Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage



The term "immersion" derives from the latin verb "immergere", to merge something within something else. For Bob Witmer and Michael Singer, immersion defines "A psychological state characterized by perceiving oneself to be enveloped by, included in, and interacting with an environment that provides a continuous stream of stimuli and experiences". (Witmer and Singer 1998, 227). Rainer Mühlhoff, & Theresa Schütz  define  immersion as a special moment of presence, as an impression of sensory and motor involvement in a represented and mediated world (Mühlhoff & Schüt, 2018).  As scholar Gordon Calleja has noted,  the term has been used so widely when discussing experiential facets of anything from digital games to painting (Grau 2003), literature (Nell 1988), and cinema (Bazin 1967) that its concrete definition has become problematic and  ambiguous.  The term has been widely researched specially on the field of virtual reality and game studies (Ermi and Mayra 2005; King and Krzywinska 2006; Tamborini and Skalski 2006; Brown and Cairns 2004; Jennett et al. 2008).

In this context of game studies Mel Slater and Sylvia Wilbu propose a disambiguation between immersion as presence. While the first refers to the affective properties of the technology  (how for example a dilly surround sound system has the capacity to immerse you into one sound of an orchestra), the second refers to the human reaction as psychological response to it (the subjective sensation of being inside the orchestra which is playing the song). This differentiation has been further discussed in relation to the different aspects that are at stake inthe phenomenological sensation of immersion. Gordon Calleja has described in this regard how our background interferes within our Interactions with an environment, physical or virtual, as this is drawn heavily on our learned knowledge of that or similar environments. Within the field of theories of affect, Mühlhoff & Schütz describe this precondition to immersion as the affective disposition of the subject (Mühlhoff & Schüt, 2018).  In the context of para-enactment research, this consideration of immersive technologies working with presaved environments to secure a high level of immersion reveals the ways in which determinate immersive historical reconstructions actually rely on common references (sometimes derived from films and fantasy worlds) rather than actual historical facts to which the user might not be familiar, and therefore would not achieve such a high degree of immersion.

Mühlhoff & Schütz also make reference to the ubiquitous use of immersion within consumer capitalism, experience industry. For them "Retail and trade corporations in different fields increasingly rely on elements of scenography and scent design in order to transform their stores into exceptional “places to be”. Their idea is to create an environment with a pleasant atmosphere in order to capture the multi-sensorial attention of the consumer."

︎︎︎Ermi , L. , and F. Mayra . 2005 . Fundamental Components of the Gameplay Experience: Analysing Immersion. Paper presented to DIGRA 2005 , “Changing Views: Worlds in Play,” Vancouver.

︎︎︎King , G. , and T. Krzywinska . 2006 . Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Videogame Forms and Contexts . London :  I. B. Tauris .

︎︎︎Tamborini , R. , and P. Skalski . 2006 . Th e Role of Presence in the Experience of Electronic Games. In Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences , edited by P. Vorderer and J. Bryant , 225–240 . Mahwah, NJ :  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

︎︎︎Brown , E. , and P. Cairns . 2004 . A  Grounded Investigation of Immersion in Games. Paper presented to CHI 2004 , Vienna.

︎︎︎Jennett , C. , A. Cox , P. Cairns , S. Dhoparee , A. Epps , T. Tijs , and A. Walton . 2008. Measuring and Defi ning the Experience of Immersion in Games. International Journal of Human Computer Studies 66 ( 9 ):  641–661 .

︎︎︎Slaby, Jan, and Christian von Scheve. Affective Societies: Key Concepts. Edited by Jan Slaby and Christian von Scheve. 1st ed. Routledge, 2019. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351039260.

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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