Today I was talking with my friend Andrea about our ImmotionRoom system and he asked me: “but your virtual reality system increases presence or immersion?” and I was like “eeeh…uhm… aren’t they the same thing?”. Of course not, so Andrea started to introduce me the difference between this two terms. After his explanation, my mind was completely blown.

(Image from ReactionGifs)

Thanks to him, I just documented a bit and so now I’m going to tell you the difference between this two terms, so you won’t do the same error while speaking to another Andrea. It could also be a great pick-up line: “Hello girl, do you want to talk with me about the difference between immersion and presence?” (of course not, but at least you tried)

So, in virtual reality:

  • Immersion is the ability of the virtual reality system of actually tricking you in feeling that you’re somewhere else. I’m talking about sensorial information that gives brain the impression that you’re in another place: visual informations, audio, haptic feedback and so on. Immersion is something very technical: it regards how good are all the virtual reality devices you’re employing. So, using an Oculus DK1 gives you less immersion that using an Oculus CV1, due to worse resolution, FOV and so on. With perfect immersion, you have in virtual reality exactly the same sensorial informations of the real world: your brain can’t tell the difference between virtual and real.
  • Presence is how you’re really engaged and feel yourself inside the virtual world. Presence does regard features of the virtual reality experience that the user is living: if the story is compelling, he will be completely absorbed by it; if the world offers social interactions and other avatars interact in a natural way with the user, it will seem more real; if interaction with the virtual world is easy and natural, it’s great; and so on. Presence indicates how much the user feels engaged with the virtual reality experience, how much he feels that one as a true experience he’s living.
virtual reality animation
Invasion, a nice animation movie for Oculus Rift: characters do not interact with you, so presence is not at its maximum

The two concepts are obviously not that separated and there is a grey area between the two. Furthermore, immersion is important to offer presence: if the virtual world is great, but you’re living it through a headset of the ‘80s, you can’t feel really there, so presence is ruined.

But this is not always true: if the story is really compelling, with great characters and involves you and you remain there long enough that your brain gets used to graphics, well, you could feel presence anyway, because your brain will feel like really living in that world. Andrea told me that you could feel presence even without having any immersion: think about D&D or other role games: there are people actually feeling that they are paladins level 9000 in a fantasy world, while there is no sensorial information confirming that scenario.

There are lots of different interpretations about these two terms (different people having different opinions on this two terms, on if immersion is necessary to presence, on different kinds of immersion and presence, etc…), but the main concept I’ve expressed holds. Immersion is how good are the sensorial informations; presence is how much you do really feel inside the virtual world. Immersion is more objective; presence is more subjective.

And that’s it, hope to have clarified this to you… so from now on, please don’t confuse these terms anymore, so we will make all Andreas of the world happy! 🙂