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The science behind Immersive Media’s magic

Immersive Media is about creating story-experiences.  The title itself is pretty self-explanatory.  Does your content – whether it’s TV, online, gaming or live – allow your audience to be subsumed into it?  The misconception is that if you have hit your audience with every media platform at your disposal, then you have done your part. However, the reality is that actually succeeding at this kind of content is a little more complex.  This blog is a crash course in the key thinking that is shaping our understanding of how we consume & engage in media.

What inspires me from these digital mentors is not that they have a passion for doing good, but their realisation that by unlocking our own passions there exists unlimited potential to reach for magnificent human achievements for the betterment of the self, and greater good of all of us.

The Tipping Point.

Jane McGonigal was my introduction into how we as creatives could shape the world one Immersive Media event at a time.  It was from this futurist warrior that I learn’t that my greatest desire (which really was to be Luke SkyWalker) was in fact the seed with which I could use creativity to engage the world and leave it in better shape than how I found it.

There was no greater personal revolution than when I found that magical intersection between my work and my reason & purpose around why I did that work.  It was a genuine “Ah hah!” moment, and it worked to produce two results.  One, I gained personal understanding around how to drive behaviour and engagement in myself, and two, I was able to apply this to the very digital world’s that I was trying to create as an Immersive content engineer!

From here my mission was to learn how to create the deepest form of engagement possible.

#1. Finding the “sweet spot” in Engagement

How do you Immerse people?    Well, this question is obviously much broader than just media, and it is best answered by the pre-eminent scholar Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in what he termed “Flow” – where someone’s attention is so absorbed in the task at hand that they forget about everything – even how they feel or who they are.  Nestled between boredom and anxiety, he looked at the deepest level of engagement that produced an almost transcendent experiences, where time disappeared, self-awareness evaporated and your activity represented the pinnacle of your abilities reacting to your environment.  He studied ballet dancers, chess masters and rock climbers and explains in his beautiful TED talk how Flow is a key principle to happiness.

But it is in applying the principles of Flow into the world of media engagement that gives insight into building truly immersive experiences – not just gaining your audience’s attention, but completely, wholeheartedly absorbing them inside your content.  In those brief moments, there is no “them” or “you”, just the experience.  Immersive Media can generate the same profound sense of wonder as the most powerful recreational drugs or religious/ spiritual experiences.     Now, don’t take my word for it – ask any mom with children on their iPads or mobiles or PlayStation.  As attention shifts, the past and future disappear from view and only the now remains – exactly as Csikszentmihalyi defines in his study of Flow.  Does this sound all very new age-ish?  Well, it’s because it is the fundamental building block of meditation, mindfulness and a host of spiritual teaching from a range of theologies and philosophies.  Remove the self, focus on the reality of “what is”, and people start generating powerful – almost spiritual – experiences.

Shall I repeat that?  I am saying that Immersive Media can generate the same profound sense of wonder as the most powerful recreational drugs or religious/ spiritual experiences, and producing Flow is the first step.

#2 The advent of Positive Psychology & Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman’s contribution to modern psychology has been astounding.  It was in reading his books that I first understood that psychology had been preoccupied (up until the 90’s!) only with what was wrong with us.  The underlying drivers for what made us happy, positive and productive had not been studied for most of psychology’s history.  With books like Flourish, he has paved the way to see the science behind making people into their best and happiest iterations.

This is the second key principle in Immersion.  To build authentic purpose, a real emotional connection between your audience and your content, you have to understand the positive drivers that make us happier, better human beings.  The huge shift in media trends towards sustainability, the millennial’s focus on green issues and understanding that audiences respond to causes because they genuinely want to make a difference, has created an entirely new approach to building brands that make a meaningful difference to the planet.

#3 The organism that is the Network

While points 1 and 2 are all about the individual and their place in the world, the next step in understanding Immersion is that actually you best look at the larger network to see what will become a “tipping point” in media culture.  For that I turn to Nicholas Christakis, after reading his book, Connected, I finally grasped the fact that most of our decisions are influenced by the groups in which we reside.  So if you want to know how to create viral influence you need to see the group (our social network) operating as a kind of “super organism”.

#4 Create genuine Awe

The work of Keltner and Haidt defined awe in the seminal essay Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion as having two central themes, (1) the experience was vast and it (2) required accommodation (p 303).  In other words, it’s so damn big and “awesome” that what you previously knew couldn’t contain the experience and you actually felt your mind “expand” to accommodate the scale of the experience.

Immersive Media has the genuine ability re-introduce the “awe” back into much over-used “awesome”, which is something Jill Shargaa explains so much better (and funnier) than I can.  The key idea that I would leave you with is this – we need to imagine bigger & better and into the realm of the truly AWE inspiring.  When our content reaches for these heights we will see just how powerful Immersive Media can be – greater than any government or NGO – in bringing about a better world for all.


Brett Lotriet Best is the Founder & Creative Director of EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Media work at  Go on, take a bite! (Image courtesy of Pierre Rougier)



brettlotrietbest View All

A time traveller struggling to stay in the present. Working in cross-platform content, I am passionate about the convergence of TV, gaming and online media to create immersive worlds to entertain, engage, and above all, leave the world in a better place I found it.

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