Our presentation topic for Screen Culture was ‘Immersion’. In short, immersion seems to be the Holy Grail for many artists and in particular, those working within interaction. I have vague memories of Virtual Reality machines being toured around my local area when I was a kid, being touted as a computer environment that was completely immersive and would remove the user entirely from the real world. Of course, they were pretty terrible and something akin to being trapped inside the equally awful Lawnmower Man, but with a few pterodactyls flying clumsily around you.
Gaming in particular still puts a great deal of effort into getting as close as possible to an immersive environment. Surround sound, super-slick graphics engines and almost limitless gameplay are the frontiers upon which this battle is fought. However, they’re still limited by the interface. Both the screen and the controller create a barrier between gamers and the gaming environment. The best developers can hope for at the moment, is to create software that is so engaging, that the user simply ‘blocks out’ the world around them.
This idea of enveloping, rather than complete immersion, has been around for a long time. Once mathematics found its way into visual art, perspective methods like ‘Alberti’s system‘ attempted to draw the viewer into the image surface, or the pictorial space. The concept of ‘enveloping’ was what I chose to focus my part of the presentation on.
My suggestion that ‘total immersion’ is not yet possible was based on the idea that we’re unable to remove the body and therefore our conscious connection to the world. We may experience brief moments of being transported to another place, as was the case in the early days of panoramas, but it is generally not long before we are again aware of our surroundings.
For the presentation, we also discussed the different types of immersion by definition, to break down the idea of total immersion and suggest that whilst we may not be able to remove the body entirely, we can achieve varying degrees of immersion through art and technology.