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Can immersive ever become too immersive? Do we need to draw a line somewhere?

Matt N

Strata Poster
Hi guys. After an interesting discussion started in the Potter thread, I thought this would make an interesting thread by itself. We theme park enthusiasts often praise things for being “immersive”, and we also tend to pick flaws in attractions over things that supposedly “break the immersion”. But as much as we’re always seemingly trying to push the parks to go further and further with their immersion efforts, my basic question is; can immersion ever go too far? Can attractions, lands or even whole parks become so immersive that it actually ends up taking away from the fun factor, or causes problems with logistics or practicality?

I think many people began asking this question as soon as we entered the age of “mega-immersive lands” so to speak, when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando Resort in 2010. The land opened to rave reviews, and many (myself included, I should add) continue to be absolutely floored by the raw, endless experience and the meticulous level of detail of the two lands the area now encompasses; you can go between two parks and still remain endlessly immersed into the Potter universe if you factor in the Hogwarts Express, which it must be said is an absolutely remarkable feat of immersion, in my opinion.

However, this level of raw immersion into the Potter universe debatably bought with it numerous problems of its own in terms of guest convenience and practicality, and some might argue level of fun for a universal demographic. For instance, the fact that the lands, especially Diagon Alley, rely a fair bit on delivering “experiences” and rites of passage from the Potter universe (e.g. buying a wand in Ollivander’s, eating at the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron, shopping in Honeyduke’s, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Madame Malkin’s, Flourish & Blott’s etc. and many more) as opposed to delivering rides. That’s great for die-hard Harry Potter fans, but some have argued that it alienates those who want rides and aren’t remotely interested in Harry Potter, and I’ve seen the criticism levelled that the Potter areas are simply “very pretty shopping malls” and “more about extracting money from you than giving you a fun experience”. There’s also the fact that JK Rowling reportedly wanted the areas to have a huge degree of accuracy to the books; for instance, Universal are forbidden from selling non-canon food, drink or merchandise within the Potter areas, the streets had to be made narrow and the shops had to be made small. This is great for providing an “immersive” experience, but some have argued that this creates problems for convenience and practicality.

For instance, with regard to not selling non-canon items; if you want a simple lunch you can eat on the go, something like a burger, chips (or fries, as I believe they’re called in America) & a Coke, you can’t buy it within the Potter area, as it only sells Potter-suitable items, such as Butterbeer and hearty British pub food that needs to be eaten sat down, therefore meaning that if you’re on your day out at Islands of Adventure, and your stomach happens to start rumbling in Hogsmeade, you either need to be up for having a proper sit-down meal taking a good hour or two and be up for drinking drinks from within the Wizarding World, or if you only want simple Muggle food, you have to traipse all the way back to Jurassic Park or the Lost Continent. That’s absolutely amazing for Potter fans who want a fully immersive Potter experience, but for someone who isn’t remotely interested in Harry Potter, that might be somewhat inconvenient.

And with regard to making the paths narrow and the shops small; that’s admittedly amazing for getting that quaint village feel of Hogsmeade down to a tee, and makes it feel extremely immersive, but problems were arguably caused by the fact that ultimately, a quaint village in the British countryside and a theme park catering for 10 million guests a year are two very different kettles of fish. The two Potter areas were (and possibly still are; I’m not 100% sure) very overcrowded upon opening, and the areas had numerous pinch points and bottlenecks within them.

These problems were comparatively minor compared to what some of the later “mega-immersive” lands apparently experienced, however.

As budgets got bigger and bigger, and lands grew more and more immersive, the problems also grew. For instance, when Pandora: The World of Avatar opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017, the land’s directional signage was apparently all written in Na’vi language, making it hard for those not familiar with the Avatar franchise to understand it. And when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019, the same issue existed with the directional signage, but the staff also talked only in Star Wars language, and wouldn’t speak to guests if Stormtroopers were in the area as they were “hiding from the First Order”. The area also had no audio due to the nature of the place being replicated, and many felt that the area lacked soul without any audio being there.

Even on a smaller scale, elements of immersion such as pre-shows on rides are sometimes complained about. For instance, I’ve heard people complain that Wicker Man’s pre-show is simply a needless delay to getting on the ride, and I know plenty of people who find Hex boring because of all its pre-shows.

But do you think immersive can ever become too immersive? Do we need to draw a line somewhere and remember that we are ultimately at a theme park?
 

nadroJ

CF Legend
Plug plug plug I wrote a whole blog post about this recently:


And my thoughts are yes, I find that sometimes in an attempt to achieve full immersion parks can shoot themselves in the foot in other aspects, such as unencumbered creative thinking and practicality. I think there's a fine balance to be found, and immersion is not the be all and end all.
 

Gazza

Giga Poster
I don't think the food issue is really a major one. Flip the question, what if you are an adult who wants to eat something better than a burger or fries you can have literally any day....You have to traipse out of the area you are in to find a better restaurant.
 

Matt N

Strata Poster
Plug plug plug I wrote a whole blog post about this recently:


And my thoughts are yes, I find that sometimes in an attempt to achieve full immersion parks can shoot themselves in the foot in other aspects, such as unencumbered creative thinking and practicality. I think there's a fine balance to be found, and immersion is not the be all and end all.
Your blog post was actually at the back of my mind when creating this thread, as I thought it was great at the time I read it and I do agree with the underlying message of it, personally, but as you’re a member on here, I didn’t want to promote your content without your permission.
I don't think the food issue is really a major one. Flip the question, what if you are an adult who wants to eat something better than a burger or fries you can have literally any day....You have to traipse out of the area you are in to find a better restaurant.
That’s very true, and I didn’t think it was a major issue whenever I visited IOA either, but I know some people have complained about it.
 

Crazycoaster

Giga Poster
You make it sound like traipsing from Harry Potter to Jurassic Park is a long arduous journey.

I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has ever walked into a theme park, queued at the entrance, paid for a ticket, gotten past the turn styles, walked to a themed land and then suddenly forgotten they’re in a theme park. So no. Immersion is never “too much”.

These themed area’s arn’t exactly labyrinthian, so if someone get’s lost simply because they can’t understand one sign, that kinda says more about their lack of intelligence and problem solving than it does about a themed area.
 

Matt N

Strata Poster
You make it sound like traipsing from Harry Potter to Jurassic Park is a long arduous journey.

I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has ever walked into a theme park, queued at the entrance, paid for a ticket, gotten past the turn styles, walked to a themed land and then suddenly forgotten they’re in a theme park. So no. Immersion is never “too much”.

These themed area’s arn’t exactly labyrinthian, so if someone get’s lost simply because they can’t understand one sign, that kinda says more about their lack of intelligence and problem solving than it does about a themed area.
As I said, these aren’t things I personally found issues. I was just relaying complaints that some people have had.
 

Nitefly

Hyper Poster
You make it sound like traipsing from Harry Potter to Jurassic Park is a long arduous journey.

I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has ever walked into a theme park, queued at the entrance, paid for a ticket, gotten past the turn styles, walked to a themed land and then suddenly forgotten they’re in a theme park. So no. Immersion is never “too much”.

These themed area’s arn’t exactly labyrinthian, so if someone get’s lost simply because they can’t understand one sign, that kinda says more about their lack of intelligence and problem solving than it does about a themed area.
I think it’s more that people are objecting to pre-shows and elaborate theming to explain why you are on a ride. I’m quite happy to just walk onto the nonsensical Dino cake ride at Europa and thoroughly enjoy it.

Theming needs to smother us in a ‘butter beautifully spread on a piece of toast’ kind of way and not in an ‘assisted dying’ kind of way. It’s an imperfect example, but take ‘Fast and the Furious: Supercharged’ and it’s agonising pre-shows. Just STFU about ‘the family’ and get me on the ride!! I say imperfect because the queue line is actually better than the ride and the pre-shows 😐
 

MouseAT

Hyper Poster
There are some interesting points raised in this thread, and it's certainly had my brain working overtime for the last hour or so, trying to deconstruct some of them.

First up, I've found many of the more immersive attractions that I've done to be an amazing experience, although as someone who hasn't been to a Disney or Universal park yet, I've yet to experience a lot of the top tier stuff. I also don't think that everywhere needs to go all in on the fully immersive theming; I'm all about the fun factor, and I'll normally take a good, entertaining ride that's presented in a pleasant way (e.g. placed in a good location amidst nice landscaping) over something bland but well themed.

For me personally, there are certain things that work well for me, and some things that fall short. I love the way that (most of) the areas at Phantasialand give you a real feeling of location and adventure. I love the way in which Symbolica at Efteling manages to create a real sense of wonder, all the way from the pre-show (which I did not expect to play out in the way it does), all the way through the amazing scenes, to the ending where the ride vehicles effectively waltz through the ballroom.

I don't usually get a lot out of Halloween horror walkthroughs, as those usually hit my limit for suspension of disbelief, and the immersion is basically the basis for the entirety of those attractions, rather than a set-up to something else. It takes something pretty special to make those stand out to me; Chessington used to do something quite impressive with Hocus Pocus Hall around 2013/2014 where they used the attraction to tell an interesting story, and the Ghouls maze at Europa Park's Traumatica event in 2019 was both unique and impressive enough in terms of presentation to stand out to me as something special, but for me, those tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

I don't know that there's an upper limit to an appropriate level of immersion for parks and rides that really want to push the limit. Maybe there's a point at which someone crosses over into the realm of trying to make things hyper realistic, to the point where it feels unnatural, and that starts working against what they were trying to achieve, but I don't think we've reached that point yet. I don't see anything in Matt N's post as being a product of too much immersion; I see those problems as an overreliance on established IP, poor design decisions, and theme parks forgetting that they're still theme parks, first and foremost.

At the end of the day, if a park is creating an environment that has harmful effects on crowd flow, that's a poor park decision, and that's a sign that the park is making bad creative decisions with the environment they're building. That's not to say that such areas aren't appropriate in a non-park setting, but you cannot separate the creative demands of an area from the practical/operational issues it will create; Both are affected by and constrained by the other. The parks mentioned could create equally immersive areas without the issues described, had they not chosen to be constrained by the IPs on which they based them.

As for pre-shows, firstly, many rides don't need one. Not every ride needs to tell a story; Sometimes having a real sense of place or atmosphere is enough by itself. Secondly, sometimes less is more. You can set up an atmosphere throughout the queue, and then use a pre-show that’s short and to the point to lay the final groundwork for the experience that’s coming. If your pre-shows are going on for ages, to the point where your audience is getting bored, that’s probably a bad sign. Hello Villa Volta, I’m looking at you!

If a pre-show takes away from a ride, for me at least, that's normally because of bad writing or implementation breaking the immersion, not because it's inherently a bad idea. Wicker Man is a great example of this done badly; Like a bad wrestling commentator, they're so eager to shove the story and how you should be feeling about it right in your face, it's blatantly unnatural and obvious that this is what they're doing, to the point where it's distracting. The good ones make the storytelling feel effortless, getting the point across without it being quite so blatant that they're trying to hype up what's coming.

Oh, and just as an aside whilst we're on the subject of immersion, here's the number one thing I'd like to see more parks do in their themed attractions: Hide their light sources. There's nothing quite like a bunch of LED wash lights placed front and centre in full view to break the illusion of an otherwise fantastical scene. Keep them tucked away out of sight, behind scenery please.
 
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Howie

Giga Poster
And the award for most profound analogy of the week goes to...


Theming needs to smother us in a ‘butter beautifully spread on a piece of toast’ kind of way and not in an ‘assisted dying’ kind of way.

Seriously, all theme park operators need to adopt this as their mantra and have it framed and displayed in their head office. 😁
 

rob666

Hyper Poster
In answer to the topic title.
Yes.
McKamey Manor.
Sadistic torture chamber in disguise, using liability consent forms to avoid prosecution for dangerous acts against individuals.
 

Matt N

Strata Poster
In answer to the topic title.
Yes.
McKamey Manor.
Sadistic torture chamber in disguise, using liability consent forms to avoid prosecution for dangerous acts against individuals.
Ooh, don’t get me thinking about McKamey Manor!

I tend to avoid theme parks during October because I don’t even like the more “placid” scare attractions, so even though I’ve never done one, I can’t imagine I’d get on well with the full-on scare mazes, and I’ll admit that McKamey Manor sounds absolutely horrific to me!

I guess some people like to live on the edge a little more, though, so McKamey Manor is probably perfect for those types of people…

Also, am I correct in saying that they can literally do anything to you short of actually killing you in McKamey Manor?
 

rob666

Hyper Poster
Legally no, the waivers do not give protection from prosecution, apparently/allegedly.
The guy is a sadistic moron, hiding behind a haunt front.
 
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