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Immersion and space

Transmedia storytellers will often include live events and real world actions in their experiences. As a company that wants to blur the boundary between fiction and reality, we spend a lot of time thinking how creators should tackle this.

The four-circle diagram showing space, goals, tactics and narrative is an info-graphic created from Hannah Rocha-Leite’s graduate dissertation in which she explores the research into what creates an immersive experience.

Some time ago I decided on a definition of engagement to mean “being in the moment”. That is, completely focused without distraction of other thoughts. Looking at the diagram we can see how these four components seek to occupy our minds and minimize distractions:

  • Space – control the environment so that it contributes to the experience and doesn’t distract
  • Narrative – give the space context so that we read things the right way. For example, a shop assistant is no longer a shop assistant but an undercover agent.. at least in our minds. She may not know she’s playing that role for us
  • Goal – the mind is occupied with the bigger picture, the purpose, the “how does this all fit together?” question
  • Tactics – the mind is occupied with the immediacy of the situation and possibly other sensory inputs like touch and sound. For example, watching a reenactment is cool but getting involved by chanting, shouting or, say, waving a flag gets the participant closer.

Of all these, Space can be the most problematic to control and related to this the portal or boundary between the real world and the fictional world. Compare, for example, the work of Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk‘s The Drowned Man. Secret Cinema experiences usually start out in the street around the entrance to the carefully selected building (the location selection for the last two events I’ve been has been spot on and I’m beginning to feel like they must find the location first and then ask what experience can we create around this place). It’s like the fictional world is spilling out into the street  – there’s a blurry boundary between fact and fiction. With Punchdrunk, I leave the street (where there is no evidence of what awaits) and then zigzag through a dark corridor or up an elevator. It’s a kind of like a diver’s pressure chamber that allows time for my mind and body to “normalize” to the fictional world and I feel like I’m leaving the real world behind.

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