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The concepts of Presence and Immersion

Are "holistic overview", "insight", "global awareness", "feeling of interconnectedness" properties of "presence"? Presence touches upon fundamental aspects of what we perceive as real, consciousness, culture and why a situation appears real to us.

I have identified the problem here, but haven't had the chance to write down my thoughts about it.

There are a lot of obfuscated, surprising and unclear factors about multimedia experience (which is good, not everything can or should be explained); to contrive terms like "presence" and "immersion" seems like a desperate attempt to tame those unbridled qualitative, soft and artistic tacit factors ... the quality without a name. Some ideas work - others do not.


"a state of alert awareness, receptivity, and connectedness, to the mental, emotional, and physical interactions, of the individual and the group with the world and each other, and the ability to respond with a considered and compassionate best next step" (Rodgers and Raider-Roth, 2006)
"is a state of consciousness where a participant has a sense of being there (at the virtual location. (UCL))"
"[an experience] “ that seems truly "natural," "immediate," "direct," and "real," a mediated experience that seems very much like it is not mediated; a mediated experience that creates for the user a strong sense of presence.”
Matthew Lombard, Theresa Ditton, (1997) "At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence; Temple University"
"implies that observers perceive their self-orientation and self-location with respect to an environment."
" is an illusion of position and orientation"
Jerrold D. Prothero, Donald E. Parker, Thomas A. Furness III, Maxwell J. Wells "Towards a Robust, Quantitative Measure for Presence"

Perceptual/physical Immersion:

"Presence as immersion also includes a psychological component. When users feel immersive presence they are involved [(Palmer, 1995)], absorbed [(Quarrick, 1989)], engaged, engrossed. This psychological state typically is best measured via subject self-report (although observation of involved media users might also be a useful indicator). For example, a factor analysis of responses to items used by [Heeter (1995)] in a study of user reactions to consumer virtual reality systems resulted in an "involvement" factor containing the items "intense," "fun," "competitive," "addictive," and "exciting"; scores on this factor were the highest of all factors (8.7 out of 10)."

Psychological/cognitive Immersion:

"There are no days more full in childhood than those days that are not lived at all, the days lost in a book. I remember waking out of one such book [...] to find my sisters all around me. They had unlaced and removed one of my shoes and placed a straw hat on my head. Only when they began to move the wooden chair on which I sat away from the window light did I wake out of the book, to their great merriment."
John McGahern "The promise", The Guardian, Review, 27.08.02005

Some notes on transportation and immersion.

Transportation is about "going there" or "coming here." It defines the illusion of being transported somewhere else or staying local and somewhere else coming here to our local space.
A Head-Mounted Display "takes us" somewhere else, either into a Virtual Reality or a remote location. A CAVE or a CUBE do the same. The immediate, physical space "stays behind" and one literally enter into the CAVE world.
A telephone call also takes us somewhere else. Or is it a matter of focus? Can we just focus on one thing at a time? Does it really take us somewhere else, or does it just occupy our attention? We loose focus of the activity we are otherwise involved in (like driving). But this would be an example of Psychological Immersion.

Is transportation the same as immersion?
The project Remotehome is also all around the user, but there is NO transportation taking place! The individual stays in her local space; also she is technically immersed. The enlivened apartment with its ghostly activities, is all around her, but is she immersed? Rather not. But why not?
The same goes for video-chat on a computer screen. It grabs our attention, yet we remain local. Hearing alone is more immersive than the combination of vision and hearing!
So what is immersion?
Either being physically and sensorially surrounded by something, but also to focus on something so that the attention and awareness of the immediate physical surrounding stays behind / fades away.
I am immersed in the world right now, in this very room. Why is it so "real"?

Transportation is the experience of being somewhere else then we actually are. Either there has come here, to our local space or we have gone there. (Language: It needs an observer! The sentence only appears to be right. "There has come here - or we have gone there. Correct it would be:
There has come here - or here has gone there. Describing a connection between two remote places;
And "They have come here - or we have gone there." When connecting remote people.)
We would never speak of transportation in association with a book. We would never say that we went there, even if it is a semi-recursive narrative like "The neverending story."

Does this have to do with a hierarchy of the senses it covers? Reading is a cognitive experience only, no senses are involved. (But the eyes and the mind. We don't even move. A reader that is being moved may become motion sick.) Everything is happening in the imagination. (Jean Genet, it is said, could lie on the floor naked and have an orgasm without touching himself, triggered by his vivid imagination only. Immanuel Kant could describe to visitors what the detailed views from under a newly built bridge in another town looked like after having studied plans only.)

But there is one difference: Playing a text adventure game, or entering a text based multi-user dungeon we would speak of going there! It is text-based and cognitive as well - but the essential difference is, it is interactive - just like reality! We get a sense of geography, of spatiality. Our actions have effects, they are not merely cognitive. We mirror ourselves in this other world by our actions, and even more so in the other people we meet there, and which mirror us in unexpected, autonomous ways. It is synchronous, unpredicable and immediate. It is not linear as a book, but dynamic and live (also mostly discreet. Usually we have to do something to get any feedback).
Some degrees of complexity up, playing a 3D adventure game on a computer screen, we get an even stronger sense of locality, geography presence and continuity, and may even become motion sick.
It seems that the more senses a technology covers and the degree of believability it creates of touch, hearing, vision - the more likely we are able (and willing (suspension of disbelief)) to trust this creation.
So, firstly transportation is easiest achieved via the visual sense. The bigger and better display technologies are the more immersion they achieve. Add the auditive and it becomes more convincing. Christin Lahr once created an auditive moo installation that was semi-interactive. Visitors entered a dark space hearing voices whisper. These voices were chat transcripts. As vistors moved the voices became quiet. Only when the vistor stood completely still the shy voices continued their conversation. Though not visual and only auditive this piece was very immersive. As long as touch wont be around immersion will rely either on captivating interactivity and content or on the visual and auditive sense.

So what about the difference between transportation and immersion?
Transportation is a property of immersion. Only when we are immersed we can be convinced of being somewhere else. Interactivity and multiple degrees of freedom add to that. The more immersed we are, for whatever reasons either psychological or perceptual, the more likely a concept that involves transportation is to succeed. This depends on the size, resolution and quality of the display technologies which immerse us and their realism.

Some notes on mediality, medium and sensorial modality

These notes on medium require an own page to unravel this strange relationship, beginning with a definition of what a medium is.
As we have seen above a text adventure can be an immersive experience creating a presence experience in this virtual, textual space. This is a state of consciousness. This space we can explore is inhabited by other beings that we can engage in a dialogue. This space does not exist, except in the minds of the explorers. And as some binary digits on a remote server. (In a visual 3D environment like Doom we are captivated and immersed through our engagement. It comes to us readily rendered and our mind does not have to do the imaginative work to construct the world as in a text adventure. We can subjugate to the visuals, while in the text adventure we are creatively involved.)
This has to do with the medium, its mediality and the sensorial modality it engages us in.
The medium is the substance or channel of conveyance that transports the content. In the past the medium had a materiality, for example a book, as a digital format boundaries are removed as content moves across media, from book to audio-book; here it is more complex to define as different layers of coding/decoding apply - yet easy to access, process, distribute. The mediality describes the agreed format the conveyed content has been ascribed to. Our book could be a flip-book containing a film. It is visual as well, but not as a text but in form of an animated sequence of images.

In the example of a text-based adventure the medium seems to be text, interactive text that reacts dynamically to our input. The mediality is visual, written text; but the simulation of being immersed in a spatial and interactive world is a psychological one. The sensorial modality is visual. We are reading it from the screen, but it could also be spoken by the voice of the computers operating system. Then its medium would be sound, its modality would be auditive while its mediality would be speech.

The same goes for 2D representations: (We could read a jpeg image's code that contains the visual information; it begins with "ˇÿˇ ...") We could even listen to a jpeg image. The medium is sound, its mediality encoded in language, someone describing the image to us or the operating systems voice reads the code of the compressed format to us. (Which would tell us nothing about what the image depicts, its actual content.) The mediality would be speech. We could also have this text displayed on a LED ticker. The mediality would then still be text (in an agreed language) yet the medium would be a visual display, writing line by line with light as a process over time.
ASCII-text film. Medium: text on screen Mediality: its form would be an animated sequence of images. Sensorial Modality: visual (but this does not explain the fundamental difference between reading text and a film made of text.)
The same with concrete poetry and semantic typography: the visual aspect of the text creating a visual meta-sign is equally important as the textual message, complements or contradicts it.

A link to an epistemological analysis of the term "Medium" by Wolfgang Hagen here: (with pdf, German only)

An etymology of 'presence' from the Presence Project
A whole different approach towards 'A Presence Dictionary also from the Presence Project.

last update: 8/14/02014 10:00

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