Virtual Reality and Immersion

What prompted me to make a post like this? I saw a comment on a Youtube video about a person in a horror game who was using an Oculus Rift as well as an omni-directional treadmill for movement. I’m going to paraphrase the comment, but they essentially thought the concept of yelping, screaming, and being actually afraid to move forward in a game as something that would only happen to those uninitiated to the world of gaming.

I don’t know if they meant to imply it, but what I interpreted them saying is that the concept of immersion is really only temporary or only has an effect on people that aren’t hardcore gamers. They also continued to imply that it took a certain gullibility in order to allow yourself to be immersed and actually frightened by a horror “game.” This was followed by another comment that they quickly realize they’re dreaming and that although they have not yet tried the Oculus Rift, they assume that it would be a similar effect.

Now, I’m not here to try and dispute whether someone would actually get scared or not from an Oculus horror game, but to delve deeper into the real meaning of immersion and how it happens. In terms of the Oculus Rift, many people describe “presence” as a term related to immersion in which it’s the ability for a virtual reality experience to attempt to make you feel like you’re part of the game, not just from the environment, but from your own body and movements. In that case, it requires much more additional hardware on top of the VR headset, including a way to interpret body movements as well as allow you to walk (or run) in place. A lot of buzz is going around the VR community with that word, which is definitely warranted, but not exactly what I was thinking. It’s for that reason is why I’ll stick to the more general term “immersion”, because before you can even get to presence, the experience must have good immersion.

But, disregarding the countless discussions of what makes or breaks immersion, there is an important detail that I see left out quite often: immersion and presence aren’t thrust upon you, forcing you to accept that this is some new reality that you’ve gotten yourself into to. A certain suspension of disbelief is required before immersion can take place. I think that in every case of someone that doesn’t believe anything could immerse them, they also are ones to point out every flaw and hole in a movie. Which, don’t get me wrong, that is also completely justified in many cases.

But, I think that mindset is what holds them back from enjoying a VR experience fully as well as any form of media that requires a certain acceptance of your environment. It’s not a matter of gullibility because any sane person will know that they are using a virtual reality headset and that if they take it off, they’ll be right back to where they were before they put it on. The factor, the difference between someone who can experience immersion fully and those that can’t is acceptance, a certain suspension of disbelief that combines all of the conditions that happen subconsciously along with all of the elements of the VR experience.

To clarify, I am not trying to insult anyone who has trouble with being immersed in a video game or any other form of media. But, the comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post really sparked a flurry of thoughts that I wanted to share.