No, no one wants to spend time in a dystopian wasteland where children have to fight to the death for the amusement of the wealthy. (That is why parents sign up early for Fastpasses to characters meet and greets, after all....) Seriously, though, the characters in an engaging dystopian tale don't want to live in those wastelands, either, which is what drives their stories.
So the focus of a Hunger Games land — or any land based on a dystopian franchise — needs to lie on the story of the hero's journey to escape or reform it. As I point out in the column, the "hero's journey" is perhaps the most successful trope in movies and entertainment. We all want to escape the garbage in our lives.
It’s not as if Tatooine was some paradise where Luke Skywalker wanted to spend the rest of his life. Harry Potter wasn’t thrilled by living under the staircase at the Dursleys’. Bruce Wayne didn’t go home happy with his parents after the show. Life stinks for heroes. That’s what provides them the challenge to become a hero, after all.
Ultimately, it's not the setting for a theme park land that determines its success of failure with visitors. It's how well the designers of the land create something that engages and entertains those visitors. If a Hunger Games land just leaves us mired in District 12 without taking us on Katniss Everdeen's hero's journey, then, yeah, it is going to provide a bleak experience that no one will want to tell their friends to visit.
To compare The Hunger Games with another YA dystopian franchise, The Hunger Games enjoyed the adoration of fans while the Divergent series just burned its fan base because the latter series ultimately denied its hero the completion of her journey. (And I don't care about spoiling anything here. If I can save one person from wasting the time that I did reading the Divergent books, I feel that I will have done y'all a solid.)
But more than that, a successful Hunger Games theme park land needs to give visitors an opportunity to feel as though that they are participating in the hero's journey themselves. We can witness Katniss' journey on the screen or in books. In a theme park land, we need to feel it for ourselves.
A reader offered a great Twitter thread about the unique ability of theme park lands to make fans feel like participants in their beloved franchises, riffing off my column from last week.
When you wander through the Wizarding World, you're a magician in a magic world. When you walk on Pandora, you're on another, beautiful, planet. Star Wars, you're in space, on a dictatorial world, but a world when everyone can choose to be part of the Resistance -and who wouldn't— Pumpkin Kardashian?? (@Giomosby) October 24, 2017
Go read the whole thing. The point is that a Marvel land faces a challenge because that franchise does not create an easy-to-imagine space for fans to assume the hero's role, the way that they can in Harry Potter, Avatar, or even Star Wars lands. I think that The Hunger Games actually provides a better fit for a theme park land than some of these franchises because its hero does not need to be born a wizard, a superhero, or a Skywalker. Katniss is anyone. Katniss is everyone. We all could be Katniss, if we can summon her bravery and desire.
Of course, none of this gets to whether Motiongate Dubai's The World of The Hunger Games fulfills the potential of a Hunger Games theme park land. I haven't seen it since it opened, and with only a lightly-decorated halfpipe launch coaster and a scaled down Soarin'-like 3D ride to offer as rides, I doubt that the land was given the budget needed to make a compelling case for fans around the world to make the trip to visit to the lightly-attended park.
Where's the opportunity for visitors to compete in the Arena, like Katniss? Or to participate in the rebellion against the Capitol? We want those experiences. The potential of a Hunger Games land lies in empowering us to take up the fight against Panem and not in just taking us on a sightseeing tour around it.
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