It's Time To Pop Theme Parks' Virtual Reality Bubble

It's Time To Pop Theme Parks' Virtual Reality Bubble
November 20, 2017


I don't care about virtual reality anymore.


Walking the show floor at IAAPA last week did me in for VR. Every year at IAAPA seems to have an official theme — perhaps it is the hive mind of the theme park industry, with vendors all rallying to provide what they see as the hottest thing, and easiest sale, of the moment. Last year it was flying theaters. This year, it was VR.


You couldn't walk past 10 steps in the "high tech pavilion" on the show floor without seeing someone with a VR unit strapped to his or her head. No one is selling straight VR, of course. Every demonstration put the goggle-clad volunteer atop whatever unsold ride system the company had been hawking in the past. Or the vendor might be offering a custom VR installation onto whatever fallen-from-favor ride a park would like to reinvigorate.


I loved VR the first time I experienced it on a roller coaster. The physical movement of the coaster complimented the depiction of movement on the screen. If the camera is moving through space, and the camera is our "eyes," logic dictates that we actually should be moving along with that camera, too. A VR ride just makes sense.


But I also just don't care anymore. While I have yet to be sickened by VR on a ride, I do feel sick waiting in the inevitably bloated queues for VR-enabled attractions. Placing and adjusting VR headsets slows loading to unacceptable waits, backing up the queue for everyone. I don't care to wait that long for an experience that doesn't totally excite me, and the minute or two of alien battles or whatever generic adventure parks are offering with their VR adventure just do not fire imagination anymore.


Don't mistake my apathy for a rejection. While VR no longer gets me excited, I would welcome the chance to experience any great story, even if the storyteller chooses to tell that tale in VR rather than a more traditional video and stage medium.


Maybe thats a sign of the maturation of VR as a medium — novelty won't cut it any longer. Whether a themed entertainment company offers VR, augmented reality, or whatever new storytelling technology comes along, story remains supreme.


The nature of the IAAPA show floor is that it almost exclusively attracts technology and manufacturing vendors. You don't see many booths for screenwriters. But that's what VR and AR need most right now. It's not about finding the "right" ride system for a VR attraction. And while some operations innovation to speed dispatch times would help, that won't save VR as a theme park medium.


No, only great storytelling can do that.


I don't care about VR anymore. But I remain — and always will be — interested in great stories. The gimmick phase of VR is over. If VR is to survive as a viable tool in theme parks, a master storyteller must find an engaging use for it. Otherwise, I — and a whole lotta other theme park fans — are going to keep walking past VR rides and shows on our way to attractions that do capture our imaginations with wonderful, engaging stories.

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