The Immersion Museum: Observing immersive techniques in their natural habitat

The Immersion Museum was an ongoing writing project in which I collected examples of immersive websites — sites that create a fictional world of people, places, and events and use this world as the foundation for storytelling or gameplay. In doing so, I hoped to get a broad perspective on the techniques that were being used in immersive sites and to learn more about how these techniques were being used commercially.

A few brief observations in that regard, from a more recent perspective:

  • Good (and bad) examples of immersive design are easy to find, especially in the entertainment industry. At this writing, it's hard to find a movie that doesn't have a website that tries to draw its visitors into a little bit of simulated reality, and the social networking sites are filled with TV and movie characters asking to "be your friend".
  • Most immersive projects only dip a toe into the immersive world. Large-scale projects, on the order of The Beast, I Love Bees, and the more recent Last Call Poker are the exceptions.
  • Most projects are run as marketing exercises, and are supported by the general marketing budget of whatever product they are promoting. The connections between these projects and their parent marketing programs have grown more obvious than they were a few years ago (cf. the discussion in my Exocog report). In general, data about the effectiveness of these projects is closely-held by the projects' creators.
  • Technically, the web is still the dominant platform for these projects, although events based on cell phones and other mobile devices are gaining popularity. In addition, some projects are making greater contact with the physical world, often as a source of raising revenue (e.g., trading cards for Perplex City, jewelry and clothing).

Currently, I'm not adding new sites to the museum — there's only so much time in the day. I've learned what I wanted to learn from the project, and am moving on to other things. But, like most museums, the exhibits will remain behind, bringing whatever insights others may find in them. Enjoy.

You can search the museum in three ways:

  • by feature: Search for campaigns by one ore more features, such as the use of faux web sites and chat rooms.
  • by project date: Campaigns are ordered by their release dates.
  • by title: Campaigns are ordered, generally speaking, by the title of the movie, TV show, or other property that the campaign was associated with.

Sample entry: Do you have a grudge?

Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
The Grudge (Sony Pictures)
Fall 2004
OK, I am seriously creeped out.

Do you have a grudge? is the main promotional site for The Grudge, an adaption of a Japanese horror film and one that has been doing quite nicely at the box office. The home page for The Grudge offers a link to a relatively simple page with the movie's trailer, photos, and a brief description of the movie, but the real work is done by following the "enter site" link. This takes you into a excellently creepy Flash exploration site. We first get a bit of story about where curses come from -- "when some one dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is born...", are asked to sign in with our name and last-name initial, and are informed that we have volunteered for a job as a caregiver for, presumably, an elderly shut-in. Then, the fun begins as we enter the house to carry some tasks: "Change the sheets in Mom's bedroom" and the like. If you've seen the movie, you know that entering the house isn't a good idea....

The bulk of the site is a collection of black-and-white Flash movies showing you various parts of the house; at any time, several of these movies are visible and available for interaction. The images, of course, are shadowy and vaguely threatening (as is the background music), but you can get somewhat clearer views of an image by moving the mouse into it. A nice effect. Clicking on an image typically runs a transitional movie taking you to that part of the house (with perhaps a few surprises along the way); you can also occasionally click on objects in an image and manipulate them in some way, like opening and closing doors.

Your "job" here is to move through the house and carry out the tasks on the note, but that's really just an excuse to get you to explore the space and experience what the creators have put there for you to experience. There's a payoff scene if you manage to find your way through all the parts of the house, but going into much more detail than that would be spoiling the fun. Suffice to say that this is one of the creepiest promotional sites I've been to. The combination of images and sound is very effective, and I found myself getting shivers as I looked around -- some of them even when I knew that something was sure to happen when I clicked. There's some similarity between this site and the exploratory component of the Manchurian Candidate site -- but this is really something of its own. Very nicely done.

As a rather pedestrian aside: The more basic, trailer-showing part of the site is another example of the growing trend to embed the movie's trailer in a page, showing it to you when you enter the page, whether you ask for it or not. I'm seeing this more and more on movie sites; it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do when you can assume that your visitors are on reasonably high-bandwidth connections, as is more and more the case these days.