Story experiencing, not telling

As designers and builders of themed entertainment we are often tasked with “telling a story” to our guests. This is the terminology that is used by our peers as well as those who assign and direct what we do. Unfortunately it is a bit of a misnomer.

I was recently in a theme park and had a discussion with with one of the haunt designers. During this chat it dawned on me that truly immersive builds are not about telling the guest a story, nor should they be part of, or brought along in the story.

For an experience to be truly immersive for our guests it needs to be their story. They are the star and our characters and IPs are simple players in their story. This is the true challenge we face when we design and build these experience. Guests do not want to experience someone else’s story; they want it to be special for them, even when surrounded by others.

This is particularly essential in today’s society as we are experiencing a very “look at me” social movement. Guests want an experience they can feel is centered around them. The biggest challenge we face is not only creating that experience but making interesting enough to allow for repeat attendance. They best examples of this can currently be found in escape rooms and Halloween Haunts.

Some parks and locations fully immerse their guests in the experience from the moment they enter the gates, until they leave (see Knotts Scary Farm). While other rely on known story driven IPs to bring in guests in a more horror based party atmosphere (see Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood).

We continue to strive to individualize the experience while maintaining queue numbers , ride capacity and maintenance/update schedules.