Theme Parks in Virtual Worlds: why do they leave us cold?


I love theme/amusement parks in virtual worlds and being able to experience rides that would be impossible to experience in a real amusement park. Or maybe what I really love is the idea of an immersive medium simulating another immersive medium. But I’m also fascinated by the fact that virtual amusement park rides really leave us cold. Is this orgy of immersions pointless? And why would that be?

Ariane Brodie commented on this issue in her blog a few days ago: theme parks rides in Second Life like Koreshan or Mouse World aren’t that interesting basically because Second Life is an amusement park ride itself:

“Second Life rides are not that interesting, because Second Life is itself just an amusement park ride.  In the game, you are in full control of what you see and where you go. In-game rides take that control away from you.”

“You can’t feel the jerkiness or smoothness of a ride, nor can you get the rush of wind in your face as you ride. So the only reason a ride is cool is if the environment it is in is cool,”

I tend to agree with this view but want to try and take her point a bit further. The thrill of a theme park ride lies in the feeling of being directly immersed into a fictional environment (Wonderland, Tomorrow Land, Flatland and so on) without any form of mediation. We are not accessing the fictional environment through an interface like a book, a film, a videogame et cetera. We are actually there and the only interface we’re using is our body.

In order for this to happen, the fictional environment has to be materialized, has to be translated into a sensory environment: fictional universes have to be spatialized into an environment which is explorable using the body as the only interface.

When we are immersed into a virtual world, the theme park ride and the immersion into its fictional world become mediated experiences, experiences that are being re-mediated by our first-level immersion into the virtual world. But the beauty of a ride is exactly the first-hand, unmediated, feeling of an immersive experience. So is it this Chinese-boxes-immersion structure that really kills the thrill?

Also, does this mean that simulating an immersive medium into another immersive medium just kills the immersion itself? Not really actually, amusement rides simulated into IMAX and OMNIMAX theaters, for example, really do the trick. The problem in this case is probably “only” the interface. What if virtual worlds had really transparent and light interfaces, a mix between augmented reality glasses and a future Philips AMBX system for example? Would we just forget the mediation (screen, mouse, keyboard, avatar) and enjoy a theme park ride in Second Life as much as we do in real life?

Leave a Reply