Enacted experience

An enacted experience is an experience which participants feel they’ve brought about—but which, in reality, is the largely-specified expression of an author’s intentions. This is a powerful mechanism because Enacted experiences can create intense personal connection to authored targets.

(n.b. I use the term “enaction” differently from Bruner: Jerome Bruner and enaction)

Examples and counter-examples

Many elements of a Y Combinator batch are enacted experiences: carefully-arranged dinners, timelines, pressures, etc. combine to produce intended experiences. Savvy professionals often create enacted experiences in meetings: they structure the agenda and framing so that attendees will inevitably arrive at the desired beliefs or conclusions, but each person will feel that they brought that about for themselves.

Good video games are structured so that at any given moment, players feel as though their cumulative actions have created their present experience. And they feel their ongoing actions enact future experiences—they’ll bring those states into being. This sense will occur in any Participatory environment, but in games, designers can exert strong authorial control over which experiences players will enact.

Game designers like Jenova Chen, Frank Lantz, and Jonathan Blow create fiddles which play their players. They create environments in which players are the ones pressing the buttons, and players feel intuitively that they’re bringing each moment about, but the buttons are arranged such that players’ actions typically create exactly the intended experience. In good games, players will feel they’ve enacted the authored experience even when they had no real agency. This gives game designers unique opportunities for expression: Games are an aesthetic medium of action.

This is an unusual property for a media form. In film and in books, the viewer/reader feels at any given moment that the author has created that moment. If the work is done very skillfully, the viewer/reader may feel that the characters or their environment have created that moment. But viewers/readers certainly don’t feel that their actions created the moment.

The closest non-game media analogue might be immersive theater, but participation is often too passive to create this effect.

Software environments are participatory, and users generally believe they bring experiences in those systems about, but those experiences are usually not the controlled expression of the software designer’s intentions. So software environments rarely produce enacted experiences.


Many enacted experiences use metacognitive scaffolds (Metacognitive supports as cognitive scaffolding) to steer participants toward the desired experiences, but not all do. Playing a piece from sheet music and executing a recipe are examples of enacted experiences which might involve no scaffolding.

Enacted experiences exist on a spectrum of participation and authorial control



Last updated 2023-07-13.