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. From the simple to the complex, the course will cover a mix of digital and analog forms of storytelling. While there’s little definitive terminology, it’s still important to be familiar with common terms and their meanings. Here are some key definitions to get you started on your journey. Please consider how these can be applied to your own practice. This website is a work in progress. We hope you will contribute examples of your own work in the course.

Overarching Terms for Electronic forms of Immersion

  • 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 of these 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 physical facial features.
  • Mixed Reality (MR): Similar to AR, MR is a virtual layer overlaid on a real-world environment. MR, however, is viewed through glasses or headsets that simultaneously allow the viewer to see the real world and the virtual one.

  • 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 physical 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 single 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.

  • Participatory: Participatory experiences ask for an interactor's contribution—an idea, response, feedback, or something personal.

  • Simulation: Often called the “third way” of acquiring knowledge, simulation allows interactors to gain understanding through a model that communicates a different experience, without an interactor actually experiencing it. While virtual reality is a good example of simulated environments, not all require technology. In fact, simulations have existed for more than a century. Analog examples include cycloramas and stereoscopes.
Current 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
Three-Dimensional Model Capture
Cloud-point Scanning (FARO)
Wearable technologies
Game Engines