The rise of digital media technologies, "new media", is heralded as the impetus for needing to reconceptualize how we understand and study the people who engage with them. These people were "the audience" of old – television viewers, filmgoers, radio listeners, newspaper readers. However, the new media are interactive, designed to require some type and amount of activity on the people's part to access and/or progress the content housed within the technology. As time and technology advanced, audience reception studies and media studies have discussed how to alter or adapt research approaches to study interactive audience practices and paradigm.
Around the world, these scholars have been innovating methods and methodologies for understanding the before, during and after engagement between the interactive audience and the interactive media. Scholars have reconceptualized traditional research approaches by tweaking aspects that seem out-dated in the modern world. Scholars have adapted research approaches from other fields, finding commonalities with other disciplines' procedures for studying similar phenomena. Scholars have created wholly new research approaches grounded in the particulars of the emergent practices and paradigm.
While a post-doc at Roskilde University in Denmark, I conducted research on people's sense-making their engagement with virtual worlds, video games, and films. I argued there exist two types of interactivity: interpretive and physical. Sense-making would be a form of interpretive interactivity. To measure such a phenomenon, I adapted and altered methods and methodologies that have preceded and surrounded me. The video attached to this essay demonstrates this collusion of approaches with an example of an experimental session. In such a session, a participant was asked to engage with a media product – in this case, a Nintendo Wii game – and to talk aloud and be interviewed about his reactions and responses to the media product. This study reconceptualized the experiment to provide more focus on interpretive interactivity as measured by combining survey, talk aloud protocols, adapted from user-centered design studies, and interviewing protocols, adapted from Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology.
The interactive audience sings a siren song of possibility: the emerging provides a chaotic yet fertile space within which to innovate on what has been and what could be. Our quest to understand the interactive audience provides the chance to rethink the audience, audience reception studies, even the media itself, and to stand with what we are thinking now and gaze back to reconceptualize what we were thinking then.