What is immersive storytelling?

Immersive storytelling transports interactors to different times, places, and alternate realities. With the help of emerging technology, immersive storytelling is also revolutionizing how we experience and share culture. While there’s little set terminology, it’s still important to be familiar with common terms and their meanings. Here’s a collection of definitions to get you started. Please consider how they can be applied in your own field of study.

Overarching Terms

Virtual Reality (VR): An immersive, virtual environment that surrounds an interactor and fully blocks the physical world from sight. It’s viewed through a cardboard viewer or a HMD (head-mounted device). VR has come to mean both 360° films and responsive, computer-created virtual environments, some are interactive, others are not.

Augmented Reality (AR): A virtual layer superimposed over a real-world environment, creating a hybrid view. AR is often viewed through a mobile or tablet device. A common example is a Snapchat filter. It’s a digital skin that maps to an interactor’s “real” facial features.

Mixed Reality (MR): Similar to AR, MR is a virtual layer overlaid in a real-world environment but is viewed through glasses that allow the viewer to see the real world, like HoloLens or Magic Leap.

Extended Reality (XR): A broader term that encompasses the emerging digital interfaces that can either fully immerse the interactor in a simulation or mix the “real” world with digital layers.

Experience Types

Interactive: Experiences that require an interactor's engagement, often through a controller of some kind. Interactivity is controlled with systems of rules—these can range from simple to complex. A simple interactive system is a one tap or click to reveal information, whereas complex interactions can be multilayered, like a branching narrative. Stories and databases can be interactive.

Responsive: An experience that adapts to an interactor or a changing set of conditions. For example, in a physical environment a camera (with camera vision software) could “read” a response to an interactor's gestures or movement. In a digital experience, like a website, this can be a window adapting to fit a screen size (i.e. differentiating between a desktop, tablet, or mobile device).

Generative: For generative experiences, a programmer designs an algorithmically controlled system that may respond to a variety of multisensory inputs (i.e. movement, touch, light, sound, etc.). Combined with the interactor’s response, the software “generates” an experience. The result is a collaboration between the  interactor and machine. Generative systems are often immersive.

Participatory: Participatory experiences ask for an interactor's contribution—an idea, response, feedback, or something personal that may change the results of the interaction.

Simulation: Often called the “third way” of acquiring knowledge, simulation allows interactors to gain understanding  through a model that communicates a different experience. While virtual reality is an easy example of a simulation, this kind of experience does not require technology. In fact, simulations existed a century ago in the form of cycloramas and stereoviews.

Specific Technologies

Read our full glossary here or click on a specific term below for its definition.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Facial recognition
Game Design
Motion capture

Haptic devices
Non-linear Storytelling
Branching narratives
Physical Computing

Projection mapping
Cloud-point Scanning (FARO)
Wearable technologies
Game Engines