Let’s Talk: Virtual Reality (Part 2)

As much as I try and avoid this fact, virtual reality is becoming more and more woven into the fabric of theme parks and their attractions day by day. This trend is only going to continue as the years go on and interest in VR continues to build…or, alternatively, dies down as quickly and unexpectedly as it has surfaced. Earlier this week I came upon a study done by the Thinkwell group which analysed what theme park goers really think about virtual reality, and I thought I’d share my thoughts and opinions on the results with you.

First and foremost, 73% of people surveyed said they would be interested in trying a VR experience at a theme park. This is fair enough for those who have never done it before; I myself was quite interested in Galactica before I rode it. However, 69% said they wouldn’t be willing to pay extra for the experience. I find this quite interesting because in the case of coasters like Galactica, which have been ‘upgraded’ with VR, I would always prefer to be given the choice rather than have the headset and gear impede my vision anyway if I don’t wear it. Whether or not parks should be charging extra for VR having already taken your money at the admission gate is debatable, but personally I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a choice.

People are apparently concerned with health and safety issues regarding VR, with 30% of respondents concerned about motion sickness and 22% concerned about cleanliness of equipment. It always amuses me that people who want to do theme park rides are worried about getting motion sickness – I mean, that’s an occupational hazard for any moderately fast / thrilling ride anyway, right? The cleanliness thing I kind of get, if only for the fact that it takes longer to load VR coasters because they have to wipe down every single headset after every single run. Which, if nothing else, makes your face smell of disinfectant for a while, which isn’t exactly pleasant. Long loading times are already an acknowledged issue with VR rides and coasters, and I don’t really know what parks can do to alleviate this in all honesty.

What I found most surprising about this report was the genres that people were interested in seeing being turned into VR attractions. You’d think that it’d be a prime place for horror attractions, what with those already debuting at Halloween events around the world, and the incorporation of VR in horror videogames such as Resident Evil 7. However, only 16% of respondents said they were interested in VR horror attractions, with other genres such as fantasy (36%), sci-fi (39%) and adventure (55%) scoring much higher. Perhaps people subconsciously acknowledge that there’s a limit to how much fear they can take, and having things thrust upon them with no one around to turn to for safety or comfort might just be beyond that limit for your average theme park goer.

Fun fact for you: Thinkwell considers me a ‘sophisticated theme park guest’. This is, according to them, someone who visits theme parks 3 or more times a year and prefers dark or water rides over bog-standard thrill or family rides. Among these people, 45% were willing to pay more for a VR experience, compared to the 31% of guests in the overall tally. As discussed above, I don’t think an upcharge for VR is necessarily a bad thing – if nothing else it may help to reduce the number of people using it and therefore decrease loading times. As for me, I’m fine without VR. VR Valhalla does not appeal to me at all, sorry.

So there you have it – some interesting insights I reckon, even if I’m not particularly interested in seeing the technology thrust upon parks and coasters left, right and centre. I know there will be people out there who love VR attractions, and I’m sure there are plenty of purpose-built and stand-alone attractions that are a wonderful use of virtual reality. I just think rides and coasters should stick to physical special effects without isolating the rider in a world of CGI insanity. That’s just me, though.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your stay here at Along for the Ride.

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