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Immersion and presence – Why are they important?

Testing is about gaining knowledge. To understand how to test VR effectively; we need to understand VR. In my last post I referenced a paper by Daniel R. Mestre; in this post I will go into what I’ve learnt from this.

So how do immersion and presence work together in the VR experience?

Presence is defined as the sensation of being in the virtual environment

We can think of presence as being a psychological quality. It is our perception of existing inside the virtual environment, it is subjective.

Immersion is capable of producing a sensation of presence

(Ijsselsteijn & Riva,2003)

Let’s think about this connection. Presence is the subjective feeling of being within a virtual environment, and immersion provides a vehicle for this feeling.

“The term immersion thus stands for what the technology delivers from an objective point of view”

(Mestre, 2005)

The connection should be clearer now. Presence is a subjective term; which covers how a user feels about the virtual environment; from a psychological point of view. Immersion covers what the technology can objectively deliver; to give the user a strong feeling of presence within a virtual environment.

Now who is best placed to “measure” immersion levels?

Well obviously I’m going to say testers. We’ve been doing something like this for years, but calling it user experience. Now I’m not saying testing VR is just UX testing, but it is about taking some of those principles and applying it to VR.

We cannot fully control how present a user is within virtual environments, but we can control how immersive a virtual environment can be. If we create an experience which allows complete immersion, then a user is more likely to feel present there.


References from the paper “Immersion and Presence” by Daniel R Mestre


Who said that?


Whisper and the supposed sources of knowledge.

First off let me apologise for the vast length between posts.

I’ve recently been using the app Whisper. I don’t want to talk about anything to do with it’s levels of anonymity. Instead, something much simpler.

Whisper is buggy as hell and has some of the worst UX traits I’ve seen.

Now that’s out the way we can proceed.

I seem to always bring work home with me and commonly have bug reports flying back and forth. Whisper is the same. I really like the concept of the app but it is executed poorly.

I’ve sent emails detailing the issues I’ve discovered. The first reply I received was a standard;

  • have you tried clearing data?
  • have you tried to reinstall the app?

This made it clear that my email had not been read. I’d detailed all my actions in making sure these were firm, repeatable issues. After more back and forth I informed Whisper that I was a software tester and suddenly my emails were escalated to the dev team.

This annoyed me!

The issues I’d found were being seen by all users. The users were using the app to bitch about the problems. This email could have come from any of them and been as valid.

People generally don’t report bugs.

In fact it’s the bane of the OSS community that more people don’t actively report bugs. A user that has taken the effort to email through a bug is worth listening to IMO.

There is the assumption; that those who are not trained appropriately can have no valid input. This seems to be less and less true but it is questionable whether it ever really was.

Within Sociology there have been occasions where the supposed ignorant have been capable of insight greater than the Sociologists involved. My favourite example of this is,

Learning to Labour by Paul Willis

This is a landmark study in Sociology for various reasons and I would highly recommend reading it.

In very brief summary; Paul Willis uses the participant observation technique to spend time with “troublesome” kids of a class in 1970s Britiain. The premise is to investigate the way in which there is little social mobility out of the working class.

There is an assumption that the kids are unaware of the processes at work which dictate their life-chances. Yet Willis discovers that the boys are all too aware of their own abilities and situation,

  • Eddie – The teachers think they’re high and mighty because they’re teachers, but they’re nobody really, they’re just ordinary people ain’t they?
  • (…)
  • PW – I mean you say they’re higher. Do you accept at all that they know better about things?
  • Joey – Yes, but that doesn’t rank them above us, just because they are slightly more intelligent.
  • Bill – They ought to treat us how they’d like us to treat them

There is even lamentation from the group when pondering their time in school,

  • Joey – ….something should have been done with us, I mean there was so much talent there that it was all fuckin’ wasted. I mean X, he was as thick as pigshit really, but if someone took him and tutored him…he’d got so much imagination.

Before this study; working class kids expressing these concepts seemed unlikely. Yet here they are, expressing how all are capable given the correct time and effort. This is evidence that those seen as stupid, clearly aren’t.

A user doing something stupid doesn’t equal a stupid user. Ignore your users at your own peril.


“I’ve never had writer’s block, Joey’s never been in a production slump”

Sage Francis

Some tweets this morning have inspired me to tackle this subject.

Inspiration is something that is important to me.

I have the head that won’t shut up.

A brain that is constantly bouncing things around. I have never felt I have to grasp for ideas and inspiration because it seems to be always there, not specifically testing ideas but in general.

As someone who has written and performed lots throughout my life; I’ve thought quite a bit about where my inspiration comes from.

My personal theory is that the more you try to pin down where inspiration comes from the more you restrict inspirational thinking in your mind.

My approach is to immerse myself in interesting things. Anything from articles about new scientific developments, music, novels and anything else that gets you thinking.

I’m very choosy about what art I consume. The world is flooded with creativity everywhere and our access to it is better than ever. Why settle for listening to a mediocre song on the radio when a few clicks can get you something spectacular.

Do you really want to watch another film where you can calculate all the plot developments and outcomes? Or do you want something that will engage your mind and challenge it?

Anything your mind consumes that challenges it; that can make it think in a different way is going to help inspire you. Let all these things just roll around your brain making new connections with everything that is already there and new ideas will come.

There’s a world of ideas that can challenge your mind to think differently, absorb it all and inspiration will flow.

So I was a sociologist…

Scrub that, I am a sociologist.

Being a sociologist doesn’t require a degree or a paid job title; it requires critical thought of the world at large. I did this before I ever gained the language to express it.

Taking an A-level course at age 16 in Sociology was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My teacher John Whincup was incredible in his ability to relate ideas and spur thought. He was the embodiment of everything you wanted in a teacher. He was able to entertain, engage and inform in an effortlessly charismatic fashion. I realised the thought-processes he was encouraging were how my mind already worked; I just needed the vocabulary. He mentored me and I’m grateful for the fact we still keep in contact fifteen years on.

After this period I went onto become a Computer Science and Sociology degree student and after a few years I became a Comp Sci degree dropout and eventually gained my B.A in Sociology. I then spent quite a few years having a fun and enriching time; although most people would probably call it being a loser.

Somehow I ended up working in Social Policy for a well-known British charity but due to various factors I couldn’t continue there. Through another serendipitous turn of events in November 2012 I ended up in the world of software testing.

I instantly felt at home.

After becoming acclimatised in my workplace I began to thirst for more knowledge. I wanted to understand the wider world of testing. I discovered the context-driven school of testing, James Bach and Michael Bolton who relate Cem Kaner’s idea that testing is a social science.

Now that got my attention.

Software testing is a social science.

I mulled it over and continue to do so. The idea that the digital software is just a vehicle, a human wrote it and a human is testing it. We have a collision of ideas; the interfacing of humans over the software is inherently social. Apparently requirements always suck which when thinking about it isn’t surprising. We humans can often suck at relating ideas to others, especially when we don’t know the person. Our interactions are littered with misunderstandings and that’s with people in our immediate life who may know us very well.

So as testers, we aren’t just testing software we’re also trying to understand the thoughts of the people who created it.

Another thing that rung bells with my sociology education was James Bach’s calculator exercise.

Now compare that to this classic sociology exercise which was one of the first things I remember John Whincup teaching.

There is a room with two people and a candle is lit, why?


Hopefully there are a number of things going through your head.

There is no definitive answer to this question. This question is designed to ignite thoughts. It should make you realise that a scenario can have many different reasons for occurring. The question doesn’t teach you sociology, it teaches you how to think critically which is the entire basis of sociology.

The calculator exercise works in a similar way, it makes you ask yourself the questions that get your brain to work critically.

This blog will continue to record my attempt to apply what I’ve learnt from sociology into the world of testing.