Immersion (virtual reality)

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Immersion into virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. The perception is created by surrounding the user of the VR system in images, sound or other stimuli that provide an engrossing total environment.

Virtual reality Computer-simulated environment simulating physical presence in real or imagined worlds

Virtual reality (VR) is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment. It incorporates mainly auditory and visual feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory feedback like haptic. This immersive environment can be similar to the real world or it can be fantastical. Augmented reality systems may also be considered a form of VR that layers virtual information over a live camera feed into a headset or through a smartphone or tablet device giving the user the ability to view three-dimensional images.

Presence is a theoretical concept describing the extent to which media represent the world. Presence is further described by Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton as “an illusion that a mediated experience is not mediated." Today, it often considers the effect that people experience when they interact with a computer-mediated or computer-generated environment. The conceptualization of presence borrows from multiple fields including communication, computer science, psychology, science, engineering, philosophy, and the arts. The concept of presence accounts for a variety of computer applications and Web-based entertainment today that are developed on the fundamentals of the phenomenon, in order to give people the sense of, as Sheridan called it, “being there."


Stimulation is the encouragement of development or the cause of activity generally. For example, "The press provides stimulation of political discourse." An interesting or fun activity can be described as "stimulating", regardless of its physical effects on senses. Stimulate means to act as a stimulus to; stimulus means something that rouses the recipient to activity; stimuli is the plural of stimulus.


The name is a metaphoric use of the experience of submersion applied to representation, fiction or simulation. Immersion can also be defined as the state of consciousness where a "visitor" (Maurice Benayoun) or "immersant" (Char Davies)'s awareness of physical self is transformed by being surrounded in an artificial environment; used for describing partial or complete suspension of disbelief, enabling action or reaction to stimulations encountered in a virtual or artistic environment. The degree to which the virtual or artistic environment faithfully reproduces reality determines the degree of suspension of disbelief. The greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the degree of presence achieved.

Maurice Benayoun French visual artist

Maurice Benayoun is a French pioneer, contemporary new-media artist, curator and theorist based in Paris and Hong Kong. His work employs various media, including video, immersive virtual reality, the Web, performance, EEG, 3D Printing, large-scale urban media art installations and interactive exhibitions. Often conceptual, Maurice Benayoun's work constitutes a critical investigation of the mutations in the contemporary society induced by the emerging or recently adopted technologies.

Char Davies Canadian artist

Char Davies is a Canadian contemporary artist known for creating immersive virtual reality (VR) artworks. A founding director of Softimage, Co, she is considered a world leader in the field of virtual reality and a pioneer of bio-feedback VR.

The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres. Cognitive estrangement in fiction involves using a person's ignorance to promote suspension of disbelief.


Classic Virtual reality HMD Head-mounted display and wired gloves, Ames Research Center.jpg
Classic Virtual reality HMD

According to Ernest W. Adams, author and consultant on game design, [1] immersion can be separated into three main categories:

Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game for entertainment or for educational, exercise, or experimental purposes. Increasingly, elements and principles of game design are also applied to other interactions, particularly virtual ones.

Tactical immersion
Tactical immersion is experienced when performing tactile operations that involve skill. Players feel "in the zone" while perfecting actions that result in success.
Strategic immersion
Strategic immersion is more cerebral, and is associated with mental challenge. Chess players experience strategic immersion when choosing a correct solution among a broad array of possibilities.
Narrative immersion
Narrative immersion occurs when players become invested in a story, and is similar to what is experienced while reading a book or watching a movie.

Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen, in Patterns In Game Design, [2] divide immersion into similar categories, but call them sensory-motoric immersion, cognitive immersion and emotional immersion, respectively. In addition to these, they add a new category:

Spatial immersion
Spatial immersion occurs when a player feels the simulated world is perceptually convincing. The player feels that he or she is really "there" and that a simulated world looks and feels "real".


10.000 moving cities, Marc Lee, Telepresence-Based Installation 10'000 moving cities V3, net-and-telepresence-based installation, 2015.jpg
10.000 moving cities, Marc Lee, Telepresence-Based Installation

Presence, a term derived from the shortening of the original "telepresence", is a phenomenon enabling people to interact with and feel connected to the world outside their physical bodies via technology. It is defined as a person's subjective sensation of being there in a scene depicted by a medium, usually virtual in nature. [4] Most designers focus on the technology used to create a high-fidelity virtual environment; however, the human factors involved in achieving a state of presence must be taken into account as well. It is the subjective perception, although generated by and/or filtered through human-made technology, that ultimately determines the successful attainment of presence. [5]

Telepresence set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present in another place

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

Virtual reality glasses can produce a visceral feeling of being in a simulated world, a form of spatial immersion called Presence. According to Oculus VR, the technology requirements to achieve this visceral reaction are low-latency and precise tracking of movements. [6] [7] [8]

Oculus VR is an American technology company founded by Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, Michael Antonov, Jack McCauley and Nate Mitchell in July 2012 in Irvine, California, now based in Menlo Park. It specializes in virtual reality hardware and software products.

Michael Abrash gave a talk on VR at Steam Dev Days in 2014. [9] According to the VR research team at Valve, all of the following are needed to establish presence.

Immersive virtual reality

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment CAVE Crayoland.jpg
The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment

Immersive virtual reality is a hypothetical future technology that exists today as virtual reality art projects, for the most part. [10] It consists of immersion in an artificial environment where the user feels just as immersed as they usually feel in consensus reality.

Direct interaction of the nervous system

The most considered method would be to induce the sensations that made up the virtual reality in the nervous system directly. In functionalism/conventional biology we interact with consensus reality through the nervous system. Thus we receive all input from all the senses as nerve impulses. It gives your neurons a feeling of heightened sensation. It would involve the user receiving inputs as artificially stimulated nerve impulses, the system would receive the CNS outputs (natural nerve impulses) and process them allowing the user to interact with the virtual reality. Natural impulses between the body and central nervous system would need to be prevented. This could be done by blocking out natural impulses using nanorobots which attach themselves to the brain wiring, whilst receiving the digital impulses of which describe the virtual world, which could then be sent into the wiring of the brain. A feedback system between the user and the computer which stores the information would also be needed. Considering how much information would be required for such a system, it is likely that it would be based on hypothetical forms of computer technology.


Understanding of the nervous system

A comprehensive understanding of which nerve impulses correspond to which sensations, and which motor impulses correspond to which muscle contractions will be required. This will allow the correct sensations in the user, and actions in the virtual reality to occur. The Blue Brain Project is the current, most promising research with the idea of understanding how the brain works by building very large scale computer models.

Ability to manipulate CNS

The nervous system would obviously need to be manipulated. Whilst non-invasive devices using radiation have been postulated, invasive cybernetic implants are likely to become available sooner and be more accurate.[ citation needed ] Molecular nanotechnology is likely to provide the degree of precision required and could allow the implant to be built inside the body rather than be inserted by an operation.[ citation needed ]

Computer hardware/software to process inputs/outputs

A very powerful computer would be necessary for processing virtual reality complex enough to be nearly indistinguishable from consensus reality and interacting with central nervous system fast enough.

Immersive digital environments

Cosmopolis (2005), Maurice Benayoun's Giant Virtual Reality Interactive Installation COSMOPOLIS.jpg
Cosmopolis (2005), Maurice Benayoun's Giant Virtual Reality Interactive Installation

An immersive digital environment is an artificial, interactive, computer-created scene or "world" within which a user can immerse themselves. [11]

Immersive digital environments could be thought of as synonymous with virtual reality, but without the implication that actual "reality" is being simulated. An immersive digital environment could be a model of reality, but it could also be a complete fantasy user interface or abstraction, as long as the user of the environment is immersed within it. The definition of immersion is wide and variable, but here it is assumed to mean simply that the user feels like they are part of the simulated "universe". The success with which an immersive digital environment can actually immerse the user is dependent on many factors such as believable 3D computer graphics, surround sound, interactive user-input and other factors such as simplicity, functionality and potential for enjoyment. New technologies are currently under development which claim to bring realistic environmental effects to the players' environment – effects like wind, seat vibration and ambient lighting.


To create a sense of full immersion, the 5 senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) must perceive the digital environment to be physically real. Immersive technology can perceptually fool the senses through:


Once the senses reach a sufficient belief that the digital environment is real (it is interaction and involvement which can never be real), the user must then be able to interact with the environment in a natural, intuitive manner. Various immersive technologies such as gestural controls, motion tracking, and computer vision respond to the user's actions and movements. Brain control interfaces (BCI) respond to the user's brainwave activity.

Examples and applications

Training and rehearsal simulations run the gamut from part task procedural training (often buttonology, for example: which button do you push to deploy a refueling boom) through situational simulation (such as crisis response or convoy driver training) to full motion simulations which train pilots or soldiers and law enforcement in scenarios that are too dangerous to train in actual equipment using live ordinance.

Computer games from simple arcade to massively multiplayer online game and training programs such as flight and driving simulators. Entertainment environments such as motion simulators that immerse the riders/players in a virtual digital environment enhanced by motion, visual and aural cues. Reality simulators, such as one of the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda that takes you on a trip through the jungle to meet a tribe of mountain gorillas. [12] Or training versions such as one which simulates taking a ride through human arteries and the heart to witness the buildup of plaque and thus learn about cholesterol and health. [13]

In parallel with scientist, artists like Knowbotic Research, Donna Cox, Rebecca Allen, Robbie Cooper, Maurice Benayoun, Char Davies, and Jeffrey Shaw use the potential of immersive virtual reality to create physiologic or symbolic experiences and situations.

Other examples of immersion technology include physical environment / immersive space with surrounding digital projections and sound such as the CAVE, and the use of virtual reality headsets for viewing movies, with head-tracking and computer control of the image presented, so that the viewer appears to be inside the scene. The next generation is VIRTSIM, which achieves total immersion through motion capture and wireless head mounted displays for teams of up to thirteen immersants enabling natural movement through space and interaction in both the virtual and physical space simultaneously.

Use in medical care

New fields of studies linked to the immersive virtual reality emerges every day. Researchers see a great potential in virtual reality tests serving as complementary interview methods in psychiatric care. [14] Immersive virtual reality have in studies also been used as an educational tool in which the visualization of psychotic states have been used to get increased understanding of patients with similar symptoms. [15] New treatment methods are available for schizophrenia [16] and other newly developed research areas where immersive virtual reality is expected to achieve melioration is in education of surgical procedures, [17] rehabilitation program from injuries and surgeries [18] and reduction of phantom limb pain. [19]

Applications in the built environment

In the domain of architectural design and building science, immersive virtual environments are adopted to facilitate architects and building engineers to enhance the design process through assimilating their sense of scale, depth, and spatial awareness. Such platforms integrate the use of virtual reality models and mixed reality technologies in various functions of building science research, [20] construction operations, [21] personnel training, end-user surveys, performance simulations [22] and building information modeling visualization. [23] [24] Head-mounted displays (with both 3 degrees of freedom and 6 degrees of freedom systems) and CAVE platforms are used for spatial visualization and building information modeling (BIM) navigations for different design and evaluation purposes. [25] Clients, architects and building owners use derived applications from game engines to navigate 1:1 scale BIM models, allowing a virtual walkthrough experience of future buildings. [24] For such use cases, the performance improvement of space navigation between virtual reality headsets and 2D desktop screens has been investigated in various studies, with some suggesting significant improvement in virtual reality headsets [26] [27] while others indicate no significant difference. [28] [29]  Architects and building engineers can also use immersive design tools to model various building elements in virtual reality CAD interfaces, [30] [31] and apply property modifications to building information modeling (BIM) files through such environments. [23] [32]

In the building construction phase, immersive environments are used to improve site preparations, on site communication and collaboration of team members, safety [33] [34] and logistics. [35] For training of construction workers, virtual environments have shown to be highly effective in skill transfer with studies showing similar performance results to training in real environments. [36] Moreover, virtual platforms are also used in the operation phase of buildings to interact and visualize data with Internet of Things (IoT) devices available in buildings, process improvement and also resource management. [37] [38]

Occupant and end-user studies are performed through immersive environments. [39] [40] Virtual immersive platforms engage future occupants in the building design process by providing a sense of presence to users with integrating pre-construction mock-ups and BIM models for the evaluation of alternative design options in the building model in a timely and cost efficient manner. [41] Studies conducting human experiments have shown users perform similarly in daily office activities (object identification, reading speed and comprehension) within immersive virtual environments and benchmarked physical environments. [39] In the field of lighting, virtual reality headsets have been used investigate the influence of façade patterns on the perceptual impressions and satisfaction of a simulated daylit space. [42]  Moreover, artificial lighting studies have implemented immersive virtual environments to evaluate end-users lighting preferences of simulated virtual scenes with the controlling of the blinds and artificial lights in the virtual environment. [40]

For structural engineering and analysis, immersive environments enable the user to focus on structural investigations without getting too distracted to operate and navigate the simulation tool. [43] Virtual and augmented reality applications have been designed for finite element analysis of shell structures. Using stylus and data gloves as input devices, the user can create, modify mesh, and specify boundary conditions. For a simple geometry, real-time color-coded results are obtained by changing loads on the model. [44]  Studies have used artificial neural networks (ANN) or approximation methods to achieve real-time interaction for the complex geometry, and to simulate its impact via haptic gloves. [45] Large scale structures and bridge simulation have also been achieved in immersive virtual environments. The user can move the loads acting on the bridge, and finite element analysis results are updated immediately using an approximate module. [46]

Detrimental effects

HELMET VISION Introduced a panoramic lens in the device, which reduces the effect of seasickness. Helmet Vision vr.jpg
HELMET VISION Introduced a panoramic lens in the device, which reduces the effect of seasickness.

Simulation sickness, or simulator sickness, is a condition where a person exhibits symptoms similar to motion sickness caused by playing computer/simulation/video games (Oculus Rift is working to solve simulator sickness). [47]

Motion sickness due to virtual reality is very similar to simulation sickness and motion sickness due to films. In virtual reality, however, the effect is made more acute as all external reference points are blocked from vision, the simulated images are three-dimensional and in some cases stereo sound that may also give a sense of motion. Studies have shown that exposure to rotational motions in a virtual environment can cause significant increases in nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness. [48]

Other behavioural changes such as stress, addiction, isolation and mood changes are also discussed to be side-effects caused by immersive virtual reality. [49]

See also


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Virtual reality in telerehabilitation is a method used first in the training of musculoskeletal patients using asynchronous patient data uploading, and an internet video link. Subsequently, therapists using virtual reality-based telerehabilitation prescribe exercise routines via the web which are then accessed and executed by patients through a web browser. Therapists then monitor the patient's progress via the web and modify the therapy asynchronously without real-time interaction or training.

In computing, 3D interaction is a form of human-machine interaction where users are able to move and perform interaction in 3D space. Both human and machine process information where the physical position of elements in the 3D space is relevant.

A projection augmented model is an element sometimes employed in virtual reality systems. It consists of a physical three-dimensional model onto which a computer image is projected to create a realistic looking object. Importantly, the physical model is the same geometric shape as the object that the PA model depicts.

In 3D user interaction (3DUI) the human interacts with a computer or other device with an aspect of three-dimensional space. This interaction is created thanks to the interfaces, which will be the intermediaries between human and machine.

Immersive technology

Immersive technology refers to technology that attempts to emulate a physical world through the means of a digital or simulated world, thereby creating a sense of immersion. Immersive technology enables mixed reality; in some uses, the term "immersive computing" is effectively synonymous with mixed reality as a user interface.

Oculus Rift Virtual reality head-mounted display

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset developed and manufactured by Oculus VR, a division of Facebook Inc., released on March 28, 2016.

Virtual reality sickness occurs when exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to motion sickness symptoms. The most common symptoms are general discomfort, headache, stomach awareness, nausea, vomiting, pallor, sweating, fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, and apathy. Other symptoms include postural instability and retching. Virtual reality sickness is different from motion sickness in that it can be caused by the visually-induced perception of self-motion; real self-motion is not needed. It is also different from simulator sickness; non-virtual reality simulator sickness tends to be characterized by oculomotor disturbances, whereas virtual reality sickness tends to be characterized by disorientation.

Virtual reality headset head-mounted device aimed to provide an immersive virtual reality experience

A virtual reality headset is a head-mounted device that provides virtual reality for the wearer. VR headsets are widely used with computer games but they are also used in other applications, including simulators and trainers. They comprise a stereoscopic head-mounted display, stereo sound, and head motion tracking sensors. Some VR headsets also have eye tracking sensors and gaming controllers.

A virtual reality simulator is the equipment that is used for human immersion in virtual reality with the purpose of entertainment of the public. A virtual amusement in the strict sense can not be considered a computer with a virtual reality glasses (helmet) and game content. Attractions of virtual reality besides hardware and software use the additional means to enhance the immersion effect, for example, water spray, the effect of wind, vibration, physical motion etc. The same technique was used in the X-d cinema, but there are two significant differences between them and simulators of virtual reality:

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer application which allows users to experience immersive, three dimensional visual and audio simulations. According to Pinho (2004), virtual reality is characterized by immersion in the 3D world, interaction with virtual objects, and involvement in exploring the virtual environment. These facets of virtual reality have many applications within the primary education sphere in enhancing student learning, increasing engagement, and creating new opportunities for addressing learning preferences.

Applications of VR can be found in fields as diverse as entertainment, marketing, education, medicine, construction and road safety training and many others. They provide numerous possibilities for users to explore virtual realities for various purposes.