An immersive environment is compiled of immersive experiences, which are similar to the physical and emotional experience of being submerged in water. To be immersed in is to describe the state of being overwhelmed, engulfed or deeply absorbed or engaged in a situation or problem. Immersive experiences can be best described as a gamer playing game on the Internet. There are three levels in the degree of involvement within a game: engagement, engrossment and total immersion. To be in the immersion sequence, the person involved must invest time, effort and attention. And when a person reaches total immersion, participants become so engrossed to a point where the only thing that matters is the game.
To elaborate on Kayla’s examples of levels of immersion, an interview with Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, by Englightenment magazine, Csikszentmihaly explains this immersive experience and calls it “flow”. Dr. Mihaly was observing art students in Chicago in the sixties. As these students were painting, she noticed that they seemed as if they were in a trance almost as if they were “possessed by something inside themselves”. She then went on to speak to a wide range of people, for example; chess players, rock climbers, musicians and athletes to better understand this state of immersivity. She expected there to be a broad spectrum of stories, but instead the interviews were all similar in a few aspects. They all touched on that they felt that they needed to be “completely immersed, concentration very high, knew how to react moment by moment and have very quick and precise feedback”. When the challenges are in balance with the skills, one begins to forget all the things that bothered them in everyday life. One of them even quoted that it was like “being carried by a current, spontaneous and effortless like a flow”. This “flow” seems to be a phenomenological state that is the same across all cultures. She noticed this when she interviewed European and Catholic Dominican monks – what people do to get into this immersive state varies but the experience itself is described in similar ways.
In the future of immersivity, there are dangers in terms of development or evolution. On the individual level, a person can become so addicted to the point where they become increasingly dependent on one set of challenges and when these challenges are exhausted, the person is then left helpless. An example is when chess players break down to various forms of neurosis after they beat somene and then there is nowhere else to go from there. There is also a danger at the social level – when a person finds flow in challenges that are “zero sum” which means that somebody has to lose in order for you to win. A good example of this is when someone is on the front line in war, everything is clear and focused and they know exactly what they want to do. Once they come back and get back into every day civilian life, their lives are boring and dull compared to that war experience.
“Flow is what drives this human need for going beyond what we have. In creativity or optimal experience.”
Flow with Soul: Interview with Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, by Elizabeth Debold, Enlightenment Magazine