Beyond Immersive Entertainment

By Duncan Kennedy

[fusion_dropcap class="fusion-content-tb-dropcap"]B[/fusion_dropcap]efore we contemplate what lies “Beyond Immersive Entertainment”, let’s review what we mean by “Immersive Entertainment.”

Immersive – (1) Deep mental involvement. (2) A method of learning by the exclusive use of specific content. (3) To plunge fully into an experience or environment.

Entertainment – (1) The action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment. (2) An event, performance, or activity designed to entertain others. (3) The action of receiving a guest and providing them with nourishment.

So, one way to describe Immersive Entertainment would be the complete engagement of an audience through multiple modalities that instigates their amusement or enjoyment during some type of performance or activity that rewards their curiosity and validates their attention.

Let’s take a look at how this type of Immersive Entertainment can manifest itself today…

  • Customized video gaming platforms with enhanced seating, headsets, displays and devices that expand the game play interface from the 2D plane of the screen into a multi-player live action haptic experience that envelops the player for hours.


  • Cultural celebrations like festivals or symphonies enjoyed with others who share a common appreciation and reverence for that kind of creative expression and are similarly flushed with euphoric giddiness and a passionate identity openly valued.


  • Intimately treasured mobile devices that accompany the player at all times and in all environments to exclusion of their immediate surroundings and mute any awareness of time.


  • New exciting destinations that have sculpted alternate realms of fantasy to explore and co-exist within like Evermore Park in Utah, Disney’s Star Wars inspired Galaxy’s Edge, or a new theme park experience we are currently working on in the Dominican Republic that will be announced in the near future.


  • Even a far simpler version would be a good story being told around a campfire with the teller holding a flashlight under their chin. “It was on a night, just like tonight…”


So then, what might lie “beyond” this current realm of Immersive Entertainment?

I believe it requires any artifice to be completely removed and creates meaningful engagement that is genuinely honest and palpably real. By this, I mean no longer stepping into an alternate reality or fanciful creation, but expanding your sense of self as you become more than you normally are (or were). It does not require leaving the real world behind, but redefining what reality can actually be and therein your place within it. Instead of watching, interacting, or even fully participating in a show, ride, or game, what if that same show, ride, or game was built around you as a necessary performer/important character and not just an invited audience member or momentary hero briefly thrust into the storyline or gameplay? Imagine an orchestra with you in it, a show that you train and rehearse that same day to be part of, or a game that requires you to fully commit and embrace in order to affect the outcome. Imagine The Truman Show or The Game (both movies) as the next echelon of immersive experience where reality bends because the audience becomes part of the art form and is the audience no more. They are the show.

This is not reality TV. This is something else. I’ve witnessed it several times from pioneering work by Jeff Wirth, Ken Ingraham, and others in this emerging field with what they termed Interactive Performance or iPlay while at the University of Central Florida and continuing the development of trained inter-actors thereafter in various theatrical, academic, and training applications. With that eye-opening exposure to the possibilities of first-person improvisational play inside a fluid storyline with robust production support, it recently dawned on me that creating opportunities for people to play with abandon might be the key. This does not mean there’s no place for technology. It just means that it must be invisible and non-intrusive. Remember, we’re removing the artifice. I’m not advocating that we go deeper down the virtual rabbit hole; just the opposite. To me, the next evolution of Immersive Entertainment is LIVING an experience alongside EVERYONE around you that completely TRANSFORMS the collective reality of the group. No delineation between performers and the audience, no boundaries or fourth walls to break, and no “out of story” intrusions to break their willing suspension of disbelief.

To me, the future of Immersive Entertainment is Existence Entertainment, moving from “dabbling” to “doing”. Think holistic holodecks where everything is tangibly real.

What if we could be costumed re-enactors, but in stories that we chose to experience? What if these re-enactments did not have to follow documented history with us embracing a real character, but our own aspirations and intentions for what we might choose to do at that moment? What if we could become part of the show, the REAL show, for a little while and vicariously live an alternate existence outside ourselves yet still as ourselves? Instead of watching a group of civil war re-enactors fire a cannon on the battlefield, what if I could sign up to train for an hour or two and learn how to really do it, and then participate in the live fire portion of the show that day as part of the cannon team? How might I view that experience? People often talk about breaking the fourth wall and it being a barrier that separates the performer from the audience, but that presumes that the show has to happen in a theatrical sense of space/place. If a press gang could assemble an unruly conscripted crew to quickly learn how to sail a ship, a willing audience of motivated individuals seeking to “get their money’s worth” to experience the next iteration of Immersive Entertainment surely should be able to do the same. It’s just that nobody has given them the opportunity or permission yet (hence me teasing the new theme park we are developing in the DR).

Sure, there are fantasy training camps, even fantasy tours in Normandy for WWII/D-Day aficionados. These camps are great, but they are a commitment and often pull you away from family and friends (unless you can talk them into signing up as well). A next evolution of Immersive Entertainment needs to be doable in a day, even a half day, so it works for shore excursions, day guest destinations, or a night on the town. While CosPlay (costume play), Comic Con-type fan scenes, and science fiction sub-genres play like Steampunk are great exemplars of what I’m talking about, they have no real home locations and permanent physical places to exist yet. Stepping into costume and character without having a supporting thematic environment to thrive and revel within undermines the immersion that can be achieved and unfortunately keeps those brave enough to wear these trappings and garments out on the fringe in the eyes of others around them. For true visceral immersion to take place and transform the experience for all, everyone needs to be inside the same contextual reality – characters, performers, participants, the audience, stage hands – everyone!

What might such a place look like? Give us a few more months to finish the conceptual development on what we are doing in the DR and I’ll tell you!

March 15, 2021|Duncan's View|

About the Author: Duncan Kennedy

Duncan has been designing and producing digital media, immersive events, and destination experiences for 25+ years. He is also a proud Buffalo Bills season ticket holder.

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