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The end of the high G force thrill ride?

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Published: June 30, 2006 at 9:52 AM

Traditionally, thrill ride fans measured the intensity of their favorite rides three ways: tallest, fastest, longest. But over the past decade, theme park thrills have added a fourth dimension.

G forces.

Not height, not speed, not length, but the pressure exerted on one's body. With twists, turns and sharp acceleration, even a relatively low speed ride can exert force on the body three, four and even five times the force of gravity.

Witness Rock n' Roller Coaster at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Walt Disney World, where yesterday a 12-year-old boy died. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of death, but in 2000 the ride was the scene of a non-fatal incident where a rider suffered bleeding in the brain.

High G forces and circulatory problems provide a potentially fatal mix. Put someone with a congenital defect, or even a bad case of high blood pressure, on a high G force ride and aneurysms and stroke can result. Such preexisting medical conditions led to the death of two riders in the past year on Disney World's Mission: Space, another high G force ride. On Mission: Space, the peak G force is much lower than on Rock n' Roller Coaster, but it is sustained for a much longer period of time.

Yes, theme parks could do more to warn their visitors of the danger of high G attractions. Parks should urge people with high blood pressure to avoid these rides, as they already warn or ban people with heart, neck or back problems, as well as pregnant women. And I'd love to see parks publicize the G forces exerted on their rides, along with the time that riders are exposed to that force.

To that end, I'm asking registered Theme Park Insider readers today to help us collect that information. If you know the G force of a particular ride, please browse to it in our listings, then click the [Update this description] link to add that information to the ride's description.

But the tragic number of deaths at Walt Disney World over the past years, many linked to high G force attractions, might signal the end of the development of such rides in the theme park industry. Unlike heart or back conditions, or pregnancy, most people at risk for the type of ailments exposed by high G rides do not know that they are at risk, severely undercutting (but not negating) the effectiveness of stronger warnings.

The theme park industry already is moving away from the high thrill arms race of the past decade. Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro has declared that his company, the industry leader in that arms race, is done with record-setting, high-intensity thrill rides, and will instead look to recapture parents with kids by offering more family-friendly rides. Talk to theme park designers, and they express their excitement not for new ways to throw riders' bodies around, but for new ways to engage their minds.

The near future of the theme park industry lies not in thrills, but interactivity. Smart theme parks are looking for new attractions that engage riders, empowering them individually, or collectively with the other riders in their vehicle, to alter or determine the effects and outcome of the ride. Theme park managers, like their counterparts in the movie business, have learned that repeat visits create blockbusters. And that the video game generation craves attractions that they can control.

Rides like Disney's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Universal's Men in Black Alien Attack, and Legoland's Fun Town Fire Academy and Splash Battle represent the future. And with insurance rates for high G force attractions sure to rise in the aftermath of this most recent death, that future might be coming to a theme park near you sooner than anyone might have expected.

Readers' Opinions

From Erik Yates on June 30, 2006 at 1:28 PM
I think the public really is starting to lean towards a less intense G-force type ride. It shows with the success of such rides like Spiderman and MIB, even Revenge of the Mummy, though it is a coaster. ROTM doesnt exceed more than 3 G's, and thats only in its initial launch. People are wanting more theme to a park, and a lot of folks see something like a coaster as a blemsih on the landscape. Personally I cant see going to a park without an intense ride, but thats me. You will see a strong surge in more family rides at all of the big chains, especially disney, who was talking about having its first 6 inversion coaster built at the Animal Kingdom when they began talking again about "Beastly Kingdom". You can sure bet that talk was thrown away this morning.
Though I love high G rides, and think that the faster a ride can go,the better, it will benefit the theme park industry more to go to the "Technological Thrillrides" such as Universal claims to have cornered the market on.
From Patrick Sayre on June 30, 2006 at 2:14 PM
The fact is this child had a heart defect, according to prelim autopsy reports, and went on a device he should not have. The fact that literally hundreds of thousands of customers have ridden this ride, and others, with no ill effects should be enough evidence to clear Disney of wrong doing, and of the ride being too "Intense"

What is troublesome is the background noise one can hear from the plethora of do gooders and vultures waiting for thier turn in the spotlight. These people will no doubt call for increased regulation and government oversite, and lay blame directly at the feet of companies like Disney for offering such "extreme", "dangerous" rides.

Yes, they will blame the comapnies and seek to limit OUR Liberties and rights in the name of the "common good" instead of placing blame where it rightly belongs, namely with the individual adults who knowingly disreguarded the warnings, and parents of the children involved. Thats right, the parents. For if this child had seen a doctor regularly the type of defect that would lead to such a catastrophic failure would have been diagnosed a long long time ago and the kid would not now be room temp.

Yet none of this means anything..for already the media has affixed blame, already the sheep are nodding that "Yes, these rides are too intense" and those of us who have enjoyed these attractions and others are content to let them chip away at yet another of our freedoms for fear of offending someone or appearing heartless.

From Joe Lane on June 30, 2006 at 2:18 PM
While rides with G forces MIGHT be going the way of the dodo (or at least, asleep for a decade or so), I really do look forward to this potential rebirth of the dark ride.

Universal truly created something special with Spider-man and Revenge of the Mummy: hybrid attractions with incredible special effects. If theme parks can begin going this route, we may have some great surprises in store for theme park fans.

The catch is the technology factor. Look at Spider-man--there are so many things that HAVE to work in order for the attraction to complete a successful run, and in recent years, I've had the misfortune to ride Spider-man at times when the ride's computer systems aren't up to par. A single glitch in the system ruins the remainder of the ride as the vehicles simply return to the unload dock, passing blank 3-D screens in silence.

The solution comes in the form of top-notch maintenance and newer, more fine-tuned technology systems.

There's another factor involved: money. The parks have to be willing to tread in the red, sacrificing short-term losses for long-term gains. As an example, only one of many different scenarios, Mickey's Philharmagic at the Magic Kingdom suffers in show quality in that the film already shows signs of blur, wear and tear. Had Disney made the investment towards a digital presentation, the 3-D film wouldn't already appear aged in its current form.

I'm reminded of the original Journey into Imagination at Epcot with Dreamfinder and Figment. There was much to see every time you went through, and the visual appeal was an important part of what made the ride so enjoyable. The task now isn't the physical limits we can push in the body of the guest, but the mental limits--fooling the senses, blowing the mind, doing something that at first appears small but becomes something incredible--and making it believable. That's half the fun.

From rick stevens on June 30, 2006 at 2:19 PM
G force rides do add another dimension to the thrill of a ride. One of the main problems is what is a safe amount of G force. I would imagine it would be different for different people. Pilots wear G suits for a reason. As G forces increase, blood is forced into the extremeties causing the brain to lose oxygen and you pass out. The G suits inflate as the G force increases causing the blood to remain in the vital areas of your body. I think we all understand that if our brain is deprived of oxygen, it is a bad thing.

This is another time that the warnings would do no good. How could you possibly know what your G force limts are unless you have been in this situation before. Most people would be OK, but do we need to chance occurances like this happening again. How many people have blacked out, temoparily, on this ride and others like it. These situations are not reported since the opporators of the rides may not know it even happened.

I am not sure what the final outcome should be, but we do need to look into this and other rides that have high G forces. How far do we need to push the limits?

From Randy Scott on June 30, 2006 at 2:44 PM
You gotta be kidding me. More people die and are injured each year traveling to and from Theme/Amusement Parks than those that die or are injured at them. That includes all the theme and amusement parks in the USA. Why don't we urge all those parks to close so that no one gets in a car accident traveling to or from them? That would be the responsible thing to do!

Living is the number one cause cause of death. Very few,if any,dead people are killed or injured by anything. Every morning that you wake up alive, you run the risk of dying that day.

Your idea for theme/amusement parks is stupid. I hate being that crass but it is really, truly, unadulterated stupidity. It reaks of an assinine liberal stench that no amount of intelligence could quaff.

While we are at it, why don't we legislate theme/amusement parks can only serve tofu at their restraunts? Just think of all the people who clog their arteries eating their food. Imagine the people we could save!!!!!!!!!

My heart and prayers go out to this family. My oldest is 13. I can't imagine losing him. I also can't imagine me not taking him to WDW. He loves it there. I know from experience that I can not, nor will I attempt to protect him from all of life's dangers. Living is dangerous. It's bad for your health. THAT IS WHAT MAKES IT LIFE.

GET IT???????

From Erik Yates on June 30, 2006 at 8:38 PM
I was not, by any means, calling for a ban against G-force rides. I was stating facts. If you look at Universal, what is its two most popular rides? Spiderman and Mummy. The biggest complaint you here? Too many intense rides.
I definately feel that the backlash on this will be great and the last thing we need is some watchdog group telling us how we need to live our lives. There are enough of those, and we have the right to live (and die) how we choose. It is absolutely safer to ride a coaster than it is to ride in a car or a plane. But the public sees these things as a danger anyway. When I rode the coaster for three hours for Make A Wish, people looked at me like I was crazy. It was really no big deal, but to them it was insane. It was Junior Coaster for gods sake. You also wont get disney standing in anyones way about making things tighter either. How would it look if there was someone wanting to "make things safer" and disney was standing in the way? They wouldnt, they'd be too afraid that they would lose money. Example....Christian groups called for a boycott on all kinds of disney things because of its stance on health insurance for homosexual partners. I dont see why A. this hurts the Christians and B. How its disneys business whos homosexual (thats an entirely different thread). How did disney counter? Night Of Joy.
The bottom line will not be affected, and if it means toning down a ride and not putting in anymore thrill rides, thats what they will do. They will succeed because they are disney and people will flock mindlessly anyway, and other parks will follow. There will be the death knell for your thrill rides. They wont be banned, they will be ignored.
From Derek Potter on June 30, 2006 at 9:48 PM
I understand that accidents like this, coupled with the previous tragedy on Mission Space, have tendency to bring up discussion on the dangers of thrill rides. I also understand that many parks are starting to lean more toward low intensity, simulator type rides...including the "industry arms leader" Six Flags (By the way I'll believe that line by Shapiro when I see it. Their downfall has not been being coaster happy, it has been mismanagement of those resources.) I understand rider concerns about G-Forces, because many folks don't understand the concept behind them.

A quick lesson for those not familiar. G-Forces are in essence the amount of gravitational force put on the body. There are positive G's, the type felt at the bottom of a coaster hill, a helix, or at the top of a vertical loop, which push the rider into the seat and make them heavier than they really are. Spin rides, such as Mission Space also heavily dish out positive G's. These are the types of G's that riders can most withstand. When a coaster says (and they usually brag about it somewhere) that it pulls 4 G's, it pulls 4 positive G's. A negative G makes the rider lighter, and is responsible for moments of "airtime"...or when riders are lifted out of their seat at the top of a hill. These are dealt out in small increments, as anything too intense would literally eject a rider from their seat. Lateral G's push a rider to the side, felt during a flat or low banked turn, or a barrel roll. Sometimes riders experience a mixture of the forces depending on the element they are in.

The difference between G's on Rock'n Roller coaster and G's on Mission Space is this. Mission Space, and other spin rides continuously deals out 3-4 G's during the ride. Any G's felt during a roller coaster ride usually last less than a couple seconds. The question is this, how long is too long, and how many G's are too many.

Rock n Roller Coaster has a sort of twin brother in Cincinatti. Flight of Fear at Kings Island is made by the same company, and has an almost identical track layout to the Disney launch coaster. Having ridden Flight of Fear more times than I can remember, I'll classify it as a moderately intense coaster. The launch is about 0-55 in four seconds, the rest of the ride is your standard multilooping coaster. I've seen people old and young get on the ride time and again, and get off the ride with a giant smile. No accidents, no real injuries, no deaths. The ride is even sans over-the-shoulder restraints, making it an even more comfortable ride because there is no head banging. This begs the question, why is Flight of Fear accident/injury free, and Rock N'Roller Coaster not. Is it really in the advertising? Kings Island classifies it as a 5...a high intensity thrill ride (all their rides are classified 1-5), and signs are posted at the queue entrance. I'm assuming Disney has always done the same? If they do, what is the key? A ride that provides the same continuous G forces like Mission Space could be examined, but a coaster that provides a second of those same forces could have the same impact?? I usually steer clear of spin and pukes, because they do just that, make me sick and sometimes lightheaded. Continuous G's aren't good to me, however roller coasters and the new brand of Huss thrill rides, have absolutely no negative effects on me. There are people who feel the opposite, people who hate it all, people who love it all. The effect of G'force varies by the person, not the group. It can't really be measured in terms of danger to each person.

Does this mean the end of high G force rides?? If you mean the end of the Gravitron, or rides like Mission Space, than my answer is possibly. People tend to get sick on these rides and the continous intensity of them isn't for everyone. If you mean the end of high intensity roller coasters, than I say no. No simulator ride or manufactured thrill attraction will ever compare to the actual feeling of being 200 plus feet in the air and dropping. The primal feeling of adrenaline and fear is something that humans won't grow tired of, and also something that has not been duplicated, or ever will be... by any simulator. Even great multisensory rides like Spiderman have not been able to duplicate the adrenaline rush that a coaster can bring. Simulator rides can be exciting, but after a few spins, it's kind of like a movie you've seen a few times. A ride on a coaster never gets old, no matter how many times you've ridden. Coasters have been around for over a hundred years, and they will be around as long as people will stand in line for them...and they will always stand in line for them.

From Joe Fratianni on July 1, 2006 at 5:52 AM
I think there are a lot of great comments here. I myself enjoy Rock n Roller Coaster. My children ages 12 and 7 have never gone on it. I am actually surprised by the ages of children going on these intense rides. My kidshave never gone on Tower of Terror, Mission Space, Test Track and Kali River Rapids. They find these rides too intense. They even refuse to go on Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

We went to Universal Orlando once but honestly hated it. It was virtuaully all intense rides and the kiddie area only interested us for so long. So this long standing preoccupation with intense high speed upside down looping pull your face off rides has always surprised me. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy some of them - but I am surprised by the tremendous sucess of them.

What might you ask do we ride at WDW. Well my son's favorite is Buzz Lightyear and my Daughters is Soarin. That's what Disney has always done so well: interspursed a variety of types of attractions to keep everyone happy.

I guess it isn't too impressive to promote a ride saying you fly over California and watch a movie or shoot at aliens as you travel the galaxy. But if you can say: race from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds do multiple loops twists and corkscrew turns that is something people can talk about.

From Mark Hollamon on July 1, 2006 at 8:32 AM
There has been a lot of good discussion on this issue (way too much as of late), but please consider this:

If a family's regular scheduled trip to their physician wasn't as rare an event as their trip to Disney or Six Flags or anywhere else that has thrill rides for that matter, we probably would only see about 1/10 of the tragedies that we see today simply because people would know what is wrong with them physically.

I have said it before and I will say it forever, look at the people you see at theme parks. Eighty percent or more look like they are about to drop after just walking around for a few hours. I'm talking even in the time of year when the weather is cool!

Thrill rides put your body through the same forces a good workout would. I would venture to guess most of the tragedies happen to people who NEVER exercise, eat properly, and in the case of vacationers, probably have deprived themselves of sleep, at least in the short term.

Most people are just floored when somebody close to them drops of a heart attack, but if they took a good look at their lifestyle, at least in most cases one could at least think something like that wasn't so unexpected.

I think the general public loves to kill the messenger. We are use to the media phrase "If it bleeds, it leads". We just have a hard time taking good care of ourselves on a regular basis which includes a good self assessment of what kind of health we are REALLY in.

I welcome all the new advancements in theme park rides. Spidey is one of the best I have ever been on, but you cannot compare it to the rush of the first few seconds of the Hulk! They are just two different birds altogether.

I would hate to see a theme park world that didn't include both. I hope my choice is not taken from me.

From Robert Niles on July 1, 2006 at 11:41 AM
The theme park industry is an entertainment business. And, as in all entertainment businesses, trends come and go. We've been in a trend toward high G force rides. We're going to leave that behind now and enter a trend toward interactive rides.

That doesn't mean that all the high G rides will close. But if new ones are built, they won't be by Disney or Six Flags. (I think Cedar Fair will have this market to itself, if it wants it.) And they will not be "dressed up" in theme or story, Disney-style. Instead, they will be presented merely as they are -- a physically intense experience for physically fit teens and young adults.

Alas, that is, these days, not a growing market. Which, as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, doesn't get you a whole lot of attention from those with the power to greenlight.

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