Interactivity and Intensity

What’s the relationship between interactivity and the intensity of the experience? I found myself asking that question the other day as I watched my daughter ride a carousel around and around. There’s very little interactivity on your average carousel, and very little intensity either. You just go around in circles and possibly up and down. It’s great for kids, but you don’t see many teenagers and childless adults on most of them.

But then there’s this one: the Looff carousel on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, ridden by teens and adults alike. Its difference: interactivity. It’s one of the few remaining carousels where, sitting on the outside horses, you can grab a ring (hence the term “grabbing for the brass ring”), then try to throw it into a hole farther around the circle to make a buzzer go off and lights clang. Granted, it’s not very sophisticated interactivity, but it is more satisfying than just going around and around (although you certainly can just do that too).

For more intense experiences, we seem to be willing to give up some interactivity. There’s very little interactivity on your average rollercoaster: you strap yourself in and it moves on tracks over hills and loops for a few minutes. The experience is so intense, we don’t care that we can’t do much of anything.

Very complex interactivity doesn’t seem to lend itself well to intensity. Imagine if your email client was as fast-paced as a first-person shooter. Or your online banking application. Or if your car worked like Space Mountain. The intensity has to be low so that you can concentrate on your activity and thus accomplish your goals.

One interesting exception to this is, of course, gaming. There are often complex procedures that need to be executed, often while being virtually shot at or being digitally punched in the head. Successful games find that balance between interactivity and intensity, providing oodles of both. One reason this works, of course, is that it’s a game. Losing and replaying is part of the experience. No one wants to lose with an online stock trade, for example. Restart doesn’t quite work when you’ve lost real money.

If we want our interactive products to be more intense and immersive (and I suppose that’s a debate in and of itself), we’re going to have to build more play into them. And that’s going to be a big challenge: How do you play when things of importance, like money and health and well-being, are on the line? How can you create a heightened sense of reality like a game or a rollercoaster if there is no Do Over when real consequences happen?

One thought on “Interactivity and Intensity

  1. Thoughts on interactivity and intensity of experience

    Dan asks an interesting question – what is the relationship between interactivity and the intensity of an experience? – and I thought I’d think about it a bit and see if I might come up with some additional insights on…

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