The end of the high G force thrill ride?2006-06-30
By Robert Niles: 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.
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.
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