Thinking “immersion” in user-centered Web design

Posted on November 30, 2008 by

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I picked-up my copy of Elizabeth: The Golden Age the other day and couldn’t wait to watch it. When watching DVDs, I usually have the best movie-related “immersive experiences” (that often rival the experience in a theater) when I slip the DVD into my laptop, turn out the lights, and put in my skull candy earphones. Since I don’t have a personal movie center, watching a video like this makes the most of the audio and visual qualities of a film. Of course, the best “virtual” experience (“escapism”) is had if the film makes effective use of sound, visuals, acting, etc., etc. There’s just a lot involved in creating an experience that is immersive.

So, watching the movie made me think about the different types of immersion, especially since my immersive experience with this movie was a good one… on the scale of 1-10, I give it a 8.5. The factual history in the film, however, well, what can I say? It’s Hollywood! Like most “historically-based” films, one needs to check the historic fact checker at the “door” or else the movie cannot be enjoyed; but I digress.

Quality movies immerse us through multiple features that stimulate various senses. Quality books immerse us through a well-constructed storyline and good verbal architecture. However, apart from the use of the remote or the act of flipping pages, neither is truly interactive with the content. The “paths of discovery” are defined for us. The user has no choice but to follow the paths created in the movie or in the book. There is no opportunity for a user to depart from the structure of the defined path and create or discover their own path (interjecting a thought here… a well-designed Web site or even a blog can offer the user alternative paths of discovery… something that I may need to discuss in another post). 

So, while both may be immersive, neither offers the optimal virtual reality experience. Games on the other hand… if you have a well-constructed game, with quality audio and visuals that are also responsive to a user’s digital manipulation of a keyboard, joystick or mouse, then this might be considered the next higher tier of immersion. The user isn’t just watching or reading, he/she is also interacting… one step closer to virtual reality. Additionally, the “paths of discovery” should be (in a well-designed game) multilinear and user-defined.  

So, what might be the optimal Civil War interactive immersive experience through the Web? In most cases, the experience on the Web requires manipulation of a mouse and thereby entails interaction, but is it effective interaction? What is the objective of creating interaction? What do you want the user to discover, for example, when he/she clicks on a hyperlink? What is the cause and effect? What do you want the user to experience? What do you want the user to learn?

Just some thoughts on immersion and interaction in the wake of watching a movie.

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