A state of mental focus so intense that awareness of the “real” world is lost, generally resulting in a feeling of joy and satisfaction.

When perceptual and cognitive systems are under-taxed, people become apathetic and bored. If they are over-taxed, people become stressed and frustrated. Immersion occurs when perceptual and cognitive systems are challenged at near capacity, without being exceeded. Under these conditions, the person loses a sense of the “real” world and typically experiences intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. Immersion can occur while working on a task, playing a game, reading a book, or painting a picture. Immersion is characterized by one or more of the following elements: id="footnote124a"> class="nounder totri-footnote" href="">1

• challenges that can be overcome

• contexts where a person can focus without significant distraction

• clearly defined goals

• immediate feedback with regards to actions and overall performance

• a loss of awareness of the worries and frustrations of everyday life

• a feeling of control over actions, activities, and the environment

• a loss of concern regarding matters of the self (e.g., awareness of hunger or thirst)

• a modified sense of time (e.g., hours can pass by in what seems like minutes).

It is not clear which of these elements must be present in what combination to create a generally immersive experience. For example, theme park rides can provide rich sensory experiences with minimal cognitive engagement and still be immersive. Conversely, complex games like chess can provide rich cognitive engagement with minimal sensory experience and also be immersive. Given the wide range of human cognitive abilities and relatively narrow range of perceptual abilities, it is generally easier to design activities and environments that achieve immersion through perceptual stimulation than through cognitive engagement. However, perceptual immersion is more difficult to sustain for long periods of time and is, therefore, usable only for relatively brief experiences. Optimal immersive experiences involve both rich sensory experiences and rich cognitive engagement.

Incorporate elements of immersion in activities and environments that seek to engage the attention of people over time—e.g., entertainment, instruction, games, and exhibits. Provide clearly defined goals and challenges that can be overcome. Design environments that minimize distractions, promote a feeling of control, and provide feedback. Emphasize stimuli that distract people from the real world, and suppress stimuli that remind them of the real world. Achieving the right balance of elements to achieve immersion is more art than science; therefore, leave ample time in the design process for experimentation and tuning.

See also Chunking, Depth of Processing, Inattentional Blindness, Performance Load, and Storytelling.

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Personalized audio guides, lavish contexts, and interactive elements make the R.M.S. Titanic exhibit more than just another museum exhibit—it is an immersive journey through time that allows visitors to personally experience the triumphs and tragedies of the R.M.S. Titanic. The exhibit, featuring such items as a boarding pass and a scale model of the ship, engages the sight, sound, smell, and touch of visitors in the experience, all the while leaving them in control of the pace of presentation and level of interaction. A sense of time is lost, and matters of the real world fade as the tragedy slowly unfolds.