Introduction To Immersive Story Environments

Introduction To Immersive Story Environments

The Future of Entertainment series by iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs is highlighting the latest in entertainment innovation. Over the course of 10 weeks at, we are showcasing new products, services and technologies, exploring the changing face of how we consume, share and create content and getting reactions from Intel experts.

Storytelling is as old as humankind, with narratives and teachings being handed down and communicated through using evolving set of tools from oral traditions and early visual records to the written word and film. In this way, we’re able to both make sense of the world and escape from it. Human imagination is a powerful thing, so much so that savvy people are now imagining and creating new forms of storytelling.

In a trend we have labeled Immersive Story Environments, we see how developers are creating technology that enables audiences to delve deeper into stories and media than ever before, entering augmented and virtual reality experiences. Completely immersive, these technologies are changing our relationship with storytelling, letting us be active participants in a fantasy world.

While many of us are passive consumers of entertainment, video games already provide a platform for active action through game play, especially for younger generations. “Today, kids ages 8 to 18 spend more than an hour a day, on average, in the virtual worlds of video games. Upwards of nine million people play World of Warcraft, spending on average some three hours a day interacting in its massive multiplayer online world as goblins, blood elves, and dwarves,” writes author Bonnie Tsui in PC Mag

The next step is to create a deeper level of immersion, where the possibilities of interaction are endless. One manifestation of this is the Battlefield 3 Simulator that was created in 2011 for the UK technology television program, The Gadget Show. Technicians on the program built a one-off simulator that combined the power of an omni-directional treadmill with a video dome to create a 360-degree gaming experience for first person shooter game Battlefield 3. The game was projected onto the screens of the video dome, while the treadmill allowed players to run around as if they were in the fictional world. Combined with an ambient lighting system, an Xbox Kinect hack and paintball markers to replicate enemy gunfire, the Gadget Show replicated a real-life battle experience. 

Taking the trend one step further is the Virtuix Omni, which goes beyond projection and by adding goggles to the mix for a fully immersive experience. Also using an omni-directional treadmill but with a virtual reality helmet, the Virtuix Omni is the first virtual reality interface that allows players to move naturally as they would in the real world. The Star Trek holodeck is no longer relegated to the shiny deck of the USS Enterprise. The Virtuix Omni allows players to feel completely immersed in a virtual world – as they come upon obstacles or are running from bad guys, they can actually, jump, crouch and run in real life and see their avatar do the same. It moves players from partial engagement in gameplay, sitting and staring at a screen, to unprecedented immersion. 

This is a major shift in the gaming industry, because not only does it make games more fun, it has ramifications for the real world. In an article for the Journal of Marketing Research, “Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings of the Future Self,” Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, found “that even a little bit of time spent in these virtual situations has behavioral effects that linger long after you remove your head-mounted display. A taller avatar increases your confidence, and the boost carries over into the physical world; a better-looking avatar makes you more likely to act the role of the social butterfly in real life.

Another manifestation of the Immersive Story Environments trendis not virtual reality, but augmented reality. Although a fine line between the two, the latter actually melds the virtual and the real seamlessly, by overlaying graphics onto the real world. Cast AR, currently a prototype by Valve’s Software’s ex-hardware engineer, Jeri Ellsworth is a set of 3D augmented reality glasses that project content onto real surfaces.

The glasses, in their current iteration, are a pair of 3D glasses mounted with miniature projectors connected to a computer. The projectors bounce images onto a special reflective surface and let people interact with the projected images as if they were actually in front of them. The Cast AR system also comes with a wand-controller, which you can use to engage with the graphics. Since it is augmented reality, where players still have one foothold strongly in the real world, (the glasses allow for users to still have their peripheral vision and see the people next to them), Cast AR are less immersive but still create an enhanced gaming environment.

Immersive Story Environments are all about delving deeper into our experiences with media. In an interview with Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, digital anthropologist Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion, speaks of a concept he calls, ‘deep media.’ He explains, “deep media puts the focus on the goal: to enable members of the audience (for want of a better term) to delve into a story at any level of depth they like, to immerse themselves in it.”

Throughout the week, the Future of Entertainment series will be taking a look at other examples within the Immersive Story Environments trend that demonstrate how technology is blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Part of the larger Inside the Story theme, we will explore how developers are creating experiences that overwhelm all our senses to create next-level entertainment. Check back tomorrow to see other examples of this topic.

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