The Magicians’ Hideaway Room filled with books, a green lush chair and a magical crystal ball

The Push for Imaginative Storytelling

Guest Experience Technology

Escape. Haven’t we all had thoughts about escaping in recent months? Getting away from our overused homes and getting out from in front of the screens that dominate our daily lives.

Now more than ever, consumers want to find ways to engage outside of their home environment. As we evolve into the “new normal” and people once again start to gather, they will be looking for activities that provide that escape – a physical experience that taps into the imagination and takes them away for a day, an hour, even a few minutes while interacting with a game or activity.

Experience has always been at the heart of entertainment offerings -from concerts to live theater and movies to truly immersive activities. As our lives become even more tied to our work and the world around us via 24-hour access to emails, texts, phone calls, and news feeds, those experiences that take us outside of the everyday must become more sophisticated, more engaging, and more immersive. Experiential creators must compete with and win out over those distractions. The experience must feel substantial – engaging a multitude of stimuli and leveraging the nostalgia of a world in which play was an important part of the daily experience.

 

Inside the mystical red circus tent with a bar seating area, lush chairs, and an umbrella with twinkle lights

 

Consumers will emerge from this hibernation hungry for sights, sounds, textures, and aromas. They will be looking for the emotional souvenir, that elusive experience that stays with them, creates opportunities for family bonding, and provides fulfillment of the imagination for years to come.

How do we, as Location-Based Experience creators, feed that hunger? As Steve Jobs once said, “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” We know that consumers want immersive experiences. They have come to rely on the sophisticated technology that takes them deep into other worlds – from online gaming to virtual and augmented realities. Our job is to push the limits of those types of experiences to not only entertain, but to inspire and transport the people who trust us to take them to new worlds and on new adventures in the physical realm. And our method for pushing those limits don’t need to be some elusive technological advance. Every truly great experience begins with a good story.

Imaginative storytelling is the ship that takes our guests to those new stories in familiar or nostalgic worlds. When we bring a fictional realm to life, we give guests context and a springboard with which they can envision themselves enveloped in the authenticity of the story, becoming the hero. In the most successful of these experiences, the characters come to life and our guests fit themselves seamlessly into the journey.

In thematic world-building, the origin story must go beyond a few cursory strokes and give guests a sense of history and background with support from their surroundings. Where are we in this new but familiar world? What has happened to make this ride or attraction come to be and what is my place in it? Who are the characters and how do I relate to them? What in today’s stories should drive thrills and chills from guests?

An existing IP may already come with a comprehensive backstory, but that doesn’t lighten the LBE creator’s responsibility. We must know the brand inside and out. When we build upon a world already created, our job is to make that world come to life in a manner that befits its creation story and take guests on an unforgettable journey. The guest must feel not only that they have joined their favorite characters (a world that looks, feels, smells like the real deal), but that they are insiders in that world. Easter eggs or esoteric references may add to the authenticity of the true fan guest experience, but the parts equal the whole and must be creatively interwoven.

Another key to successfully creating a location-based entertainment experience out of an existing IP is trust. We must build trust with the brand ambassadors and trust with our guests. We must show our understanding and love of the brand as well as our ability to collaborate wholeheartedly with its keepers. Without the relationship and support from the IP’s brand ambassadors, the experience may not hit the proverbial mark of the brands visual messaging, misaligning with its established boundaries, affecting the design process in every way downstream, undercutting the success of the project.

 

Man holding lantern at night watching as a house glows and rises off the ground

 

If imaginative storytelling is the ship, then the physical environment and the accompanying media is the anchor that keeps us rooted in the moment. This is the vital, real world element of the story. No longer are we focused on that pending email or looming deadline. How can we be when we have been utterly and completely enveloped into this imaginary world? Those buildings aren’t just a façade, they carry the weight of the medieval rock on which they were built. The tools on display in that waystation are clearly not of this world. And the scent and taste of the food from that stand are reminiscent of faraway lands and exotic locales.

The work that we have done in developing the story informs the environment and upholds the guest experience – ensuring quality of journey. This includes adjusting aspects of the brand and adapting them for the real world – in three dimensions, and sometimes four, in order to make that intangible world a fully realized immersive reality. The trust we have built with brand ambassadors gives us the liberty to take those physical leaps that truly bring it to life, ensuring a successful transition into the entertainment environment.

To truly provide an escape for our guests, we must be firmly rooted in the real-world work of creating, collaborating, and relationship building.

November 2020 • Written by David Morris