Don’t worry, immersive reality needn’t involve nudity or spandex – though far be it for me to restrict you.

Immersive design is an early-stage moniker embracing a gaggle of almost-ready-for-primetime technologies: Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Extended Reality (XR), and, yes, even a little old-school thing called Real Reality (RR).

You’ve no doubt heard of at least some of them individually. Each is defined more by the hardware that delivers it than any actual difference between them. How in this era of fake news and alternate facts could such a collection of realities co-exist otherwise?

First, an introduction to each:

  • Real Reality (RR): Because you have to start somewhere. Real Reality is as you might expect – reality as we conventionally understand it.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): Though the notion of reality simulation has been around for ages (think of flight simulators), it was only with the development of the Oculus Rift headset in 2013 that it veered into the mainstream consumer consciousness. VR places the subject into a perceived environment totally different from the subject’s physical location.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): Remember Pokemon Go? That was a version of AR. It was RR viewed through a device that superimposes computer generated elements that the viewer could interact with. While in the case of Pokemon Go it was characters, more “useful” applications would be things like menu systems for wayfinding, or the ability to “try on” fashions prior to purchasing online.
  • Mixed Reality (MR): Think AR taken a layer deeper. Imagine if you were in RR, viewing someone over a video conference link, and that person was wearing a VR headset and you were seeing them in their simulated VR environment. Dizzy yet?
  • Extended Reality (XR): You’ll notice up to this point that most of these realities have been dependent on hardware to deliver the experience. While it’s safe to assume that some form of equipment will continue to be needed (in the absence of controllable psychotropics), the enabling devices will recede further and further into the background, as it were. Think of holograms and Victorian parlour tricks with smoke and mirrors. XR will be a kind of severing of umbilical devices.

So, there you have it: five separate players in an emerging world known as Immersive Design. There are others – subsets and minor players like real time 3D visualization, etc.

We’re approaching a series of watershed moments in which complex content like this will become commonplace. Even if this is your introduction to the technologies, you’re probably already seeing how immersive design could be powerful in business, entertainment (and everyday) communications.

Consider this as well: These content production techniques will be simultaneously impacted by automation.

But before I leave you to ponder the dizzying potentials of immersive design, let me layer on to this something known as Alternate Reality (Alt.R). This has been around for awhile as a role-playing game genre in which players move between real and fictionalized environments and digital gamescapes.

Imagine an XR game that has you engaged in a quest to find the villains, and rescue the nation. You get clues and information from a combination of real world data and planted information. You interact with real and digital “actors”. The real people don’t necessarily know they are facilitating a game quest. The fate of the free world rests on your shoulders, and there’s no real way to know what is true and what is fictional. Now, replace “the game” with real world interests – I don’t know, say a national election campaign. I think you see where I’m going with this.

As you can imagine, the largest impediment to Alt.R has been legal liability. Certainly, the technology has been boldly marching forward regardless. But think about trying to ascribe liability to someones actions while under the belief that a fictional narrative was actually real and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.

Buckle up for the next wave. Reality’s about to get even uglier, and fiction may not save you.


So, here’s one for you…

In a world of news fakery, at what point do these various realities impact our knowledge autonomy? Please comment out below.

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