Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fairground Thrill Laboratory Week 2

Week 2 in the Thrill Laboratory program looked at Frisson and the link between thrill and fear. With Halloween approaching it seemed appropriate that the ride for this evening would be a ghost train.

First speaker of the night was Helena Csarmann who had come over from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. She gave us all a quick overview of the Ghost Train ride and the engineering behind it. She gave an excellent quote from the park owner of Gronalund who said he was in the transport business and just like train companies and airlines his job was to move people efficiently from A to B ensuring they enjoyed the journey; it didn't matter that the destination was the same place as the start. It's that mentality that enforces why parks on the continent are run better than just about anywhere else. You don't hear Six Flags or Tussauds quoting anything similar.

I thought I had seen Helena somewhere before and it wasn't til I spoke to her later in the evening that she told me she was also a club member and had joined us in Gronalund on the last big Scandi Trip. With the next trip there not far off there's a good chance that she might join us again!

The second speaker was Michael John Apter from Apter International Limited. He gave us a presentation on how fear and thrill were linked yet different. With fear the greater the arousal the worse it feels; with thrill the greater the arousal the better it feels and its how we deal with the arousal using protective fields that defines whether we're enjoying ourselves or not. He gave some nice examples to support his theories. If we were to come across a tiger we'd be pretty scared and would want to back away. Put the same tiger in a cage and we'd be more inclined to walk towards it. I guess from an enthusiasts point of view it explains why we put our hands in the air, because we trust the protective field that the restraints provide. Those that go white knuckle don't.

Third speaker was Richard Cadell, who runs the Ghost Train at Brean. He gave a speech on his love of ghost trains and what makes a ride scary. He explained the benefit of tricks such as challenging the expectations of the rider from the get go. They expect to be safe in their car, so touch them as soon as the ride begins and you make them think different and open them up to being scared. To support his theories he talked about the knife that he'd brought to the stage and how he wasn't just here to give a speech but also to inflict harm on himself. To back up that he then proceeded to put the knife through his arm, making some of the people in the room scream. Clearly he had managed to take some of us out of our comfort zones, opening us up to being scared. Not me though, I could tell it would be a trick knife. A good speech though.

After a quick break we moved upstairs to the second half of the lectures. First up was Dan Howland who gave us a presentation on the history of the dark ride focusing primarily on the 1939 World's Fair and the huge attraction that was built for that. The archive footage that he'd brought along showed us just how immense it was, with over one million model buildings and an exit station that looked just like one of the rooms you had previously gone through, but in scale.

The final speaker was Barry Curtis, who gave a history of the Haunted House from a Hollywood perspective. Using footage from "House", "Ghost" and "Poltergeist" he was able to show how Hollywood use the house to symbolise a safe place, free from an attack or intrusion. It linked nicely to the second speech about thrill and fear showing how you being in your home can flip from feeling pleasure to feeling fear if something happens to the building. He cited an example of the flooding in New Orleans with people choosing to remain in their homes because they felt safe, but quickly becoming scared as they realised their homes were losing the battle with the elements.

Then it was time for the experiment. Using the same kit as before some lucky punters got the chance to be hooked up to the monitoring equipment to track how they felt on the Ghost Train outside. Here you can see the heart rate increasing, this was taking place on the lift hill. It was clearly the anticipation of what might happen in the ghost train that was causing the heart rate to increase. Alas I didn't win the lottery on this occasion.

The Ghost Train, owned by William Belson, looked pretty impressive and had recently been to the Goose Fair. However I didn't find the ride all that scary, even with the people in it touching your hair.

Still its not every day you get to ride a Ghost Train in London so I should at least be thankful for that! This was a better event than the previous week although the ride wasn't as good. The speakers were more interesting I felt and the Halloween vibe really added to the event with staff dressed up and a DJ playing spooky music.
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