Edutainment vs. Entertainment: An extended rambling

1 04 2011

For those of us that feel like we’re getting old (20-somethings that look back on the 1990s like they’re the 30s and 50s, like I do), and those that are actually older, what are some of the moments, activities, and places that make you feel like a kid again? I know that for me, almost every single instance has happened during some form of “edutainment.” In case you haven’t heard that word before, it is a combination of “education” and “entertainment,” something meant to stimulate our thought process while entertaining us at the same time.

There are many places that attempt to pull off “edutainment,” some more successfully than others. Within the amusement industry, it seems to me that edutainment is now often overloaded on the entertainment aspect with a very minimal amount of what might be considered “education” which is thrown in really as a dog bone to get it into that classification. Instead of trying to make learning fun and interesting – which can take a lot of work for some subjects – we have moved to making it fun first, and then trying to make sure the information doesn’t ruin the fun. If it sounds like I am describing a particular park, I am…but not completely, because the issue goes beyond the park itself, to you and I, the people asking for the entertainment.

As I said above, I am describing one particular park, EPCOT at Disney World, which also happens to be my favorite park that I have ever visited. I’ll tell you why it is my favorite park, because of the fantastic edutainment aspect of it. Now, you might be a bit puzzled as to how EPCOT can be my favorite park because of the edutainment aspect while I criticize the loss of that very aspect to pure entertainment, and I can certainly understand your confusion. Even though EPCOT is starting to seemingly be overrun by entertainment, it has still managed to retain a few key edutainment aspects that are some of the best out there. The biggest of these is the World Showcase, which allows you to experience a world of cultural experiences in one day. Another part of the park that has managed to keep its strong educational aspect is the iconic Spaceship Earth. Unfortunately, the rest of Future World has largely been lost to entertainment with the exception of three holdout attractions; Living with the Land, Universe of Energy, and the Circle of Life (formerly Symbiosis in the Land Pavilion).

For those that may not be familiar with EPCOT’s Future World before it became what it is today, the Future World name fit the nature of the area, and it was one of the highest forms of edutainment around. Communicore was a showcase of new and developing communications technologies, many of which we now use without a second thought. Instead of Communicore we now have Innoventions, which is an unseemly collection of partner attractions consisting of educational games that don’t really create a cohesive environment. Around the edges, one pavilion has been completely replaced, and two have received large-scale interior changes that have resulted in a much more entertainment focused experience; The Living Seas is now The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and World of Motion has become the GM showroom and ride Test Track. Thankfully the transformation of Living Seas into the Nemo-themed pavilion did not affect much more than the Omnimover ride, but Test Track created a virtual sales floor for GM while providing a marginally educational experience.

As you can see here (and have experienced if you have visited recently), the focus has appeared to start shifting much more strongly towards an entertainment experience with education becoming more of an afterthought. Here is where I let loose and start bashing EPCOT and Disney, right? Actually, that would be wrong, and here is why.

Disney is reacting to a change in its consumers, a change that has shown that, by and large, instant gratification and mindless entertainment is what most of us desire. The result at EPCOT in Future World is exactly what we have asked for, and while I still find the experience immensely enjoyable, I cannot experience the attractions without the thought of how the technologies that were showcased and explained in those very buildings has resulted in the mind-numbing entertainment that has become so popular. It really is ironic when you think about it. What made the park so cool, fun, and interesting in its beginnings has started turning it into entertainment with an afterthought of education, a complete 180 from what it was originally; education that was entertaining.

You have probably heard similar rants before, certainly about how our society has become an instant gratification society, filled with mindless entertainment thanks to the Internet. Considering that, if you have gotten this far, thank you for staying with me, and I would be very surprised if anyone reached this point. If you have, please continue to stay with me for just a touch longer.

As much as I have experienced that feeling of being a kid again at Disney and EPCOT in particular, I always find myself having much stronger experiences at places like SeaWorld, the Columbus Zoo, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. As my girlfriend can confirm, I turn into a little kid the moment I walk into SeaWorld and see the animals. She has to practically drag me away from the dolphins and orcas. I’ll crouch down in front of the glass wall of the tiger exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and stay there watching the tiger pace back and forth right in front of me for a half hour or more. When I visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry I was interested in everything, even if I had fallen asleep in classes attempting to learn about them. Education is fun at these places; they immerse you in the environment and experience in such a way that makes you want to learn. This is what is starting to disappear from Future World, but thankfully remains in the World Showcase.

If I have a point I want to make in writing this; I wish we could find a way to pull back from the ledge of instant gratification and mindless entertainment, and I hope we will. I have contributed and continue to contribute to the mess (and future articles will likely prove as much), but every time I have one of those “kid moments,” I realize how entertaining education can really be. I’ve had a few “figments of imagination” about a re-imagined Future World, and more than most, I think one particular Figment would be the “spark of imagination” to really push it along. The only way that will happen, though, is through a demonstration that we no longer seek the mindless entertainment as the majority of the experience.

Thank you for tolerating my overly long ramblings, and hopefully a little spark of inspiration will inspire a figment of your own.


Anyone have $3.5 million lying around?

17 11 2008

If you have ever wanted to own an amusement park and just happen to have $35 million available – $3.5 million of that in cash – you can own Hard Rock Park! Though I doubt that anyone reading this really has that kind of money I’m guessing that you may still be interested in knowing who the future owner will be, and if there will be a Hard Rock Park at all. The bidding on HRP will begin on December 15, and I will be trying to follow the latest news on the auction as it is released, though I’m not going to make any promises. As most of you probably know, the park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection back in September, and at the time claimed that the park would reopen in 2009. There was a lot of skepticism about the claim from enthusiasts, and it seems that they have been proven right with the announced auction. 

When the park opened back in April of this year there were a lot of high hopes for the park, especially from the local economy. Those hopes were not fulfilled, though, as the park opened in the midst of tough economic times that would only get tougher as the year went on. The park has said that a major reason for not being able to draw enough attendance and spending was the result of not having enough money left over after the initial investment for adequate marketing. This is a rather large and problematic blunder to make as a new company, though enthusiasts aren’t faulting the lack of marketing, they’re faulting the pricing. Evidently $50 and a fee for parking was “too much” for getting into the park, though I think it is right in line with most other major theme and amusement parks that have prices ranging from $40-60, as well as anywhere from $10-15 to park your car. I really think that along with their major oversight in not having enough money for marketing, the economy was a big deciding factor in what happened to the park.

In addition to being able to prove that you have the backing already for the $35 million price tag, including the 10% in cash, the buyer must also have enough experience to run the place. The article in the Sun News. And even if there is an approved change of hands there is no guarantee that Hard Rock International will continue to license the brand name to the new owner(s). This will be an interesting process to follow, as there are already a few names being tossed around in the enthusiast community in terms of potential buyers. Hopefully a buyer is found that can turn the new park into a profitable venture, even in these tough economic times.

Welcome To Theme Park Critic!

2 10 2008

Hello everyone, and welcome to Theme Park Critic! My name is Michael, and I am your “local” critic on everything in the amusement industry. On this blog you’ll find some of the latest news in the industry followed by my opinions and comments, trip reports, and possibly some of my favorite pictures that I may have taken. I spent the last two summers working at Cedar Point (voted the best park in the world 11 years running by Amusement Today) as a ride operator, and was an Assistant Team Leader for a good portion of this summer (2008). In addition to spending the past two summers working in the operations aspect of one of the most recognized parks, I’ve been closely following the amusement industry for the past five years. With a current major of business administration I have a bit more interest in the business side than most, though I still greatly enjoy the rides and roller coasters as much as the next person. But enough of the usual introduction and background formalities, onto some more interesting news.

Does anyone like bowling? How about bowling at one of the largest bowling alleys in the nation on your next visit to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida? That’s right, Disney is building a gigantic 100 lane bowling center at their Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. The purpose behind this is evidently to try and capture what is a niche sport and really market it, as well as become a main destination for hosting tournaments and such. Even though the center will not open until 2010 they have already managed to secure at least one major event, so it is definitely already gaining some traction, especially with Disney behind it. It is certainly an interesting concept that looks like it could end up being very successful should it grab the attention Disney is hoping for amongst bowlers.

Original article from Florida Today