While technology, creativity, and entertainment has always played a significant role in many people’s lives, arguably it’s because of the pandemic that we truly understand how important these tools are for staying connected. However, now that we’re entering post-COVID life, it’s hard not to wonder, are there downsides to being this plugged in and almost -overconnected?
For the last two and a half years, we’ve been living almost consistently through our screens and been exposed to an overwhelmingly amount of content and storytelling through various platforms (e.g., streaming, podcasts, social media). We have become accustomed to living our lives primarily online, with each iteration or update getting increasingly more advanced, high-tech, and life-like. As such, our expectations as media consumers have never been higher. We want to be more thrilled, more immersed, more entertained. But is that even possible?
Undeniably, the pandemic has shaken the world up; many of us experienced massive shifts to our regular, everyday lives. From being in the office and socializing with co-workers to working from home fulltime, to not being able to see family or friends in-person for prolonged periods of time, to simply being unable to do the things that seemed so trivial, like seeing a movie. Very quickly, we had to re-evaluate what (and who) mattered most to us and figure out how to stay social when we’ve been mandated to practice social distancing. Zoom, FaceTime, TikTok, Netflix Watch Parties all became common ways to stay connected and entertained in an increasingly lonely and boring moment in time.
Life has changed forever as we know it, but as we start to get back to everyday living, it’s important to ask ourselves as designers, Imagineers, and creators, how will our ‘new normal’ impact experience design companies like FORREC, which creates social spaces, and how has the way we’ve interact with technology, communication and entertainment over the last few years influence how approach designing future projects and attractions?
To help answer this question, we need to think about the guest:
- What does the guest find fun?
- What has shaped their entertainment choices and what do they expect from an experience?
From there we can begin to think about the design approach to fit the guests’ needs. When we approach a project, we need to now decide what technology has to be implemented not only for the consumer, but for the client to meet their needs and keep guests entertained.
Storytelling is at the heart of what FORREC does: stories give guests a reason to visit the attraction and let them live out their dream. To create a good story, one that immerses guests in the experience, it has to be a part of what visitors see, hear, and taste. There must be choice. By the end of their journey, they should be able to look back and evaluate just how those choices affected their time, leaving them to wonder if they had chosen differently how would their experience have changed.
Not only do the stories the attractions tell need to be strong, but the quality of the medium in which the story is told needs to be better than ever before. With new shows, movies, apps, and wearables coming out at record speed, guests are starting to expect the level of immersion and quality that is equal what they see on screen. Although successfully seamlessly merging virtual and physical worlds is a fairly new practice, it has given designers a new set of challenges and solutions to explore.
New attractions, resorts, and dining at parks like Motiongate Dubai have begun to show the possibilities of this with extensive storytelling through experiences such as John Wick: Open Contract and Now You See Me: High Roller. The experience starts immediately and with the use of media screens, haptics, sound, and immersive game play, you feel as though you are travelling to another world the moment you walk through the doors. These are great examples of how guests are getting immersed into the story and are being given an experience that is personalized. Although these are great examples of what more there is to come, we also know this is just the start and as consumers demand more the type of immersive spaces will continue to evolve.
To understand how these type of hybrid experiences will evolve, we need to look at what’s currently in progress. In a recent memo to staff, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek, credited metaverse as “the next great storytelling frontier” and “today, we have an opportunity to connect those universes and create an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories.” It merges the physical and virtual worlds into the same place, allowing users to feel more immersed and realistic than ever before.
While it’s doubtful the Metaverse or any virtual world will take over humans’ desire to be in the real world, it will absolutely play a big part in what our physical spaces look like. The integration of virtual and real will become seamless; when the story you are immersed stops in the real world, it can continue in the Metaverse.
As experience designers, the evolution of both design and communication has come a long way in the last decade. Not long ago, we were travelling to our clients’ offices and sharing our designs with them via pen and paper. Today, we share them almost exclusively online, and our presentation tools have evolved into fully interactive walkthroughs and animations of the space. If you have ever played roller coaster tycoon, that’s the level of detail we are expected to put into our designs just to communicate what we want to build.
At FORREC we understand this need for evolving our communication and try to bring that into all our projects. In one recent project I worked on, to showcase the state of the art go kart track, we created a fully immersive simulation for the clients and potential guests to experience. Guests were able to get into a real go kart fitted out with VR, haptic feedback, scent, wind, and even a boost button to provide the guest with an accurate experience of what is to come.
In realizing how we communicate with one another and what experiences we are providing, it’s easy to see that the metaverse isn’t so far away. It’s been in front of our eyes for years, in our design, and in our production. We are already building these spaces in a virtual world and exploring them for line of sight, scale, and experience.