspiration to solve
    • Escape rooms can be categorized by technology
      • Gen 1: mostly mechanical and require human engagement and human power
      • Gen 2: more electronic sensors, mag locks, remote controls, but still human triggered
      • Gen 3: technology and computer control is integrated so the room can respond to the actions of the players without human involvement
      • Gen 4: automated clue systems, control the flow of players, change the game space based on the players needs
  • “Round Up To Fun”
    • sometimes something needs to be adjusted away from realism to make an enjoyable player experience
Jun 12

Process Journal 6

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This week I have been exploring AR through Vuforia and Unity with the help of Udemy course Augmented reality (AR) tutorials on Markerless tracking, Cloud AR, 3D Object detection, + more with Unity & Vuforia (instructor Dinesh Tavasalkar).

Through a series of guided experiments I have made a sort of living sketchbook, each page of which has a different set of interactions and code.

After finishing the course (I’m only half done) I would like to explore volumetric video capture in AR.

screenshot_20190611-175204 img_20190611_175956_032 screenshot_20190611-175458 screenshot_20190611-175421 screenshot_20190611-175533 screenshot_20190611-175510 screenshot_20190611-175700

Jun 12

ARGs 1/2

Posted in Annotated Bibliography           No Comments »
Gouveia, P. (2009). Narrative paradox and the design of alternate reality games (ARGs) and blogsIEEE Consumer Electronics Society’s Games Innovation Conference 2009 (ICE – GIC 09Proceedings. Imperial College, South Kensington, London, pp. 231-38. In
  • An exploration of games that argues that the simultaneity of narrative, combined with the growing desire of players to perform as actors in other narratives, is expanding the potential for game development. This paper is a little unfocused for my purposes but it provides links to other thinkers, such as Eskelinen and Salen & Zimmerman, whose work might be useful for my taxonomy of immersion.
  • “pervasive games”, “playable fiction”
  • Mourao: “hyperfiction”
  • Games are non-linear but each players’ actions imply linearity w/ a beginning, middle, and end
  • Torben Grodal: videogames are stories for the eyes, ears, and muscles
  • the protagonist is simultaneously and the agent of character actions
  • “it is suggested that the trick for developing a working base for interactive drama is to integrate the phenomenological aspect of first-person experiences with structural aspects from well designed, third-person stories”
  • Player has four functions (Eskelinen): interpretative, exploratory, configurative, textonic
  • the human-machine interface allows players to create their own personal experiences where they perform as actors
    • this relationship is performative
  • “the pleasures of becoming actors” is being discovered by players
  • “as game-actors they become masters of interpretive embodiment; they accept as their mission the real world incarnation of a digital design”
  • Salen & Zimmerman: every game is a simulation and a cybernetic system of control
  • implosive stories: where things happen simultaneously

Rose, Frank. The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories. W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 

Introduction through Chapter 2

  • An effective history of the origin of the ARG. Highlights some problems the ARG faces but doesn’t engage with my main question: how do you get players if you don’t have a huge budget or a valuable property to attach it to?
  • The internet is a chameleon – it can act like all media
  • it is inherently participatory
  • immersive: “you can drill down as deeply as you like about anything you care to”
  • “Deep media” eg Lost, Dr Who, Avatar – media that asks more engagement than its runtime
  • Why So Serious ARG implicated the players as accomplices with the Joker’s heist that starts the Dark Knight film.
  • nonlinear, collaborative
  • Jordan Weisman, credited with inventing the format
    • “on the net we sift through information we don’t care about like an archaeologist sifting through dirt”
  • Game The Beast for AI: Artificial Intelligence in 2001 was the first
  • unlimited players have unlimited resources, unlimited time, unlimited money – they solved everything in a day
  • attempt at subscription ARG called Majestic
  • Otaku: passion, obsession, yearning to immerse oneself in stories. the desire to experience the universe through as many different media as possible. A need to expand that universe by telling new stories within it.
Jun 05

Process Journal 5

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Peggy showed me some of her primary sources in her research. She has an old folio of translated Greek writings – apparently it’s the only copy that exists. She showed me some of the translations and her notes on them, as well as the notes made by the fellow who originally made the translations.

I’ll be uploading Peggy’s annotations to the translations to her website. In the meantime, here is the abstract to her dissertation.

The first part reverse-engineers the theories of Therodius (c.250 BCE) who was the first to posit the literal existence of a realm of fiction. Therodius, who was primarily concerned with the Grecian theatre of his day, wrote that the act of Conjuration (what we today would call sub-creation, or simply writing fiction) was impossible, as human beings lacked the perspective to imagine anything that did not already exist. He pointed to the fantastical stories of the Grecian mythology, arguing that such outlandish tales widely accepted as gospel suggested a common origin. His last surviving writings imagine a literal realm of the gods where Conjuration of new stories occurs and are transmitted “askance” (λοξώς) to human minds. He further suggests that the Conjured material can “leak” (διαρροή) should there be no minds open to receive them, and points to such phenomena as the Bacchian orgia as examples of this.

The second part explores contemporary communication modes through the lens of Therodius’ conjectures. It explores the semiotics of conversation, with an eye to what must remain unsaid in the name of clear communication. It examines the calculus of communication, exploring the range of information we are able to draw from when making decisions, how our decisions are rendered into reality, and how the discarded information continues to exert an influence on us, unbeknownst.

The third part explores known methods for transcending the brain and achieving a higher mode of consciousness, including hypnotism, psychotropic medication, and sensory deprivation. It also explores and summarizes the results of practical research.

The fourth part summarizes the core taxonomy of the research. Our perception is like a bubble, formed of the decisions we made using the information available to us, immersed in an endless ocean of discarded or incorrect information. Our “non-fictional” world exists in contrast and opposition to the “fiction”. Our world is finite while the fiction is endless. Reality, non-fiction, truth, it all must define itself against what it is not. Therefore, that which does not exist must exist in some form, somewhere.

Jun 04

Analyzing Destiny 2 with the Player Involvement Model

While reading Calleja’s In-Game I was struck by how successfully Bungie’s Destiny 2 incorporates the six methods of involvement. No matter the player’s taste or play style Destiny 2 has sharp, well-realized elements that are have the potential to fully involve a player.

Kinesthetic Involvement

Gameplay in Destiny 2 is primarily traversal and gunplay. Both elements are finely tuned and responsive. Traversal often involves massive leaps through otherworldly terrain; players are given unusual modes of movement such as mid-air hops, jetpack-like hovering, and a glide. Effective traversal involves mastering the movements, each of which have their own distinct feel and quirks.

Gunplay is one of Destiny 2‘s selling points. Guns, the primary means of interaction and reward, all feel and sound distinct. Guns possess statistics – while no gun is better or worse than others, their statistics dictate how quickly they can be aimed, reloaded, track enemies etc. Gathering guns and experimenting to find a gun that feels good to the player is a large component of the gameplay. In short, kinesthetic involvement is central to the Destiny 2 experience.

Spatial Involvement

Destiny 2 rewards exploration of game spaces. Like the multiplayer games Calleja discusses (like Counter-StrikeDestiny 2 has a competitive multiplayer mode in which knowledge of map layouts and details grants a competitive edge. Furthermore, exploration of the various planets uncovers secrets, unique areas. Each area is designed to feel lived-in with a strong history.

Shared Involvement

Destiny 2 takes place in shared space with other players and non-player agents. Enemies have patterns, and return to the map periodically on drop-ships (standing out from other games where defeated enemies simply return after a period of time).  Enemies have distinct tactics and utilize game spaces in attempts to outflank the player. Seperate from NPC shared involvement, Destiny 2 is largely a social game. Other players are always visible in game spaces pursuing their own objectives (which sometimes align with yours; some of the most thrilling moments come when strangers gather for impromptu battles with powerful enemies). No matter how the game is played Destiny 2 feels lived-in and dynamic.

Narrative Involvement

While the dialogue in the Destiny franchise is famously bad, the narrative is deep and well-seeded. Much of the storytelling in Destiny 2 is done through implication, with sharp-eyed players able to discovery secret locations and hidden details in the levels that hint at the larger narrative. Furthermore Destiny and Destiny 2 feature “the Grimoire”, short prose segments that can be found through gameplay or attached to rare gear, that are in-universe story elements. Each Grimoire entry is part of a short story that reveals plot elements which provide context for the action of the game. The lore of Destiny is deep and comprehensive, and the main plot of each game barely scratches the surface. Involvement in the Destiny lore is a large component of macro-involvement, as the community is constantly analyzing and discussing the content of the Grimoire.

Affective Involvement

Every element of Destiny 2 is designed to elicit emotional engagement. Every interaction is a positive feedback loop, keeping players involved regardless of the activity they are taking part in. The most basic loop, the engagement and defeat of enemies, is made rewarding by the satisfying sound of the gun, informing the player of the damage they are inflicting, and the beautiful animation and sound design of the animations when an enemy is defeated (personally, the tremendously satisfying pop of enemy heads is one of the things that sold me on the game initially). Enemies occasionally drop loot, which is a microcosm of the thrill of gambling – wondering what goodies you’ll unlock when you pick up the glowing loot orb. Even destroying junk loot is made pleasurable by the sound effects and climbing currency numbers. At a wider view, the reward loop of missions is clear, with structured adventures granting powerful rewards. Even the player’s gameplay schedule is structured as a reward loop, with “weekly” rewards of powerful goods available for completing extended tasks over long periods of time.

Ludic Involvement

While character ability customization is minimal, gear loadouts are potentially endless. Finding the most effective and efficient weapon and ability combinations is a constant task in Destiny. And, of course, the physical mastery of the gameplay mechanics is a core part of the game.


Destiny 2, intentionally or not, engages with every element of Calleja’s involvement theory and provides multiple angles for players to become immersed. As they get comfortable with the game and need not mindfully engage with any one involvement, they move to the centre of the proposed Player Involvement Model where Calleja’s incorporation can take place.

Jun 04

Calleja, Gordon. In-Game: from Immersion to Incorporation. MIT Press, 2011.

  • Shortening the subjective distance between player and game environment, often yielding to the sensation of inhabiting the space represented on-screen (2)
    • presence and immersion
  • incorporation is the book’s answer to the “quandary”
  • macro-involvement is any engagement with the game outside of play
  • micro-involvement is moment-to-moment play

Chapter 1: Games Beyond Games

  • Lays out the terms and definitions of digital and non-digital games. Highly useful to me, as immersion-first experiences occupy a game-like space. Similar to Calleja’s ‘virtual game environment’, the term he lands on to encompass all games that might include sandbox spaces for sub-coded games, immersion has space for environments that engender player-driven play beyond what is necessarily intended by design.
  • Games reflect the culture and society that made them – to explore games is a recursive process
  • a board game is both a process – a set of rules – and an object – the board + pieces
  • a game is a process – processual – in that it has the potential for variation in every interaction (10)
  • example: players playing CoD, one to win, one trying to get kills in certain ways
  • virtual environments can contain games – games like Half Life 2 or GTAIV are examples

Chapter 2: Immersion

  • Immersion is tied closely to presence theory. Presence generally refers to projection of psychological habitation, and not the lived praesence of Machon and the theatre. For Calleja’s forebears immersion is the objective work of the computer/technology/environment (environment added by me – Calleja is concerned with digital games, but I believe the same taxonomy can be applied to immersive environments) while presence is the psychological experience of the player.
  • Telepresence: Marvin Minsky. Operating machinery remotely can give the sense of inhabiting the distance space
  • high fidelity does not equal presence
  • Immersion: (Slater and Wilbur) “a description of a technology that describes the extent to which the computer displays are capable of delivering an inclusive, extensive, surrounding and vivid illusion of reality to the senses of a human participant”
  • Presence: “A state of consciousness, the psychological sense of being in the virtual environment”
  • Immersion being what the technology delivers, and presence being the human reaction to immersion
  • Witmer & Singer: Immersion “a psychological state characterized by perceiving oneself to be enveloped by, included in, and interacting with an environment that provides a continuous stream of stimuli and experiences”
  • Lombard & Ditton identified six characterizations of presence in the literature. (23)
    • Their findings seem to align with Machon – immersion as absorption – perceptual and psychological immersion. Does Machon cite them?
  • For Calleja, Immersion as Absorption is the dictionary definition: “absorption in some condition, action, interest, etc” such a crossword puzzle or a game of Tetris.
  • Immersion as Transportation also occurs: the idea of being present in another place (such as playing Half Life 2)
    • These are the same terms used by Machon: Absorption vs Transportation. This clarifies the distinction.
  • Four Challenges of engaging with Immersion (page 32)

Chapter 3: The Player Involvement Model

  • Explores involvement, which is necessary for immersion. Introduces the concept of macro and micro involvement. ARGs & similar immersive experiences have the potential to explicitly gamify the macro-involvement segment: you are actively participating at a micro level even as you engage passively at the macro level.
  • involvement is prerequisite to presence or immersion
  • this chapter establishes a model of involvement before “going on to attempt a formulation of what is essentially a preconscious experiential phenomenon that combines multiple dimensions of involvement
  • micro-and-macro-involvement (37)
  • playerinvolvement
    • outer edge represents full attentional resources directed to that dimension. A move toward the center requires less attentional resources directed to that dimension. The further center the more dimensions may be simultaneously attended to.
  • types of involvement: (43)
    • kinesthetic
    • spatial
    • shared
    • narrative
    • affective
    • ludic
  • This reminds me of Octalysis, a taxonomy for examining player motivation
  • Attention (40)
    • investment of attention is required to interpret representational media
    • coordination of disparate activities requires attention
    • a prerequisite for involvement
  • Ergodic: a new result based on input. Films are non-ergodic as they will be the same regardless of how they are approached
    • ergocidity is included in active planning or patience during game time inactivity (for example, planning a move in a strategy game)
    • thus game involvement is indicated by player’s cognitive effort, which is not necessarily registered as game input
    • In immersion, is this cognitive effort constant?
  • The next few chapters analyze each form of involvement and characterise their macro and micro-phases. In the interest of time I’m going to skim them and skip to the final chapter. I’ll return to the mid-point when I need a closer examination. Especially spatial, narrative, effective, and shared, for the type of immersive communitas-work I’m envisioning.

Chapter 10: From Immersion to Incorporation

  • The incorporation theory seems geared toward the digital. It is an attempt to reconcile – and, I think, do away with – the term immersion with what is happening psychologically while playing and orienting oneself in a digital game. Incorporation seems to preclude any digital game that does not involve an avatar in a rendered world space. While much of Callejo’s analysis will be useful to me in exploring mixed reality immersion I suspect that the incorporation portion will not.
  • Lakoff and Johnson (2003) describe transference between experiential gestalts as the core of experientialist ontology
    • Perhaps then the key to unique immersive experiences is to generate experiences that defy familiar categories of experience
  • Incorporation (169)
    • metaphor to account for the sense of virtual environment habitation on two simultaneous levels
    • eg the virtual environment is incorporated in the users mind as being part of her immediate surroundings, and she herself is physically incorporated as being located at a point in the virtual environment
    • the environment is incorporated into consciousness simultaneously with the player being incorporated into the environment through the avatar
    • the game world is present to the player while the player is present to the game world
  • Incorporation is the term for immersion as transportation but includes that the player is not merely transported but also incorporates that world into their consciousness

Milgram, Paul, and Fumio Kishino. “A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays.” IEICE TRANS. INF. & SYST, E77-D, no. 12, 12 Dec. 1994, pp. 1321–1329.,

  • Milgram and Kishino attempt to codify mixed reality beyond the orthogonal reality/virtual dichotomy.
  • milgrams
  • Conventionally held view of VR is one in which the participant is immersed in & able to interact with a synthetic world.
  • A series of classes for Mixed Reality Interfaces
  • immersive = egocentric
  • Sheridan proposed a measure of presence
    • there’s that word again!
    • based on the extent of sensory information, control of relation of sensors, and ability to modify the physical environment
  • Zeltzer’s AIP Cube
  • The AIP Cube (from [Zelt92]) | Download Scientific Diagram
    • The AIP cube format can perhaps be tweaked to accommodate Milgram’s taxonomy as well as Machon’s Absorption vs Transportation, while also accommodating communitas & praesence
  • “Real objects are any objects that have an actual objective existence. Virtual objects are objects that exist in essence or effect, but not formally or actually.”
  • A real object must have luminosity at the site where it is located; a virtual object has no luminosity (includes holograms and mirror images)
  • In creating a taxonomy for merging real and virtual worlds they ask “What is the extent of the illusion that the observer is present within that world?”
  • worldknowledge
  • no info/ where or what in the world  / where and what in the world / complete world
  • theothers
May 29

Process Journal 4

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I’ve discovered a fascinating thinker who is capturing my imagination. Peggy Lind is a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture (a joint program between Ryerson and York University) whose work is largely based around the space between interactions – that is, what is unsaid. She’s careful to explain that’s not talking about body language or subconscious communication cues, but the information exchanges that occur in the absence of mindful communication and the methods by which manipulation can occur through the omission of key information.

I’m interested in the concept of manipulation for my thesis, and I am particularly excited by Peggy’s proposed Taxonomy of Immersion, which is the concept that led me to her.

I’ve reached out to Peggy – and we’ve exchanged some emails! She said she was happy that someone had found her work and was interested. We’re going to start meeting.

In the meantime, I’ve agreed to help her put together her website. I’m not exactly a developer, but I’m learning HTML/CSS and just discovered Bootstrap, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to practice. Peggy is sending me website content when she has time, so the site should take form as I get direction from her.

You can check it out here:

May 29

Role Playing Games: Contextual Analysis

Curse of Strahd Announced (Spoilers) - YouTube

Curse of Strahd is a self-contained adventure for Dungeons & Dragons. It contains all the information required for players (including a referee or Dungeon Master (DM)) to play out the scenario inside, covering approximately 100-200 hours of gameplay time. It describes the country of Barovia, its ecology, the terrible curse it exists under, and the characters who live within it.

While it contains detailed game statistics for many monsters, characters, and dungeons, it is light on details beyond those features of the game that it expects players to encounter. Instead, it focuses on establishing mood and setting, detailing the plots at work in the world, and giving examples of the kind of strange magic encounters players are likely to have. Unlike some fantasy gaming modules, whose features are all painstakingly rendered by the in-game mechanics, Curse of Strahd provides only a light framework and trusts players to fill in any gaps.

Thus Curse of Strahd is a Wunderkammer itself – a book full of possibilities, laid out not as a straight narrative, but a mixed bag of interrelated occurrences that can be arranged by player choice into a narrative that is recontextualized every time it is played.


Curse of Strahd lays out the details of its world, Barovia, early. It is a relatively small plot of land in which dark forces are at work. The book lays out the facts of the world, such as its choking fogs and constantly overcast skies, that remain constant. The Sub-Creation of the fictional world informs the narrative, performance, and the ludus, of Curse of Strahd.


Curse of Strahd has a series of loose narrative thread running through it, with one – the liberation of Barovia from the titular Strahd – serving as arguably the main plot. None of these plots need be followed, however, to have meaningful narrative play. Indeed some of the plots may resolve without player input, lending Curse of Strahd a lived-in verisimilitude, as many RPG narratives expect players to serve as lead characters. Curse of Strahd presents many opportunities for dynamic narrative while never constraining players by forcing them to follow one “true” narrative.


Performance is the aspect least contained within Curse of Strahd. The non-player characters (NPCs) are often colourful with clear desires, and the book does well in suggesting tics and voices to play the characters with without outright telling a reader what to do. Mostly the performance aspect is assumed to be covered by non-DM players who, reacting to the horrible situations within Barovia, give role-playing performances that challenge their characters in unexpected ways. Curse of Strahd is explicitly a horror module (a rare genre in D&D) and players are unlikely to have encountered similar situations – indeed, CoS intentionally misleads players who assume that it will keep to popular D&D tropes – and their performances are likely to reflect that experience.


As discussed above, Curse of Strahd contains enough game mechanic materials to establish a mechanical Wunderkammer. It has enough new and unusual content so players will always be discovering and incorporating new materials into their play, but it is not bogged down in game mechanics. It walks the line between providing new game material and trusting that player ingenuity will serve to merge any situations that do not have associated game mechanics into the experience.

May 29

Annotated Bibliography

Geertz, Clifford. “Deep play: notes on the Balinese cockfight. Daedalus. Fall 2005, 134, 4: Research Library. pg 56

  • Largely an anthropological treatise on the Balinese. There is some exploration of cultural play and on the imperatives informing “deep” vs “shallow” play
    • “status” play is correlated to “deep” play while “money” play is correlated to shallow play
    • Does immersive play necessitate a certain amount of status, cultural cache or class? Is this why, at a glance, (and to be highly general) “blue-collar” types seem less interested or even baffled by immersivity?
    • Geertz lays out a series of facts that influence the depth of a given cockfight. This taxonomy is intriguing as a method for categorizing the depth of immersion
    • “It is a story they tell themselves about themselves”
  • Deep Play: from Bentham The Theory of Legislation.
    • play in which the stakes are so high that it is irrational to engage in it at all
    • In “genuine” deep play this is true for both parties
      • The play will net pain, collectively
    • Therefore Deep Play is immoral, says Bentham
  • Such play (to the Balinese, argues Geertz) is a symbol of moral import
  • “status gambling” is correlated to deep fights and “money gambling” is correlated to shallow fights
  • the cockfight in Bali is a dramatization of social concerns
    • expected to bet on a bird owned by kin or friends, eg
  • Social clout is correlated with the deep play cock fights
    • Balinese cock fighting is deep b/c of  the potential loss of status on the line
      • is Immersion deep play because of the removal of social safety mechanisms? The necessary excision of defense mechanisms in order to allow new experiences to take root?
    • Betting activates village and kingroup rivalries but in “play” form
    • no ones’ status really changes
    • “It is a story they tell themselves about themselves”

Konzack, Lars. “The Wunderkammer-Gesamtkunstwerk Model: A Framework for Role-Playing Game Analysis and Design.” Digra 2015, 14 May 2015.

  • Describes the Wunderkammer-Gesamtkunstwerk (Wu-Ge) Model
    • Subcreation
      • Worldbuilding
    • Ludus
      • Game mechanics and rules
    • Performance
      • RPG performed by players
    • Narrative
      • Storyline
    • Cabinet of Curiosities (Wunderkammer, “chamber of wonders”)
  • Structure based on two dichotomies:
    • Concrete vs Abstract
      • Performance & Narrative are Concrete, Ludus & Subcreation are Abstract
    • Action vs Contemplation
      • Performance and Ludus are Action, Subcreation and Narrative are Contemplation
  • A matrix of physicality/action/concretion vs abstraction/contemplation/conceptualized, similar to the direction I am exploring my study.
  • LARP compared to improv or performance theatre (Choy, Fatland, Flood, Lampo)
  • Tabletop RP is unique in that there is no external audience
    • a distinct literary/gaming tradition of their own
  • GNS Theory (Ron Edwards)
    • Gamism
      • competition
    • Simulationism
      • exploration of the fictional world
    • Narrativism
      • creation of story via roleplaying
  • Three Way Model (Bockman)
    • player behavior, style of play
    • Dramatists
      • storyline
      • argues this is the same as Narrationist
    • Gamists
      • solving
    • Immersionists
      • Living the role in a 360 illusion
      • vicariously live out characters (argues that this is the same as Simulationism)
  • Prior research. Largely focused on player behavior, not on conceptual theory. Possibly useful when designing immersive experiences, but not likely useful in the context of developing a theory of immersion
  • Wunderkammer term is taken from proto-museums,
    • “a microcosm of wonders that trigger imagination and ingenious thoughts as to the greater macrocosmos of which it is a representation”
    • “a macrocosmos not only of fictional laws, but ideal and fictional entities”
  • Proto-museums are an interesting avenue into pre-industrial worldbuilding and immersion!
  • WK means “tabletop RPGs have the ability to insert features into the setting and genre and make it somehow fit the feel or mood of the rest of the collection of ideas.”
  • Every item becomes a natural part of the collection
  • An artefact dropped into a RPG world becomes appropriate and contextualized by the setting (eg a Crystal Skull in D&D vs Call of Cthulhu)
  • Everything need not add up in the Aristotelian Theatre manner, where all parts must serve the performance.
  • The Wunderkammer is applicable to transmedia storyworlds – arguably, every storyworld milieu serves as a Wunderkammer as well
  • Gesamtkunstwerk (“all-embracing art form”)
    • term from Wagner (1850)
    • “Every part of the role playing game works together as a complete experience with as many powerful effects as possible
    • Only when each of Performance Narrative Ludus & Subcreation work together that the experience becomes a “proper” tabletop RPG one
    • Wagner wanted opera to have all its components work as one
    • “The aim is to get as much as possible out of what the medium… can offer”
  • Performance
    • Defined as pure drama analyzed through performance studies
    • central is the process of playing a character
    • an essential part of RPGs
    • does not assume a separate audience
      • necessitates a greater degree of introspection
      • “more literary”
    • about narrative and play – play-like routines
    • the true content is the presentation and exhibition of the performer
      • narrative and play are support of the performance
  • Narrative
    • the narrative structure through which the action unfolds
    • presented in an orderly fashion, but not a fixed narrative
    • Berger Rognli & Westlund narratologists
    • interactive narrative is made dynamic through player activity
  • Ludus
    • game-features
      • game mechanics
      • “deep play” (Geertz) <– check this out
      • Game classification (Caillois)
      • games as culture (Huizinga)
  • Sub-Creation
    • From Tolkien
    • refers to the fictional world of the roleplaying
    • few researchers go into detail about how shared worlds work
  • Action
    • Performance and Ludus
    • Ludus is applying abstract rules to adjudicate the results of Performance
  • Contemplation
    • Sub-creation and Narrative
    • designer must avoid suspension of disbelief in which anything can happen without reason or consequence
    • instead build on the concept of Inner Consistency of Reality
    • everything is there for a reason
  • Concrete vs Abstract
  • The factors in Konzack’s framework can be applied to immersive experiences as well as traditional RPGs. In Konzack’s terms, the immersive experience (like the RPG) is a Gesamtkunstwerk whose Wunderkammer of objects can be explored by player-audiences. Arguably the Wunderkammer of the immersive experience is less than that in the traditional RPG, as the RPG’s flexibility allows any game object to become immediately and seamlessly contextualized within the world at any time. This may not be so easy in the world of the immersive experience, whose suspension of disbelief is dependent chiefly on sense.

Williams, J. Patrick. Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity, and Experience in Fantasy Games. McFarland & Co., 2006.

  • This work is less concerned with the process of immersing within games than it is in exploring the cultures that games generate. It does however touch on roleplaying as pedagogy, so I will be returning to this book when I look at Immersion as pedagogy.
  • ludology, the study of play
  • a ludologist is somebody who wants to have a better understanding of games
  • RPG historical basis is in war gaming
  • Researched as a pedagogical tool
    • games, sims, RP in the classroom
  • Fantasy gaming involves the creation of and interaction with/in social realities
    • the fantasy reality + the real world
  • virtual identities emerge within the social reality of the game – the border between these identities is fuzzy
May 21

Annotated Bibliography

Machon, Josephine. (2013) Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


  • Immerse: “be submerged in a liquid”, “to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest”
  • Immersive: provides stimulation for a number of senses beyond sight and sound
  • Experience means “to undergo” for the purpose of this discourse
  • One-on-One or One-to-One is designed for one audience member
  • worlds can last longer than the event; one example is even that the proposal/grant is written in-world
  • points out that the space between the show’s end and the return to the world can be “theatricalized”
  • the principle of minimum fiction
    • coined by Stevens
    • “minimum fiction required to play with the real world and… recast it as otherworldly in the imagination and experience of the beholder”
    • in other words, the least that must be done to turn the mundane into something exciting to the audience’s imagination
  • growing fan-bases are said to come about from a growing desire for “genuine physical connection”
  • reduced opportunities for “sentient human interaction” in the face of digital communication
  • immersive theatre requires bodily engagement, tactility
  • “sensually stimulates the imagination”
  • “epic”: grand in execution and profound in appreciation, spectacular but with powerful meaning
  • Immersive theatre means new environment and context every time – no familiar theatrical lights down/lights up presence/lack of presence
  • Techniques and sensibilities attached to immersive theatre can be traced to Modernist Theatre (1905-59) owing to the growing interdisciplinarity of the time
  • the mix of “fun, flux and furore” of immersive practice can be traced the theatre traditions of Commedia Del’Arte and European street theatre, which influenced the so-called “Assemblages, Environments and Happenings” of the mid-20th century
  • Antonin Artaud’s “total theatre” – “an intensive mustering of objects, gestures and signs used in a new spirit” – immersive theatre puts much of his manifesto into practice with its “sensual practice”
  •  Happenings – Allan Kaprow
    • The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible”
    • viewers are fused with the space-time of the performance and lose their identities
    • should take place over multiple locations and avoid the static
    • Should not be repeated
    • Duration perceived as real and experienced as opposed to the conceptual time of traditional theatre
  • Installation Art
    • “art in to which the viewer physically enters”
    • the effect is that the viewer (“actor”) is “submerged”, “engrossed”
  • Immersive experience arise where medium and message are fused
    • the perceiver is within the art
  • Immersive technologies
    • seek to heighten sensual experience
    • seeks control in order to get at the experiential intent of the work
  • impact of duration + space and human interrelationships within the space establish an environmental sensibility that allow wider ecological concerns to exist within the work
  • Communitas
    • place/space/art as living experience facilitates communal recreation
  • Immersive theatre requires
    • the letting down of boundaries
    • giving in to experience
    • willingly engaging in a truly embodied fashion
  • Requires liveness and “live(d)ness
    • the live performance is fleeting, never can be repeated, but lasts in the receiver’s memory of the event
    • praesent – being at hand
    • “live(d)”: the performing/perceiving body is living, tactile, haptic material
    • live(d) bodies establish a constant praesence

Part One: Defining Immersive Theatres

Definitions and Details

  • Traditional theatre vs Immersive Theatre
  • The conventional relationship with theatre asks us to forget our physical bodies. immersive reminds us of our physical presence. Perception is more important than attending.
  • traditional theatre is audio/visual and offers nothing to other senses
  • “Immersive” first applied to computer technologies in the 1980s
  • In digital, “immersive” is applied to displays that generate a 3d image that surround the user.
    • or, deeply involve the senses or create an altered mental state
  • Grau: “Immersion arises when the artwork and technical apparatus, the message and medium of perception, converge into an inseparable whole.. maximize the intensity of the message being transported”
  • In gaming theory and game studies “immersion” is used interchangeably with “presence”
  • Immersive theatre must be a practice in and of itself, and not defer to any technological practice
  • a sense of presence is always related to form (Calleja)
  • the live(d) experience is a tangible fact and a pivotal element of the immersive experience
  • Immersion as Absorption
    • the event is a total activity that engrosses the participant within its form
  • Immersion as Transportation
    • the participant is imaginatively and scenographically reoriented in another place, requiring navigation according to its own rules
    • in games this occurs in a conceptual space, in immersive theatre this is a conceptual space and an inhabited physical space
    • affords actual physical cohabitation and contact with human bodies
  • Total Immersion
    • Involving both of the above and leading to an uncanny recognition of the participant’s own praesence within the experience
    • the participant can fashion their own narrative or journey
  • All immersive events exist at some point between these three criteria
  • Earliest claimed usage of “immersive” in relation to theatre is attributable to Artangel; Morris uses it to describe La Fura Dels Baus in 1983.
  • Oily Cart using immersive sensory explorations as educational and therapeutic purposes, such as being immersed in hydrotherapy pools, sensory explorations using scent, touch, feeling of momentum using trampolines
  • Immersive theatre begins to be defined as a genre between 2005-2010
  • Immersive theatre is the practice which allows participants to be in “the playing area” with the performers

Features and Finer Details: A Scale of Immersivity

  • Venue, architectural details & design, landscapes, are of concern
    • can incorporate a focus on geographic location, community, culture, history politics
  • “Audience involvement, audience evolvement”
  • Threefold agenda of “activation; authorship; community” (Bishop)
  • “theatre experienced from within… part of it rather than fundamentally distinct”
  • Audiences are keen for visceral experiences that can remind an individual what it is to feel alive; esp as people spend more time online
  • Machines like ATMs now perform work that once represented “many opportunities for exchanges, pleasure, or conflict”
    • “art is a state of encounter” (Bourriaud 2006)
    • Immersive practice creates a space for reinvigorating human interaction and exchange
  • Difficult to come up with a term for audience members (I’ve been saying “participants” mostly)
    • immersants vs immersees
  • Mercuriali: “everyday technology use can serve to distance human interaction and destroy a sense of personal connection… The immersive practice can employ technology to return the user to the personal relationship that is more precious than anything”
  • A central feature of immersive theatre is related to the sensual construction of the world
  • Banes taxonomy of odour: 1) to illustrate words, characters, places, or action. 2) to evoke a mood or ambience. 3) to complement or contrast with aural/visual signs. 4) to summon specific memories. 5) to frame the performance as ritual. 6) to serve as a distancing device
    • Olfactory sense has the capacity to “summon up memories”, argues that it in some way fuses past and present in time
  • Haptics (meaning skin to surface, skin against skin, kinaesthetics and proprioception – not necessarily the digital definition of haptics) are “often crucial” to immersive performance experience
    • Haptics are “whole body” experience
  • touch is an opportunity for “sensate involvement” – 78
  • The prioritization of all human senses opens up a new taxonomy for appreciation – 80
    • Articulated by Lundahl and Seitl as the “sixth sense”.
    • The “(syn)aesthetic sense”
    • draws on the full cognition of the body to make sense and sense the inarticulable
    • This is unusual due to the process of becoming aware of the fusion of senses
  • “the play of the senses… allows for an immediate and intimate interaction within the performance event.
  • Immersive practice is, and must be, an embodied event. – 83
  • Immersive practice can encourage individual to invest in each other as well as the work
    • a palpable sense of communitas – 85
  • Higgin: the storytelling environment bleeds into the real world – 87
  • collaborate with communities to encourage them to find an artistic access to their local environment + reignite their relationship to their community (Holdsworth) – 88

Immersive Perspectives

  • Theories pulled from multiple disciplines
    • philosophy and art
  • (syn)aesthetics – 104
    • making sense/sense-making
    • understanding through embodied, somatic perception via feeling
  • aesthetics
    • subjective creation, experience, and criticism of the art
  • corporeal memory and embodied knowledge – 105
    • primordial human impulses
    • the emotional and physiological capabilities of the physical body
  • Deleuze: “Immanence” – 108
    • fusion between immanence (a state of being, within the material/physical qualities of human experience) and transcendence
    • transcendence is supressing the materially immanent and entering int oan otherworldly state. “Transcendence is always a product of immanence”
    • (syn)aesthetically pulled between the plausible and implausible – 109
    • “sensation is in the body and not in the air”
    • Deleuze aligns with Artaud’s theories for theatre
    • “artworks just are sensation” and allow us to enter into a “pure presence” or a “pure plane of immanence”
  • Kathryn Linn Geurts: “Seselelame” – 110
    • Anlo-Ewe peoples’ word
    • embodied consciousness for which in some non-western cultures there already exists an expressive vocabulary (Geurts, 2003, 2006)
    • social and cultural experience is bound in sensory order established by early education
    • Seselelame: “perceive-perceive-at-flesh-inside”
    • Anlo sensory does not divide itself by five senses (a Western ideal) but by a generalized feeling within the body that includes internal senses (such as balance and proprioception) and external ones, as well as perceptual, emotional, intuitive dimensions of experience – 111
    • both a specific sense and a descriptor for human sentience in general
    • The embodied sentience innate in all humans, which exists in everyday pursuits
      • (intention is not to appropriate the Anlo terms a theoretical concept and academic jargon, but to show how Geurts’s study is useful to prioritizing embodied knowledge) – 112
  • Umberto Eco
    • wrote of the active judgment of the audience member of the audience member when interpreting and experiencing artistic works – 113
    • “art can only represent and express the experience of human existence by employing equally open and complex forms” – 114
    • where works are open, the performer can “impose his judgement on the form of the piece” which forms “fresh dialectics between the work of art and the performer” – openness is “indefiniteness” – audience is an active collaborator in the work, resulting in an outcome where the work is constantly being formulated and interpreted
    • the audience and artist must work together
    • the form of the artwork gains an “aesthetic validity” in proportion to the perspectives from which it can be viewed and understood
    • Eco notes that his perspective comes from contemporary theory and practice and cannot be applied to work prior to the twentieth century – 115
  • Jacques Ranciere
    • theorizes the relationship between aesthetics and politics
    • his perspective is central to the collaborative nature of immersive events
      • suggests a democratic community within these events – 117
    • refers to Plato’s “choreographic community” where everyone moves to the “community rhythm”
    • emancipation: “the blurring of the boundary between those who act and those who look; between individuals and members of a collective body”
    • “viewing” is an action that encapsulates “observes, selects, compares, interprets”
  • Nicolas Borriaud
    • “art is a state of encounter” – 120
  • Juhani Pallasmaa
    • the sensuality of space – 123
  • Doreen Massey
    • The politics of space and place – 130
  • Gaston Bachelard
    • the poetics of space – 137