From Interactive to Participatory

The emergence of immersive documents, wherein unreality is perceived as reality by the ‘reader’, is a consequence of three converging technologies:

  • networked/mobile computing becoming pervasive
  • multimedia becoming multisensory
  • interactive becoming participatory

Alongside this synthesis, we can identify five tangential areas of interest, in which developments contribute to the facilitation of immersive documents. These are:

  • enabling technologies such as virtual reality, made popular by devices such as Oculus Rift
  • developments in graphic art and design ( see Diagon Alley brought to life for the immersive Harry Potter theme park)
  • new understanding of creative writing techniques underpinned by research into transmedia, literary/narrative theory, scriptwriting and game design
  • the desire by people (players/audience/readers) to participate, evidenced by activities such as cosplay, interactive gaming, web 2.0, participatory theatre, films, e-books and exhibitions.
  • a small but growing interest from the library and information science community on the implications of ‘immersive’ documents for our profession (collecting, indexing, retrieving, preserving, making available to readers or users)

The usual definition of the term ‘reader’ is expanded here to encompass the person or persons experiencing, or participating in, the unreal, immersive document. This may be by engaging with a transmedia story, by joining the audience of an immersive play, or by interfacing with virtual reality technology to enter a virtual world. The activity of ‘reading’ thus becomes participatory, so that the reader perceives the documented world as a reality, and posseses the ability to make choices in the story, and influence the eventual outcome.

The image above shows the cast from immersive theatre play “Venice Preserv’d” in action; drawing the audience into a timeless world filled with contemporary meaning. There are an increasing number of participatory theatre experiences on offer to those willing to suspend reality and join the cast (if only at the superficial level of donning a robe and singing along) but the number of attendees at such events demonstrates the lure of participation.

In talking about participation we are obliged to mention the whole spectrum of video games – hardly a new phenomenon, but one which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and to some extent, perhaps merging with immersive, transmedia e-books, so that the boundary between what is a game, and what is participating in a story becomes blurred. The educational opportunity for immersive games is already evident, in prototype products including: In Ulysses: Proteus and Dolus: Finding the Journal of Odysseus.

On the boundary between what is a game and what is a participatory ‘story’, writer Mike Jones offers the clarification that

“A Game does not need, nor have to have, a Story.”

He uses the phrase ‘interactive narrative‘ to further distinguish between immersive games and immersive stories:

“Interactive Narrative.. a term which can encompass a broad range of experiences where the audience is asked to play a role, to participate or to engage directly with character and plot through action. An experience that involves game-play but does so in the context and service of telling a story.”

Old Dramatic Principles in New, Interactive Narratives. Mike Jones 11/08/2014. [accessed 16/10/2014]

I think this is helpful in attempting to understand what sort of things could be immersive documents, and the differences between them.

Immersive documents do not yet exist. Today’s emergent versions are still reliant on the suspension of disbelief – but technological advances fuelled by the popular desire to participate are moving us towards documents that allow us to perceive an unreal story as reality.

Below is a list of resources supporting the move from interaction (where the computer generated world is separate from the user) to participation (where the experience is more believable). They emphasize the strong desire in many people to escape reality and engage with a scripted world. This listing is in its early stages, and it will develop over time.

Further proof: our lovely #citylis student @MeganWaples, participating in “Venice Preserv’d”.

Venice Preserv'd + Meghan

Immersive Plays/Theatre

The Kindness of Strangers

Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d

Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man – London

Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More – New York

Immersive Films

What it’s like to shoot a feature film for Oculus Rift

Immersive Books/Texts

The Craftsman

Immersive Games

Blood and Laurels

In Ulysses: Proteus

Dolus: Finding the Journal of Odysseus

Immersive Exhibitions

David Bowie is


Diagon Alley Theme Park at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter


At Hyper Japan

Japanese ‘Cosplay’ craze becoming popular in London

Immersive/Transmedia Writing

Will virtual reality reshape documentary journalism?

The Writing Platform

Marie-Laure Ryan on Narrative Theory

Mike Jones: Old Dramatic Principles in New Interactive Narratives

Enabling Technologies

Julian McCrea from Portal Entertainment talks about how audience’s facial data can be used in immersive entertainment.

Stretchable electronics could lead to robotic skin, computerised clothes.