Go to Dis­ma­land and be be­mused

Graf­fiti artist Banksy has cre­ated a dystopian theme park, but if re­al­ity gets too much, into the cy­ber­world of e-sports

CityPress - - Voices - Dion Chang voices@ city­press. co. za

Afew weeks ago, a de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent theme park opened in a dis­used space at a UK sea­side re­sort. It has all the trap­pings of a tra­di­tional theme park – com­plete with fun fair rides and amuse­ment park stalls – but the mood is any­thing but cheer­ful. Ev­ery­thing looks run-down, bro­ken or aban­doned, and even the staff are pur­pose­fully grumpy or de­pressed. Dis­ma­land is a “dystopian” theme park and, as a graf­fiti mes­sage re­minds visi­tors, shows that “life isn’t al­ways a fairy tale”. To ram the mes­sage home, the iconic Dis­ney­land palace is repli­cated here, but as a burnt out, de­cay­ing shell of its for­mer self.

Dis­ma­land, the “be­muse­ment park”, is the brain­child of pseudony­mous English graf­fiti artist Banksy. It is part-art in­stal­la­tion (there are in­stal­la­tions by artists from 17 coun­tries) and part-so­cial com­men­tary of the world as it is now – and it’s not a pretty per­spec­tive.

One of the more con­tro­ver­sial amuse­ment park “games” is an aquatic ver­sion of a bumper car ride, ex­cept that it uses boats filled to the brim with fig­urines of asy­lum seek­ers. It is a chill­ing re­minder of the refugee cri­sis cur­rently play­ing out in the Mediter­ranean and else­where. Another in­stal­la­tion fea­tures Cin­derella’s crashed horse-drawn car­riage. Hang­ing half­way out of one car­riage win­dow, Cin­derella lies un­re­spon­sive while a pack of pa­parazzi cap­tures the mo­ment in a bar­rage of flash­lights. The ref­er­ence to the death of Princess Diana is ob­vi­ous.

The park is sur­real, un­set­tling and mor­bidly fas­ci­nat­ing. There is dark hu­mour in ev­ery cor­ner – the kind that makes one laugh, but ner­vously. How­ever, it is a per­fect rein­ven­tion of a fun fair, which in the dig­i­tal era has lost its charm and al­lure, es­pe­cially for a dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion for whom cy­berspace is a far more in­trigu­ing play­ground. So it’s not sur­pris­ing that new types of theme parks, cater­ing specif­i­cally to dig­i­tal na­tives, are start­ing to emerge.

Next year, Void, the world’s first vir­tual re­al­ity theme park, will open its doors in Amer­ica: the first of a global fran­chise of VECs – vir­tual en­ter­tain­ment cen­tres – that com­bine aug­mented re­al­ity, hap­tic sen­sory tech­nol­ogy and wearable tech to give visi­tors mind-bending ex­pe­ri­ences in im­mer­sive and in­ter­ac­tive vir­tual re­al­ity games.

The park it­self has a phys­i­cal struc­ture, which is trans­formed into var­i­ous fan­tasy land­scapes once you en­ter a game. Visi­tors will wear a head­set, called a Rap­ture head-mounted dis­play, which pro­vides vis­ual and au­dio im­mer­sion; a Rap­ture vest, which transmits phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions to the body; and Rap­ture gloves, which al­low play­ers to in­ter­act phys­i­cally with vir­tual en­vi­ron­ments – in­clud­ing haunted cas­tles, di­nosaur sa­faris and fu­tur­is­tic bat­tle­fields.

But while we wait for that fu­tur­is­tic theme park to open, there is another vir­tual re­al­ity con­cept that is mush­room­ing around the world: the e-sports arena. If you’re a gamer, this news will get your avatar ex­cited, but for non-gamers, al­low me to in­tro­duce you to this par­al­lel sport­ing uni­verse.

Com­puter games have left the con­fines of the liv­ing room and are now played deep in cy­berspace against global op­po­nents. Thanks to vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­i­ties, the avatars that gamers as­sume and the fan­tasy land­scapes they play in have be­come so so­phis­ti­cated that cy­bergames now draw a global au­di­ence who watch these games, much like sports fans watch a rugby or soc­cer match – hence the term e-sports.

One of the main broad­cast chan­nels for e-sports is Twitch.tv, which was ac­quired by Ama­zon for $970 mil­lion (R13 bil­lion). This sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment in­di­cates the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of e-sports. Twitch.tv cur­rently ser­vices 55 mil­lion unique view­ers per month, who view about 155 bil­lion min­utes of gam­ing col­lec­tively. Due to its live-stream­ing na­ture, it gob­bles up band­width and has be­come the fourth-largest user of band­width on the planet. In the past few years, e-sports have be­come so pop­u­lar that they have spilt out of cy­berspace and – in a man­ner of speak­ing – have a pres­ence in the off­line world.

Last year, Amer­ica’s first e-sports arena opened its doors in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia. It ac­com­mo­dates 1 000 fans and fea­tures a 95m2 stage, which houses a mas­sive screen, as well as com­men­tary booths for the shout­cast­ers (who are to e-sports what sports com­men­ta­tors are to live sports matches).

In March this year, Lon­don fol­lowed suit with its first e-sports venue, the Gfin­ity Arena. This also ac­com­mo­dates more than 1 000 peo­ple over the course of a week­end, and more than 25 000 through­out a sea­son (yes, e-sports have sea­sons, as well as cham­pi­ons leagues – and the prize money is not in­signif­i­cant: $500 000 for the inau­gu­ral Gfin­ity Cham­pi­onships this year).

Both these e-sports are­nas are fol­low­ing cues from are­nas al­ready op­er­at­ing in South Korea, China, Ukraine and Swe­den – so the trend is spread­ing fast.

The theme park as we know it might be an out­dated form of fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment, but vir­tual re­al­ity is pro­vid­ing a dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion with a com­pletely new play­ground. Let the games be­gin.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit flux­trends.com. Join him on Metro FM to­mor­row at 6.30am, when he un­packs these

trends on the First Av­enue show


SANE ASY­LUM A re­mote-con­trolled boat by Banksy de­picts des­per­ate mi­grants at the white cliffs of Dover

FATE­FUL FAIRY TALE A sculp­ture by Banksy de­picts a dead Cin­derella be­ing pho­tographed by pa­parazzi af­ter her pump­kin char­iot crashes

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