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Levels of Immersion

Levels of Immersion

This is a experiment and university project done for "Creating experiences with digital media" 


In this school project we wanted to see if and how different physical elements interactions shaped the users experiences, and if so, how much was the impact that the added element had.


We did this by creating a blended/mixed reality installation and by wind using a fan, simulating wind and then by gauging people's response to this. Mainly by measuring the participant heart-rates using a pulse watch . Our thought was that this added elements would induce a higher level of immersion and a more fear inducing experience.



At the beginning we knew that we wanted to do something Virtual reality related, partly because I, right now have access to one of the best headsets on the consumer market at this moment. The HTC VIVE. Which is a room scale Virtual reality setup with two motion controllers for navigation. Ever since then I have been convinced that this is truly the ultimate storytelling tool, and it will inevitably going to play a huge roll in the very near future.


herefore I wanted to take every opportunity I could to get in and explore the possibilities of the new emerging virtual space. Secondly why we decided to go for this type of project was that we thought that virtual reality really exemplifies the blending of spaces. When the virtual comes together with the physical in a very visual and tangible 

















When we decided on what type of experience/experiment we wanted to try we went out and tried on some different demos and experiences already in existence to harvest some inspiration. We found one game that let the user line up a physical plank with the virtual one and then you could walk that on top of a high building. After trying it out we thought it was really cool and the addition of the plank with the sensory element of actually feeling the wooden thing under the your foot as you were walking it,  we felt really added a whole another level to the experience.


So then we asked ourselves the question of what would happen if you were to add additional elements to the game experiences and what in that case then would be the result of that. We also started to think about which kind of elements that could be. To have wind blowing seem like the most obvious and easiest to practically realize. To measure if and then how much more this element would add to player's immersion we decided that we wanted to look at users increase and lake of increased heartbeat during the experiment. Since we thought it would be a pretty safe bet to assume that added immersion to a game which puts you on a plank on to of a high rise if done correctly would lead an increased heart rate.

The experiment

The experiment is based on the game Richie's plank experiment and executed using the HTC Vive Virtual reality headset. In the experiment we asked the participants to first use the one controller that we gave them to go the top floor of in the elevator by pressing a button in the elevator, and then that they should try to find the second controller somewhere on the top floor and then get back in the elevator, to finish the experiment.


During the experiment we monitored and measured their heart-rate and we used a tabletop fan to simulate the wind. We also timed each participant on how long it took them to finalize their assignment.

In our case, the man on a wire feeling of being on an object suspended on top on a skyscraper became our generic space. Then the two inputs in this case is one virtual which consists of the Virtual reality headset with a pair of headphones and the game itselfs, with the visual experience of walking a plank, and then one physical which in this case is the plank itself and the fan for the wind effect.  Together they become the blend which constitutes our experiment itself.

Our blend itself is a very literal  blending of the virtual with the physical. In our case you can say the virtual is physical. When we have taken the virtual environment and, with physical object try to map them to the virtual to the best of our ability.


We had selected a mixed group of both men and women ( 60% men, 40% women) of university students. We asked this group consisting of 16 people to take part in a Virtual Reality experience but gave them no more information than this.  Because we wanted them to come into this experience with as few expectations as possible to make the added elements become as big of and surprise as that we could and in that way generate a stronger reaction from everyone.


The experiment started with us taking the participant one by one into the room where we had the plank and the headset setup. We then sat them down on a chair and told them to put on the pulse band and then take some deep breaths so that we could get their resting hart rate. We then told them to close their eyes and led them around the screen we had set up to so they could not see the whole set up and then helped them on with the headset.


When they were all strapped in we gave them the instructions and said that when they were ready they could press the button in the elevator and then we would put on the audio headset over their ears and the experiment would officially start.

As they rode the elevator to the top floor with the plank, one of us stood ready with the electrical fan in hand pointing it towards the person and as the elevator doors open the person turned on the fan a couple of feet from the test subject.


During the experiment we then monitored their heart-rate and also took the time of each one.


We had divided the participants in the experiment into two different groups. One we got to go through the experiment with the wind (group 1) and the other one (group 2) got to try it first without the wind. To gage the differences. Then to check for more discrepancies we let group 2 do the experience once more with the wind as well.


At the end of the experience (after they returned with the second controller to the elevator) we also decided to tell most of the participants that they could step of the plank if they wanted. ( This would lead to them falling at an accelerating speed towards the ground followed by a death animation when the screen quickly fades to white and you can hear course of angels. This was a thing we had not decide on while setting up the experiment rather a thing that we came up with on the spot and decided to and in just for the fun of it.


After the experience we interviewed each subject to get an better understanding of the how they felt  and what they thought about the experience they just had, with these questions as a base for the interviews:


How was the experience?

How did it feel?

Have you experienced Virtual reality before?

How how you rate your fear of heights on a 1-10 scale (10 being the most afraid, 1 the least)


We asked these questions to help inform us about how each subject felt about the experience and also to check if we could see any discrepancy between what they felt and what data we from the pulse monitor that we got.


We also decided to do the installation separate from the the class presentation a make it into a video presentation for practical reason.

Limitations and areas of improvements


During our process we had came across some limitations and some areas that we thought could have been improved upon.


The first area we struggled with and found some limitations was the actual digital experiences, with the game that we decided to use, Richies Plank experiences. It would have been nice to be able to have more control and the ability to customize the visual experience more in our project. In a situation where we had more time and more experiences developing games and applications it would have been nice to set up our completely own experience and in that way have total control over what the experience would entail and the ability to add more elements to the experience, like more sound, heat, smell etc.  We experimented some in a Half-Life modification called Garry's mod wich you with very simple means can set up and create an virtual environment and very easily manipulate object inside the virtual space. But the game was a bit to unstable to have running in Virtual reality and we decided to go with the pre-exciting game of Richie's plank experience since we thought it would be to much of a hassle to use the mod in the experiment since not be very optimal running an experiment with a game that was not optimized for VR and prone to crashing, and bugging out at times.


By having more control of the virtual space we could also have added more physical elements to our blend and explore even further what aspects does blended reality space contribute to the experience of presence for the user.

Other then that we could also have done the experiment where we let an additional group tried the experiment without the plank and measured their heart-rates as well, and put it in relation to the other ones. It also would have been interesting to explore the sound aspect to it as well.


A bigger testgroup would also have been a good idea, to get more clearer test results.


Our pulse measuring equipment could also have been a bit more easier to use and a bit more reliable, it was sometimes hard to get it to connect again to the app between each participant


The topology of the space with the setup of the the planks in relation to the participants starting points could also have been more thought out and better optimized. In our set up we had the plank sitting on some blocks, suspending it in the air. Approximately 10 centimeters above the floor. This made some people bump into it while trying to step on it, thereby offsetting it, breaking some of the immersion when we had to manually readjust it. A much better solution would have been if we had a small platform of some sort that each person had to start from instead of just standing on the floor.


On workaround that we came up with for this on the spot was to change the original task that we had in mind for the experiment, which was that they were to collect a slice of a digital cake that you could add at the end of the plank in the game to get them to collect the second physical vive-controller that we place in it place instead. This, we figured, showed the height of the plank a bit better when you could see the actual controller in the right height in the game.

This find also inadvertently help  with some added immersion when the controller became susceptible to the small moments of the plank when people started to walk on it. This also help address one of the more common issues that some of the participant pointed out. And seemed to help with the participant proprioception in the space. The issue of not having any feet to look at and help you orient yourself and where you stand in the virtual space. I think having the controller on the plank lessen this issue a bit.

The outcome of the experiment


In the experiment we focused on three different points


  • The Heart-rate data and time to complition

  • The people actuall reactions while walking the plank

  • The answer from the participants interviews

Heart-rate data and time to complition


During the experiment we monitored, the participant resting pulse, their highest noted pulse point on the plank and the time it took them to complete the task.


The results of them were as follows.


Group 1. (With wind)


Average increase: 52 bmp

Average time to completion: 26 seconds


Group 2. ( without wind)


Average heart rate increase: 35

Average time to completion: 24


Second try (with wind)


Average heart rate increase: 41

Average time to completion: 23



The results of the experience was quite in line with what we had predicted. The first test group that got the added wind showed an average increase by 51 bpm which was a 16 bmp increase against the test group that got no wind. On Group 2 second try, all showed a increased heart heart but a slightly less magnitude at a 11bpm.


From those results alone there is clear that the wind element adds another level to the  experience more thrilling and heart racing to a certain extented.


The wind seemed to have a bit less impact on the time i took the participant to finish the assignment, there were some difference but overall a very small one. About half the group with wind had took longer than the group without. The other half had took the same time or longer.


In this experiment it seems like the wind element made the space more immersive in the sense it made the stronger physical bodily response with increased heart rate, but did not seems to affect their physical action in the actual blended space that was our plank experiment. The mostly moved and performed it the same way as the non wind group. Internally it made more of a difference then in their external actions.

What we observed


People had a wide ranged of how they physically reacted to walking the plank. Since most they could not see their feets most people dragged their feet across the plank feeling scooting their way across it rather than walking. Almost all of them choose to walk backwards into the elevator rather than turn around.  Two people in the wind group were visual shaking whilst trying to pick up the controller from the plank.


The thing the most people seemed to be struggle with and where people spent most time were finding and getting the first step up on the plank. When they first have to lift their feets then get the feel on it with usually one foot and then slowly getting their whole height on it



After the participant were finished with the assignment we told them that they could step of the plank if they wanted. 90% of the them seemed very hesitant to do this and most of them only did so after we had insisted at least two times and reassured them that nothing bad were going to happen. Two of them did not want to step of the plank at all, and decided to stay on the plank.  



All of the participant described their experience as exhilarating and or frightening in some way. Almost all of them said that the experience felt more immersive than they were expecting.


One describe the sensation of battling with his brain over control of the situation. “I knew that I was physically standing on a plank on in a room wearing a headset but my mind and body did not want to fall of the plank, and I really struggled and had to focus to do so.”


From our finding those whom were said to be above average in their fear of heights only seemed to have a slightly significant bump in their increased heart-rate compare the the one whom rated himself lower on the scale. However there were some instances where one person where physically shaking whilst picking up the controller with a pulse that was going from 70 to a max pulse at 151, which was the highest we difference we noted but intently only put himself at a 3-4 on the scale of his fear of heights.  




A couple of persons said it would be great and that they wished for the ability of being able to see their feets to help the better walk the plank and that they taught the added element would have help make the experience much more immersive



This was a very fun project to get to try out and explore the possibilities with blended realities. We did most of our blending backwards after realising what we wanted to do. This seemed very practical and help us out a lot in the beginning. However it made our blend quite limited and it would have been interesting if we would not have had such a clear notion what we wanted to do in the very beginning and focused more on the blending aspect and try to come up with a even more original space. Trying out more and and different varieties of blends before we decided on the direction of the project and thereby maybe we had come up with a more original and diverse blend with less of an obvious blend as we now did. Now the main focus of our projected mostly became the experiment phase on our work


Our idea was to recreate a fear inducing space like walking on a line high up in the air between two buildings. That aspect of our work Im very happy with and I'm still amazed how an engaging and thrilling space we manage to create to mirror that only using the plank and a fan.


I think we did a good job of how we design the experiments with a clear transition point between virtual and the physical. By having them starting of n the elevator, getting the controller and the instruction to find the other one on the top floor and then getting to try out some basic interactions (pressing buttons in the elevator) before getting the sound headset on and starting out the task. With previous experiments in VR I noticed that it's sometimes getting people into a game and to do a specific task when they never experienced it or interacted with the controller, can sometimes be more tricky than one thinks, especially giving them more instructions when they have a audio headset on them as well.


By the outcome of the results of the participants heart beats and the interviews that we did I think it's fair to say that we very pretty successful of recreating what we was aiming for and that the results indicate that our added wind elements really pushes people sense of presence another level and makes it that much more of an thrilling experience.  Walking the plank in an empty room by itself is not scary but combined and with our blend the plank becomes really frightening and fear inducing for some people. The physical was truly the digital.



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