By this, I am asking you to decide all the various elements that you believe ought to be included in a theme park attraction in order for it to achieve perfection. Let's start with a blank slate and work from there, rather than picking some favorite ride and deconstructing it. I hope that the process of trying to decide what is — or is not — essential to a "perfect" theme park attraction can inspire some interesting debate about the elements that lead us to like or dislike existing theme park rides and shows.
I'll take the lead here and talk you through what I believe to the required elements of a perfect theme park ride. And, yes, the first is that it be a ride. A perfect theme park attraction, to me, is a form of entertainment that cannot exist elsewhere. It is not a movie that you could watch at home or a show you could see in any other theater. Installing shakers and a wiggle wire under the seats isn't enough to elevate a theme park theater show to perfection, either.
So a ride it is. Next, it must be accessible to all to be perfect, IMHO. That means no height requirement. The ride system must accommodate visitors who cannot transfer from a wheelchair, and the seats must be able to handle the full range of human heights and sizes. To accommodate people with strabismus or amblyopia, there would be no 3D glasses, either.
The ride's audio track and tactile elements would be enough to communicate the ride's narrative and entertain a visually-impaired rider, while the visual elements would inform and entertain someone with a hearing disability. Lighting and the introduction of new elements would be designed to avoid triggering riders who are not neurotypical. And the narration must be such that it would remain accessible to riders who speak languages other than the dominant language in the park's home community.
That's a lot of requirements. And we're only to questions of accessibility. We've not yet considered qualities of theming, setting, storytelling, or ride experience. Is perfection an unattainable standard?
Let's not give up yet. I believe that a strong musical score can address many of the accessibility challenges I just described. Music can establish mood, setting, and the progression of narrative without language and while managing emotional triggers. So let's include original music (or music from the ride's IP theme) as a requirement for a perfect theme park attraction.
Ah yes, IP. Does a perfect theme park ride need to be themed to an outside intellectual property? Using an IP franchise gives a ride a head start in establishing an emotional connection with fans. Many already will have fallen in love with these characters and be motivated to seek every detail of their ride. But I do not believe that outside IP is a requirement for a perfect theme park attraction. An introduction can provide a perfect moment in an emotional relationship, too.
What is essential, to me, is that a perfect theme park ride will inspire visitors to want to ride it again. And again and again and again.
This is a really tough requirement once you start to drill into it. The ride has to satisfy you enough to please, while leaving you wanting more enough to want to go through the queue to ride again... but not leaving you wanting to the point where you are dissatisfied by the original experience. That's a really narrow target to hit.
Do you flood the ride with detail, so much that no one could take it all in with a single ride? Or do you introduce multiple ride paths to make each experience unique? What about game elements that give riders not just a unique experience but also a sense of control of the narrative?
Anyone of these approaches could work, so I am not ready to declare any of them a requirement for a perfect theme park ride. But I think the last element there — the game element — does raise an issue that I do believe should be a requirement for the perfect ride.
There needs to be some stakes. The ride should have some purpose beyond simply getting to unload: victory, escape, survival, enlightenment — I don't care what the stakes are. I simply don't want a ride to waste my time for no larger purpose.
Do we need to be the winner of these stakes? I am not sure of that. I think that a "dark" dark ride, if you will, could be a perfect theme attraction. I love rides such as Efteling's Fata Morgana, Singapore's Revenge of the Mummy, and Disneyland's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, where things do not end well (at least, narratively) for the rider. So "winning" the narrative is not a requirement for perfection. The hero's journey can fail and remain worth taking.
What about physical thrills? Our accessibility requirements have eliminated almost all of the current ride systems that would provide the physical thrills that many people associate with theme parks. But to be perfect, I think a ride must include some physical thrill since people have come to expect that from theme parks. It can be relatively mild and probably will have to be. But if it doesn't move enough to put a smile on your face, the ride system hasn't achieved perfection. For the perfect theme park ride must never, ever bore you.
Can any ride meet all these standards? Has anyone in the theme park industry achieved perfection? I don't think so, but I haven't ridden all the world's theme park attractions yet. (Life goals!) Disneyland's original Pirates of the Caribbean ticks many of these boxes, though, as does the Shanghai reimagining of that attraction. Efteling's Symbolica does well by many of these standards, too. But none of these get everything.
While some attractions might be (heck, certainly are!) perfect for a particular set of individuals, I think we haven't yet achieved that one attraction experience that is perfect for everyone. Perhaps we never will, or never can. But I still think it is fun to think about, to talk about, and most importantly, to imagine.
So, it's your turn, in the comments. What would be your perfect theme park attraction?Tweet
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