Virtual reality a megatrend. Closely related to it is the principle of immersion. But this is far more comprehensive, far more fundamental. On the one hand, it affects all other classic disciplines in communication with moving images. On the other hand, it is an absolute success factor for VR videos.
If you want to create an impact, you have to captivate the viewer. The latter should forget himself, must immerse himself in moving images and let himself be carried away by them. That’s what immersion is all about. It is the deeper goal of any communication activity. This article explains what that means for the and VR videos practice.
You have to know that
- Virtual reality has a high technical component. Conversely, immersion defines the demands of storytelling.
- Immersion is the very purpose of virtual reality. It should immerse the viewer in another reality, abduct him and let him discover new worlds.
- A distinction is made between active and passive immersion. Passivity is when there is no interaction. Active immersion means interacting with the content. This can be done by choosing the point of view or by steering the action in games.
- In active immersion, the technique, the personality of the player and the length of time during which interaction takes place play a significant role.
- According to Bartle, the degree of immersion and oblivion in a medium can be described by four levels of increasing intensity.
1What does immersion mean for VR videos?
For film, VR videos or games, immersion can therefore be translated quite simply as “immerse”.
While in the word illusion the wrong interpretation of reality is already a fact for the spectator, the immersion in foreign or other realities describes the preliminary stage to it, the way to illusion. In practice, however, the two terms are blurred. Nevertheless, it has become common to speak of immersive worlds, rather than illusions, in the context of virtual reality.
Psychologically, the process of immersion in another, seemingly real environment can be compared to the addictive experience of a diver in the sea, who lets himself sink deep under the surface again and again to discover an underwater world unknown to him.
Immersion became an issue at the same time as virtual reality. They’ve been around much longer than VR videos. Because it was born 50 years ago, when it was invented by Ivan Sutherland.
2How does virtual reality work?
To understand immersion and immersion, two essential key concepts help, which also have an important meaning for “normal” communication with moving images: Identification and closeness to reality (authenticity).
Identification means nothing other than that the viewer is not indifferent to what he sees, that he is not left cold by the events he is confronted with. If you don’t feel addressed in any way by what you see, you won’t waste any more energy and emotion on it.
Identification is easiest when it can be done with people. Objects generally elicit fewer feelings in the average person than fellow human beings. Likewise, screenwriters have always known this, it is easier to identify with people whose feelings correspond to one’s own life reality than with people who are totally “wound the other way”.
3Even the ancient Greeks and Da Vinci were immersive
Immersion means an immersion in other worlds. The desire for this is anything but new.
Even in ancient Greece, stage sets were made to look as real as possible in order to break down the boundaries between reality and performance for the audience during theatrical performances. In ancient theatres, the décor was aligned with the auditorium in terms of perspective. The tapering in the background simulated depth of space by having all the vanishing lines of the stage set converge as much as possible on a single point.
Even before Da Vinci, painting developed this early principle of immersion further, with the identical goal. Centuries later, the still young photography took up the same request and thus set out on the triumphal procession that led via film to today’s digital image worlds.
4The dramaturgical magic formula of immersion
The dramaturgy turns the need for identification into an easily comprehensible formula:
Human behaviors familiar to the audience that must prove themselves in unfamiliar worlds generate much stronger feelings in the audience than traits of an actor unfamiliar to the audience that collide with challenges familiar to the audience.
Or put another way: Known people in unknown situations always “work” better in a VR video than unknown people in known situations. I want to see what another person, who could be me, does in a situation I don’t know (a challenge). Immersion and virtual reality follow this principle.
Identification can only arise if a second element is present: credibility. The viewer must (want to) believe what he sees.
The more real the person appears with whom the viewer is supposed to identify, the more the unknown (threatening) environment seems to be a fact, the easier it is to immerse oneself in the foreign reality. Immersing yourself in a VR video can be done in two ways: passively or actively.
5Passive, cinematic immersion
If the immersion in another world takes place without the active intervention of the viewer (watching and listening to the viewer is not understood as active), one speaks of cinematic immersion in the context of virtual reality.
Film has destroyed this principle of the old spatial arts – the distance and the secluded enclosedness of the work of art. The moving camera takes my eye, and thus my consciousness, with it: right into the picture, right into the play space of the action. I can’t see anything from the outside. I see everything as the acting persons must see it.
Béla Balázs, 1938
The pull of immersion, which draws the viewer into the action, only arises through the medium of VR video and thus only indirectly through the behavior of the viewer. The viewer contributes nothing to the plot and the film always remains the same. The filmmaker is in control of the viewer.
Active immersion turns the wheel, and with it the degree of immersion, up another notch.
Moving images have more than four times the recall value (80%) than text that has to be read (17%). If people are given the opportunity, for example in a VR video, to actively determine their own point of view in a virtual world, the memory value increases again compared to a normal film or VR video. It comes in at an incredible 90% in this case.
As a comparison: for auditory information, for example news on the radio, the recall value is at the other end of the scale, at only 10% %!
Interaction with a virtual environment can take place in a VR 360 video or a 360 image film in exactly the same way as in a game. The degree of immersion corresponds to the player’s experience of the game. The degree of intensity, in addition to the elements already mentioned, depends on
- the identification and
- the degree of authenticity,
as well as three other essential factors
- the technical possibilities for interaction,
- the duration of the interaction (film or game length),
- and the personality of the spectator (or player).
7Bartle’s memory scale
Richard Allan Bartle has established a scale for evaluating active immersion. It is based on how the viewer/player retroactively remembers their immersive experience. The English researcher has identified four levels of immersion, each of which he assigns to a type of player. They also apply to VR video and virtual reality:
- Level 1 – the player: the viewer or user moves through a virtual world. He always perceives himself as the real I experiencing an alien world. Not unlike a board game, the player always remains himself.
- Stage 2 – the avatar: the viewer uses an artificial figure (= avatar) to explore strange worlds. He talks about the character as if he were a stranger (“my / the character did this and experienced this”, etc.,).
- Level 3 – the character: The user uses a game character to experience worlds unknown to him. He talks about them as if they were himself (“I have done this and experienced that”, etc,).
- Stage 4 – the persona (the self-image): The user no longer distinguishes between the game character, which he no longer perceives as such, and his own personality. He merges with the virtual world, is completely absorbed by it during the experience, no longer immersed, but submerged. At this stage it can often be observed that not only unstable personalities find it difficult to come back and arrive back in reality.
Bartle’s four experience levels for immersion impressively prove that the repeatedly claimed, unalterable triumph of VR videos depends not only on the technology, but much more on the content. If you lie down in a shallow puddle of murky water with your diving equipment, unlike a diver in the Maldives, you are unlikely to report a unique experience and enthusiastically encourage others to do the same.
Further articles and literature on immersion and VR videos
More about immersion, storytelling trends and virtual reality
- Immersion and Virtual Reality in Black Mirror Episode “Experience Hunger”.
- Aesthetic Immersion and Film Theory, by Stefan Höltgen
- Janet H. Murray: Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future Of Narrative In Cyberspace, New York 1997.
- Richard Bartle, Designing Virtual Worlds, 2003
This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.