Reflections on the Interintellect Salon ‘A Golden Age of Digital Theme Parks’
This essay was first published here.
“Have you ever met someone that has been to Disney World 25 times?
How do they do that? How does it work? How do they make money?
Is this how we’ll look at digital theme parks, once the initial excitement wears off? Like a game developer who has peeked behind the curtain once too often, you can’t help but notice what other people overlook in their wonder.
Every few minutes, we discussed similarly insightful comments:
- Digital theme park isn’t a good term to describe games like Minecraft, Fortnite, or Roblox, because a theme park evokes thoughts of manufactured entertainment. Yet, in these digital experiences, you and your friends are the ones crafting the narrative. Every ride is different and there is nothing manufactured about them.
- Citizenship, a sense of belonging, and agency, keep us coming back for more rides in a digital theme park. Or is it just another form of escapism, a means to get what is lacking outside the door?
- Scarcity makes physical theme parks special. They are expensive, often require travel, and visiting one is usually a gift. They become a family fun trip, which leads to the creation of meaningful memories and a feeling of nostalgia. But with a digital theme park, you can ride from anywhere and as often as you like. Does the lack of scarcity lead to a lack of meaning?
- In a physical theme park, content is curated for you. Every detail is designed to delight your senses, in service of a handcrafted experience. A digital theme park, on the other hand, is just a venue. The content is created by you. We are invested in the worlds we create, and nonetheless are able to immerse ourselves in the worlds of others.
Everyone attending the salon brought with them a depth of engagement beyond my expectations.
The perspectives varied, from viewpoints shaped by Silicon Valley technology, to professional game developers, Disneyland fans, and gamers who enjoy these digital experiences. The glue connecting us was curiosity and a willingness to learn — and it clearly showed during the 3 hours we spent together.
Some of the oldest running theme parks date back to the 19th century. The most exciting thing in the world of digital theme parks? They’re just starting! There will be much more to explore.
Check out the next salon ‘The Great Business of Video Games’ — and register here!”