Disney Inspired Designs: How WDW Gamified the Queue

Last week I had the chance to present my first breakout session at a national ed conference! I presented Game Inspired Designs and Blended Learning at the Future of Ed Tech Conference (FETC) which just happens to be held in Orlando, FL every year. Since Orlando also happens to be home of the most Magical Place on Earth my family tagged along so we could spend a day at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.

My wife and I brought 3 boys and her grandmother (also huge Disney fan) for a couple of days at the theme parks before I attended sessions at FETC. We thought taking this crew, from ages 1 to 82, might be a bit on the challenging side. Turns out that our day at the Magic Kingdom was… well.. Magical…

The first thing about taking people to Disney World is that Disney has mastered people movement. They have monorails and ferries, people movers, and open spaces. There is food and bathrooms in every correct location and what I can only think of as floodplains for people – just when you think there is a bottleneck in traffic the seas part and the people drain away.

As an educator that takes game inspired design seriously though my eye is always drawn to the ways that Disney has mastered the art of gamified experiences. I’ve been several times since starting gamification and every time I walk away from the Magic Kingdom with some new trick or wrinkle that I want to try. I’m not even talking about the literal games embedded throughout the park. Did you know that there is a literal “Hidden Mickey’s” easter egg game hidden throughout the park?!

You can see one hidden here just to the right of the Plaque.

What I find most impressive though is Disney’s work with the dreaded Ride Line. Game Inspired Designs can encourage players/visitors/students to engage with material that might otherwise be mundane. At a theme park this means the que and this is really important at a park as frequently packed as Disney. Most rides will have a minimum 20 minute line. Some of the bigger rides like Space Mountain or Snow White’s Runaway Train might have 2 to 2 1/2 hour lines! Disney, almost out of necessity, has had to figure out how to make the lines less mundane or otherwise risk a full fledged mutiny!

The Haunted Mansion queue is a great example of Disney’s use of game design to make spice up the line. The first thing that you notice getting online is the theme. From the moment you walk up to the line you know what you are in for.

Disney knows that it wants a spooky experience but it still needs to be playful without being scary. It should appeal to 39 year old Adam but also 6 year old Benny. The Queue does a great job setting the tone. Throughout the line the Imagineers filled the line with funny little quips. The tombstones in particular are mostly puns.

(not my mosaic)

I later found out that these are mostly call backs and references to Disney employees. If you really pay attention though the tombstones and such tell the whole story of the families that have lived in the Haunted Mansion. The first “game” that the line runs into feeds into the story of the family.

These 5 headstones of the Dread family is actually a puzzle game. Each person was killed by a particular item and there is a little plaque that asks the reader to figure out whole was the murderer and what weapon was used in each murder. This is dark Disney stuff! But it is a game that bored line walkers can play as they wait for things to get moving. It also explains a bit of history of the home. Moving past this the queue turns the corner into another game!

This tomb is actually a mini-game. On the side of the tomb are various instruments and when you put your hand on an instrument it plays a little tune. When multiple people play an instrument together the tomb forms a harmonious song. In the background of this picture, the second tomb has books that pop out of the bookcase in a version of whack-a-mole. I had to drag my 6 year old away from whacking at books.

In general this queue is just very playful. The mausoleum for Captain Culpepper Clyne blows bubbles and sprays water on unsuspecting walkers.

There is a tombstone that opens its eyes and moves its face as people walk by.

Guests even got in on the storytelling in some Haunted Mansion Fan Fiction. Apparently when making modifications a few decades ago Disney cut off a rope pole and it left a ring shaped scare in the concrete.

Legends began to be told among guests that it was the engagement ring of the the bride that haunts the upstairs in the Haunted Mansion. In true Headcanon fashion, the stories varied based on who was telling it. Amazingly, when Disney modified the Haunted Mansion queue in the early 2000s the ring was covered over. The outrage was so intense that the Imagineers actually made the ring part of the official Haunted Mansion Canon placing a new engagement ring in the concrete.

I just love the idea of taking something that is normally a burden and making it more playful. There is inspiration in Disney’s use of humor, theme, games, interactive tech, and storytelling to make a line (the worst part of an amusement park) something that people actually look forward to. I am sure that I can use some of these techniques to make note taking or document analysis more engaging.

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