What's next for virtual reality in theme parks?

Rollercoasters are progressing rapidly and thrill-seekers and park operators are looking for the next big thing.

In the early 2000s the trend was to have higher, faster and loopier rides that arguably peaked with the 206kph Kingda Ka rollercoaster at Six Flags, New Jersey, in the United States. At 139 metres high, it's the world's tallest rollercoaster.

So where to next? The answer it seems, is skipping new real-world rides and going virtual.

There are several ways to define what a VR amusement ride experience actually means. The most common way VR is being used on rides at the moment is that the existing ride (rollercoaster, drop tower, water slide) simply has a VR experience laid over the top.

You still climb aboard the physical ride and experience all the same twists, turns and acceleration. But you wear a VR headset that enables you to see, and sometimes hear, something completely different to your real-world experience.

The advantages of going VR for theme parks are multiple. It's relatively easy to trick the brain into thinking it's somewhere else, and it's substantially cheaper to create a VR attraction than a traditional coaster or flat ride. These experiences can also be updated quickly (think of a Christmas or Halloween-themed version of an existing offering).

But rider reactions have been varied. Thrill-seekers consistently want "more story" from these attractions. And while many park-goers love the novelty, purists curiously dismiss these VR experiences as "not real".

The complaint that VR rides are essentially solitary and that they erase the traditional shared experience on rides is a little fairer.

Mixed reality (where you can see other riders through your headsets) or high-tech avatars of ourselves and our friends inserted in the VR ride experience might temper this.

What does VR entertainment mean for the future of theme parks and rides? The park of the future might look quite different to what it does now.

They could become nondescript warehouses where all the action and wonder takes place in the VR headsets inside.

But what if we bypassed the theme park completely?

There is an entire industry devoted to bringing authentic VR entertainment experiences into your home.

2018 will see the arrival of micro amusement parks - where technology-based rides deliver the excitement offered by the likes of Disney World, but in a fraction of the physical space.

The emergence of micro parks and AR will pave the way towards a new definition of amusement, one that is focused on smaller sites, easier access and a constantly changing range of options.

Source: WIRED

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