Can immersive ever become too immersive? Do we need to draw a line somewhere?

Matt N

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Mako (SeaWorld Orlando)
Hi guys. We theme park enthusiasts often praise things for being “immersive”, and we also tend to pick flaws in attractions over things that supposedly “break the immersion”. But as much as we’re always seemingly trying to push the parks to go further and further with their immersion efforts, my basic question is; can immersion ever go too far? Can attractions, lands or even whole parks become so immersive that it actually ends up taking away from the fun factor, or causes problems with logistics or practicality?


I think many people began asking this question as soon as we entered the age of “mega-immersive lands” so to speak, when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando Resort in 2010. The land opened to rave reviews, and many (myself included, I should add) continue to be absolutely floored by the raw, endless experience and the meticulous level of detail of the two lands the area now encompasses; you can go between two parks and still remain endlessly immersed into the Potter universe if you factor in the Hogwarts Express, which it must be said is an absolutely remarkable feat of immersion, in my opinion.


However, this level of raw immersion into the Potter universe debatably bought with it numerous problems of its own in terms of guest convenience and practicality, and some might argue level of fun for a universal demographic. For instance, the fact that the lands, especially Diagon Alley, rely a fair bit on delivering “experiences” and rites of passage from the Potter universe (e.g. buying a wand in Ollivander’s, eating at the Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron, shopping in Honeyduke’s, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Madame Malkin’s, Flourish & Blott’s etc. and many more) as opposed to delivering rides. That’s great for die-hard Harry Potter fans, but some have argued that it alienates those who want rides and aren’t remotely interested in Harry Potter, and I’ve seen the criticism levelled that the Potter areas are simply “very pretty shopping malls” and “more about extracting money from you than giving you a fun experience”. There’s also the fact that JK Rowling reportedly wanted the areas to have a huge degree of accuracy to the books; for instance, Universal are forbidden from selling non-canon food, drink or merchandise within the Potter areas, the streets had to be made narrow and the shops had to be made small. This is great for providing an “immersive” experience, but some have argued that this creates problems for convenience and practicality.


For instance, with regard to not selling non-canon items; if you want a simple lunch you can eat on the go, something like a burger, chips (or fries, as I believe they’re called in America) & a Coke, you can’t buy it within the Potter area, as it only sells Potter-suitable items, such as Butterbeer and hearty British pub food that needs to be eaten sat down, therefore meaning that if you’re on your day out at Islands of Adventure, and your stomach happens to start rumbling in Hogsmeade, you either need to be up for having a proper sit-down meal taking a good hour or two and be up for drinking drinks from within the Wizarding World, or if you only want simple Muggle food, you have to traipse all the way back to Jurassic Park or the Lost Continent. That’s absolutely amazing for Potter fans who want a fully immersive Potter experience, but for someone who isn’t remotely interested in Harry Potter, that might be somewhat inconvenient.


And with regard to making the paths narrow and the shops small; that’s admittedly amazing for getting that quaint village feel of Hogsmeade down to a tee, and makes it feel extremely immersive, but problems were arguably caused by the fact that ultimately, a quaint village in the British countryside and a theme park catering for 10 million guests a year are two very different kettles of fish. The two Potter areas were (and possibly still are; I’m not 100% sure) very overcrowded upon opening, and the areas had numerous pinch points and bottlenecks within them.


These problems were comparatively minor compared to what some of the later “mega-immersive” lands apparently experienced, however.


As budgets got bigger and bigger, and lands grew more and more immersive, the problems also grew. For instance, when Pandora: The World of Avatar opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017, the land’s directional signage was apparently all written in Na’vi language, making it hard for those not familiar with the Avatar franchise to understand it. And when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2019, the same issue existed with the directional signage, but the staff also talked only in Star Wars language, and wouldn’t speak to guests if Stormtroopers were in the area as they were “hiding from the First Order”. The area also had no audio due to the nature of the place being replicated, and many felt that the area lacked soul without any audio being there.


Even on a smaller scale, elements of immersion such as pre-shows on rides are sometimes complained about. For instance, I’ve heard people complain that Wicker Man’s pre-show is simply a needless delay to getting on the ride, and I know plenty of people who find Hex boring because of all its pre-shows.


But do you think immersive can ever become too immersive? Do we need to draw a line somewhere and remember that we are ultimately at a theme park?
 
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Maelstrom

TS Member
For instance, with regard to not selling non-canon items; if you want a simple lunch you can eat on the go, something like a burger, chips (or fries, as I believe they’re called in America) & a Coke, you can’t buy it within the Potter area, as it only sells Potter-suitable items, such as Butterbeer and hearty British pub food that needs to be eaten sat down, therefore meaning that if you’re on your day out at Islands of Adventure, and your stomach happens to start rumbling in Hogsmeade, you either need to be up for having a proper sit-down meal taking a good hour or two and be up for drinking drinks from within the Wizarding World, or if you only want simple Muggle food, you have to traipse all the way back to Jurassic Park or the Lost Continent. That’s absolutely amazing for Potter fans who want a fully immersive Potter experience, but for someone who isn’t remotely interested in Harry Potter, that might be somewhat inconvenient.?

I really don’t think this is an issue, it takes a 5 min to walk to Jurassic park or Lost continent to get other types of food. In all the times I have been I haven’t eaten in the two Harry Potter restaurants and have never thought how inconvenient. It’s no different really to being in Katanga Canyon at Alton and wanting something different to A sit down Pizza, the walk is prob about the same. Or in the England area of Epcot and think I want a burger or Pizza, you have got to walk to another area. The only really issue could be drinks if you really wanted a Coca-Cola branded soda, but considering the first land is now 11 years old and guests continue to pack out the food outlets, it obviously isn’t putting guests off.
 

Matt N

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Mako (SeaWorld Orlando)
I really don’t think this is an issue, it takes a 5 min to walk to Jurassic park or Lost continent to get other types of food. In all the times I have been I haven’t eaten in the two Harry Potter restaurants and have never thought how inconvenient. It’s no different really to being in Katanga Canyon at Alton and wanting something different to A sit down Pizza, the walk is prob about the same. Or in the England area of Epcot and think I want a burger or Pizza, you have got to walk to another area. The only really issue could be drinks if you really wanted a Coca-Cola branded soda, but considering the first land is now 11 years old and guests continue to pack out the food outlets, it obviously isn’t putting guests off.
I myself didn’t find it an issue either, but this was something I’ve heard people complain about. I personally don’t mind walking to JP or Lost Continent for food.
 

OilyWater

TS Member
Can a movie be too watchable, can a book be too readable, can music be too audible etc. It's just about good entertainment.

As long as it does what it sets out to do and if what it does is entertaining. If something doesnt work then thats probably a design flaw, not because it's "too" immersive.

If it doesnt please people who dont want themed attractions, then they dont want the product and can choose something else. That's also why variety in theme parks is important. If they dont want themed attractions altogether, thats why there are alternatives like Six Flags idk.

You dont have to be Universal or Disney to be an entertaining theme park either. You could go to a tiny simple park and be more entertained than standing in a 5 hour queue for an overblown headline ride at some parks today. It all depends.
 

Plastic Person

TS Member
Laughed out loud at theme park designer Joe Rhode identifying the perfectly reasonable question "Why can't it just be fun?" as "an accusatory form of micro-agression."

If I were to play devil's advocate, I'm sure he wouldn't have to look far online to find individuals who have found his painstaking recreations of African and Asian poverty as rather more of a macro-aggression...
 

jon81uk

TS Member
I myself didn’t find it an issue either, but this was something I’ve heard people complain about. I personally don’t mind walking to JP or Lost Continent for food.

The only issue that may lead to complaints I can think of with the drinks is if you purchase the refillable cup at Universal I don't think it can be filled in the Harry Potter areas due to the fact there are no coke brand drinks available.
But I just filled my cup at the machines just outside the area and carried it into the Leaky Cauldron. Then I got a frozen butterbeer as a snack in Hogsmeade later.

I like the fact there is nothing that shouldn't be found in the wizarding world present, they wouldn't have Coca Cola in the fictional Leaky Cauldron so why should they have it at the theme park Leaky Cauldron.
 

Rick

TS Member
Favourite Ride
Crux
Not very interested in immersion, I struggle when I read a lot of this sort of stuff about magic and the like. I don't tend to enjoy things at "that level". The only park where I have "got it" is DisneySea, there are parts of that park where you genuinely feel like you have been transported somewhere else.

I think it's a symptom of being brought up on the Thompson parks, they are/were all about providing fun, without any attempt to make you think you were elsewhere, even when it came to something like Valhalla.

As @Plastic Person alluded to, there are attractions where someone's desperate efforts to immerse you are frankly a bit crass. I find most of World Showcase to be like that. Bosh some stereotypes in, pick a food that is vaguely associated with a certain country and ship some cheap labour in.
 

OilyWater

TS Member
Not very interested in immersion, I struggle when I read a lot of this sort of stuff about magic and the like.
I think thats mostly just the very literal interpretation online, or the fact its not really something that can be easily phrased without sounding clumsy. I think "immersive" entertainment is just about having fun, just like how an amusement park is a different way of having fun.

Sometimes I just want a take away and other times going to a restaurant is nice, both can be just as good depending what you want. But a restaurant serving take away food would be naff

Same thing, an amusement park might make for a bad theme park, if it's trying to be something it isnt. Likewise I wouldnt go to Disneyland for the best coasters in the world for example. Theres a point where you need a balance Its just about a park doing what it does well enough to be entertaining

Ive also noticed the more people talk about being "immersive" the more contrived and boring their creations tend to be. While the ones that just have a knack for fun are often the more timeless.
 
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