By Alex Jordan
Gary L. Allen argues that being truly immersed in a situation takes more than just being fully focused on it—it means to experience it to its fullest. In a videogame, a person’s responses are pale surrogates for meaningful response, whereas in true immersion in a virtual environment (VE), a person would feel those emotions to the fullest.
For example, if one were to play a first-person shooter videogame, they would feel a sense of urgency and a rush of adrenaline if their health was low and they were about to die. However, they would not feel the sheer full-fledged chemical and emotional responses that the body would put forth if they were really in that dire situation. To be immersed is not just simply to be involved with an environment or experience—it is to truly respond to something on all levels of physical, emotional, and chemical interactivity.
Therefore, videogames or computers that use a screen as a computer-to-user dialogue create only a partially immersive experience. In order to experience complete immersion, one must take part in a virtual reality simulation.
The main difference between partial immersion and complete immersion lies within the certain interaction techniques that these virtual experiences make use of. This term describes the way a user uses specific devices to input data into a computer, causing a conformational change within the system that is reflective of that input. In a truly immersive experience like a virtual environment (VE), this kind of response is referred to as a stimulus substitution, or more simply put, an imitation of what would happen in real life. Instead of using a joystick to drive a car, you would use an actual steering wheel. VE utilizes the five senses (something Jonathan mentioned before me— these senses include “images, sounds, tactile sensations, tastes and smells.”) to immerse the user in not only a psychological aspect, but in a physical one. This allows the user to experience something in ways that other modes of communication cannot.
As Deanna mentioned earlier in her post, we as members of this increasingly electrate society are constantly burdened with wave after wave of facebook updates, internet memes, emails, and the like. Is an interactive, responsive website like facebook a true vision of immersive data? I argue that it is not. It is a pale imitation of true interaction that lacks the depth of truly immersive and personal experiences. Internet interactions often involve instantaneous and immediate interactions that are often completed in under a minute before moving on to a completely new interaction. This lacks the cohesiveness found in more ecological modes of communication.
Allen, Gary L. Applied Spatial Cognition: from Research to Cognitive Technology. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007.