The Alienated Self? Addressing the Border Between the Digital Self and Participation in Immersive Experiences

Sarah O'Brien

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This paper identifies a particular discourse on technical immersive conventions that belong to both digital gaming and theatre. In bringing together these disparate genres I wish to locate some recent immersive experiences within a critical participatory arts discourse (Bishop 2012).
    Some forms of immersion, particularly ‘perceptual immersion’ (Klitch, 2016), physically encourage a viewing position that relieves the viewer from taking the consequences for her/his actions, and in this sense, following Adam Alston (2016), it can be seen to encourage hedonism and risk taking. Cathartic release from personal responsibility is encouraged as risks taken are within a suspended reality. Similar to traditional theatre, these immersive conventions encourage us (ask us, with our consent) to mask/subdue/suspend our ‘selves,’ leaving our usual world perfectly intact, ready to return to once the experience is over. We allow the artist or company (e.g. theme park) to take responsibility for our actions – it is not real risk. We become avatars in a ‘closed’ game world (Burrill 2005) where we die and get another life. ‘Perceptual immersion’ therefore encourages performances of Otherness in both utopian and dystopian imagined worlds.
    The immersive installation piece Séance (2017) appears to carry on a tradition of ghost trains and phantasmagoria that plays on the thrills to be found in this fake invincibility. In Séance, the audience sit and passively allow their souls to be taken by the devil. Whist by AOE (Aoiesteban, 2017) claims to give us an insight into our personalities based on our individual action throughout the piece through its psychological underpinning. In both pieces, on different levels, the ‘self’ is displaced and packaged as ‘other’. And, I argue, this conveniently serves the ‘experience economy’ agenda (Gilmore and Pine 1999). However, I examine them here through the lens of ‘delegated performance’ where: ‘The perverse pleasures underlying these artistic gestures offer an alternative form of knowledge about capitalism’s commodification of the individual’ (Bishop 2012: 238).


    ConferenceTheatre and Migration – Theatre, Nation and Identity: Between Migration and Stasis IFTR World Congress 2018
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