Summary – Earlier this month Themedattraction.com highlighted research presentations on dark rides, perceptions of theme park crowding, and immersion-as-inhabitation known as scenographic storytelling from the Themed Experience and Attractions Academic Society (TEAAS) 2nd annual symposium sponsored by the IAAPA Foundation. The symposium includes oral research presentation sessions and poster exhibitions relevant to themed experience and attractions. This article continues with three additional presentations focused on storytelling and an exploration of service industry uses of robotics. Like the first article, each presentation is provided a brief overview along with some critique and commentary.
Presentation #4 – Non-linear Storytelling as a Medium for Expression of Diminished Cognition and Memory: a case study of the “ZED” virtual reality experience by Peter Weishar
Summary – Peter Weishar is a professor of themed experience at the University of Central Florida and focused his session on world building for diminished cognition and memory using a virtual reality experience case study known as “ZED”. (video trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzCZqr6dS8o ). The presenter suggests that unlike traditional linear storytelling mediums, immersive experiences utilize a non-linear approach of inferences, repetition, and anachronistic juxtaposition. By leveraging well-documented cognitive theory and clinical practice, Weishar and colleagues craft an approach to immersive experiences based on a sequence of inferences and constructed memories of a personal narrative. Says Weishar, “Virtual worlds are often deemed to be surrealistic due to the photorealism coupled with dramatic environments and limited information. Memory functions in a similar manner in that the human mind remembers specific objects and details intrinsic to the recollection of an event while non-essential details are “filled-in” with diminished specificity.” (see figure 1)
Comments – The presentation was well developed and thoughtful yet required some extrapolation for use in the design of the physical environment. The value of this presentation lies in using natural cognitive functioning, memory and re-call, in the design process of an immersive experience. Much like an impressionistic painting, immersive environments provide a personal perspective crafted from suggestions that often do not require an explicit linear narrative.
Designers should be perpetual students of guest behavior. Understanding natural behaviors of the way people move through space, construct a narrative from perspective, make decisions, and take risks are crucial elements of the built environment. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize in economics for his work with his friend, the late Amos Tversky in behavioral economics. Central to their work is the identification of system 1 and system 2 decision processes. System 1 can be described as quick, intuitive, and emotional while system 2 can be described as deliberate, calculated, and learned. For more details on Kahneman and Tversky’s work on cognitive biases, heuristics, and system 1 & 2 decision making, I highly recommend the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374533555 ).
Within any built environment the designer needs to understand the way people react and use that knowledge as a design tool. The designer may choose to place strategic guests’ interactions to elicit a response, evoke an emotion, or even prompt a physical alteration of the timing or directions a guest travels through the environment. The designer may even play with conflicts in narrative between system 1 and system 2 thinking with subtle storytelling ques, creative uses of wayfinding, symbolism, and sound. Weishar’s extends this concept to the virtual world using ZED as a case study in design for recollection in diminished cognition patients.
Presentation #5 – A Chinese “High-Tech Theme Park Full of Stories”: Exploring Fantawild Oriental Heritage – By Carissa Baker, Ph.D.
Summary – This presentation focused on the Chinese theme park industry and highlighted Fangte Oriental Heritage (Fantawild in English), owned by Huiqiang Group, as a shining example of original and interesting IP (intellectual property) within an otherwise uninspiring landscape of parks and mechanical amusements. Fangte’s has asserted an aggressive ambition to establish a multi-national transition. While the success of the multi-national projects remains to be seen, Baker suggests, “Fangte is poised to become a dominant chain within the soon-to-be largest market”. She continues throughout the presentation in highlighting the use of high-technology applications, transmedia work in animation, and cultivation of a Chinese-styled approach to IP, Fangte demonstrates a quality of theming and design as a critical factor to success in the Chinese market. Thereby placing further emphasis on the importance of theming, thematic identity and appropriate design within current scholarship in China themed attractions and environments.
Comments – This was a great presentation and further strengthened my belief that original intellectual property attractions can and should draw from local or cultural sources. Dr. Baker used her perspective as a western theme park scholar to explore the success and failures of Chinese themed attractions. I particularly enjoyed a discussion in the Q&A time between the speaker and an industry audience participant. To sum up a longer discussion, the industry representative noted Baker had referenced an extremely high number of parks being developed throughout China and asked if the business case for such were warranted. Dr. Baker was quick on her feet and appeared to have thoroughly studied Chinese themed attraction developments, she acknowledged the current trends appeared to be a 2nd wave of attractions and that none of the 1st wave attractions are in current operation. This prompted side conversations and further discussions throughout the audience. In her presentation she pointed to Fangte executives as having communicated the intention to develop forty parks. See Figure 2.
One of my favorite discussions around design is the balance between money and creativity. In the series The Imagineering Story on Disney+, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner views budget constraints as a welcome challenge for designers to think in creative ways to accomplish a goal. The business case is the number 1 reason why the attraction is being built. I’ve taught courses on cost estimating to hundreds of future architects and engineers for many years. I spend the entire first-class challenging the technical or creative mind to engage the business mind. Baker’s presentation gives us Fangte as a case study to watch over the next decade in crafting quality design within the business case.
Presentation #6 – The Application of Service Robotics in the Theme Park and Attraction Industry by Tingting Zhang, Asli Tasci, & Ady Milman
Summary – The goals of this research was to “explore theme park patrons’ affinity to interact with robots”, “identify the key experiential consumption areas that would be acceptable to guests”, and “predict their impact on guest’s overall satisfaction and loyalty”. Using an online survey, American theme park consumers were queried on various preferences of robotic appearance, service applications and other features.
Comments – In my opinion, this presentation was full of potential yet left the audience a bit short. The preconference abstract of the presentation stated that the piece was a work in progress and perhaps explains why I felt the application lacking. The researchers appeared to attract an adequate sample size and possess statistical acumen, but, from a practical perspective, also appeared to ignore established nuances of advanced technology adoption. At its core, this was a technology adoption and application study. It would have been interesting to hear how this study compares to others. For instance, figure 3 shows a well cited and somewhat controversial technology adoption model that highlights social aspects of technology as indicators of adoption success. (Reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_acceptance_model for more information). In this model, the variables (U) perceived usefulness and (E) perceived ease of use are key aspects towards prediction of actual uses of technology. It appears the researchers were aiming towards a similar look at areas where guests within theme parks and other attractions would see robotics as a value add.
As previously mentioned, the decision of how much money to place towards creative and engineering pursuits is one of my favorite discussions. Investments in research and development vary widely across industries, yet I’ve always viewed the themed attractions industry as a technology innovator and leader. The study of advanced technologies within the themed entertainment venues is a worthy endeavor and I look forward to reading future manuscripts on the subject.
In summary, the middle three presentations of the TEAAS demonstrated applications of where an academic “life of the mind” can add value to the industry it serves. Weishar’s and Baker’s presentations leveraged documented bodies of knowledge and embedded them within the context of the themed attraction industry. As always, I continue to encourage interaction between industry and academics to engage in collaborations of mutual interest and benefit. The final article on the 2019 2nd annual TEEAS will feature a valuable study of safety metric frameworks of amusement rides, a fun story of building a dark ride on a “dollar and dream”, and the announcement and invitation for a university consortium for a European Themed Environments master’s degree program.