Interactive media, in its broadest sense, is any source of information that forces direct participation from the consumer. Most of the best-known types are digital; the Internet has allowed connectivity and interaction to penetrate most venues, and has turned a lot of what was formerly passive information into an interactive and often interpersonal experience. Video games and online gaming platforms are some of the most popular examples since they require direct and often constant user participation. Social media websites and forums, which allow real-time user updates and enable conversations and interactions online, are also frequently cited; to a larger extent even most websites can be considered interactive since, unlike most print media, they allow the user to shape the direction of research and to control the information consumed. Interactive media marketing, mainly advertisements and platforms that seek to engage users for some commercial purpose, are another possibility. To a lesser extent, certain “fixed” media can be considered interactive; examples include board games and encyclopedias, both of which usually require active participation.
Understanding Interactivity Broadly
There are many kinds of media in the modern world, and most can be categorized as either “active,” which is to say that the user engages directly, or “passive,” in which the user is merely a consumer of information that is fixed and unchanging. There are, of course, different levels of interaction. Sifting through websites to find the answer to a specific question is usually a lot different than making real-time decisions that force quick reactions from other players in a virtual game, for instance, and posting and commenting on updates in a social media feed requires still another sort of interaction. What all of these have in common is that the user — the participant, and the one consuming the material presented — has at least some say in how things progress, and shapes the outcome in some measurable way.
Interactive media can refer not only to media that interacts with the user, but also media that makes users interact with each other. In this sense, video games that require multiple players or social networks are some of the best examples. Video games require active action to play and typically prompt users to make decisions and manipulate their game characters, sometimes called “avatars.” Similarly, interactive simulation allows individuals to use computers to recreate real-life situations and practice the behavior realistic to those scenarios.
Social Media Venues
The growing family of social media tools are also interactive in nearly every sense. Not only do users publish their own information, be it photos, status updates, or short thoughts, they also frequently leave comments on the publications of others. People often hold entire conversations and make significant decisions within the closed space of the network.
Websites and the Internet Generally
To a certain extent, the entire Internet could be considered “interactive” since it requires at least some directional decisions from users. Unlike a book with fixed contents and a logical sequence to the materials, websites are more scattered and their information condensed in ways thac are usually subject to regular change and editing. The path a researcher takes to find material is often driven by at least some creative energy or on-the-spot decision-making as a result.
Audio and video in their traditional form simply transmit information that the audience accepts passively. Sometimes radio and television can be interactive if they include other forms of media like animated graphics or encourage the audience to call in to ask questions, express opinions, or play games. In recent years, the DVR has made television much more interactive. Now, instead of just watching television programs when they are broadcast, people can use DVRs to take initiative and record favorite programs to watch at a later time.
Media and Mass Marketing
Interactive advertising is also a growing sector. Most examples are online and don’t always take the form of standard ads. They seek to engage consumers or potential consumers in some sort of dialogue, and as such they may not seem like marketing at all at first. Companies have increasingly opened their own social media accounts, for instance, and often offer incentives and discounts for people who “friend” or “like” the brand online. This can both create loyalty and harness individual networks to promote brand visibility, almost like an endorsement.
Human interaction with media may be most commonly associated with the digital and online world, though there are some standard print volumes that fit the basic definition. One of the earliest examples of interactive literature was the “choose your own adventure” style of books, which encouraged readers to shape the ending by choosing various paths and plot turns. In some cases even encyclopedias or dictionaries could be viewed as part of this category since they require users to actively search through the index for the necessary information. Board are widely also included; these require players to make decisions and manipulations similar to those required when playing video games or interacting with others online.