Friday, April 19, 2024

The psychology of play: WhiteWater

It’s not about whether an attraction is wet or dry: It’s about offering more than one way to play in the park

by Dawn Kirby, WhiteWater West Industries

Play is our first universal language. It’s a primal need that speaks to our desire to participate, to explore, and to have fun. From our earliest days, we react to and learn from each other as we develop the basic skills of social interaction.

Play is the cornerstone of both amusement parks and waterparks, designed to give guests of all ages the chance to interact and create memories together. But do parks appeal to all play styles? We invite you to re-evaluate play, “because the nature of our industry tends to think that we have play covered, when there’s actually more to it than meets the eye – it is why playability and play types are key factors in new product development,” says Mark Weston, WhiteWater product manager and published child psychologist.

We know that there is more than one personality type; in fact, depending on the circumstances, people may display different personality types at different times. The same can also be said for play. There is more than one way to play, and each individual, while leaning towards one type, will display elements of all. WhiteWater’s team, who include psychologists, have identified four fundamental play styles based on academic research and their experiences. Why? Because we know that providing rides and attractions for all of the play styles increases guest satisfaction, keeps visitors in parks longer, and helps create fond memories of a day out at the park. It’s about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to play their way.

When designing parks or attractions, are you considering every play style? Does the park have something for each type? The park might already cater to the four types – but if it doesn’t, there are simple solutions you can employ to boost the playability score.

Let us now examine the four types and how they translate into attractions for amusement and waterparks.

The Adventurer

Ensuring that a park has something for The Adventurer can start by providing plenty of interactive elements, giving The Adventurer the chance to flex their problem solving muscles. The Adventurer wants to choose his or her own path and experience a different excursion every time.

Interactive structures, which tend to abound in waterparks, are the ideal activity for The Adventurer. That’s not to say, however, that amusement and theme parks can’t also increase their interactive attractions. Adding a multifaceted play structure (such as WhiteWater’s No Boundaries) to an amusement park or even a waterpark may be an ideal solution because of the numerous harnessed and unharnessed activities it provides. No Boundaries, for example, allows riders the flexibility to choose from climbing, zipping, sliding, and balancing adventures all in one structure and gives different age groups the chance to play together. Adventurers can spend the day picking different activities to try and figuring out how to traverse them.

On the wetter side of things, an Adventurer type visiting the park is likely to welcome the challenges of something like WhiteWater’s new AquaForms product, which serves all play types with multiple levels of play decks and interactive water features.

In terms of waterslides, an Adventurer is the type who enjoys the unknown of dropping into the dark, where the path may be unexpected. Enclosed slides, such as an AquaSphere, provide the thrills and dips that an Adventurer needs.

The Dreamer

According to Ryan Snyder, WhiteWater creative design and development manager and AquaForms product manager, “Dreamers are typically the most under-served play type in the aquatics industry. With just a little bit of effort in design and planning, we can create suggestive opportunities to inspire the Dreamers to do just that.” That might mean creating quiet spaces for Dreamers to escape into their own imaginations or adding theming to areas that might not normally have it, such as a queue line or lazy river.

Dreamers tend to enjoy cerebral and creative pursuits that allow them to express themselves and their imaginations. Their leisure preference is for experiences that are rich with story, thematic overlay, and artistic features. For the Dreamer, a simple stick becomes a sword, an interactive water play structure is transformed into a castle, and a wave pool starts to look a lot like a pirate’s cove.

In a park, they can relax and let their imagination wander, provided that there are opportunities to do so. The Dreamer may enjoy floating down a lazy river, creating a world of their own on a RainFortress, or imagining an adventure on a log flume.

The Challenger

Challengers want to test the limits of their capabilities and encourage others to do the same. They are driven to succeed and will apply themselves to an activity in the effort of improving their time or score. In a park, this means repeating the same ride or attraction to gain satisfaction from learning how to incrementally improve each time.

It’s not hard to think of rides that will appeal to the Challenger. A mat racer slide that displays everyone’s times at the end will give this play type the chance to see their time, and those of their friends, spurring them to best it. A skill-based attraction, such as a WhiteWater FlowRider, creates the opportunity for a Challenger to want to improve their surfing proficiency by attempting the surf simulator again and again.

Thrill slides, such as the Abyss or Boomerango from WhiteWater, or a water ride like WhiteWater’s Shoot the Chute, give Challengers the dramatic speed and height they seek in an attraction.

The Socializer

Socializers want to spend time with family and friends. They value interactions with other people. Their fun is heightened by being able to relive experiences and talk about all the feelings an experience created for the participants.

Rides and attractions that can be simultaneously shared – either as a participant or a spectator – rate high for the Socializer. Family raft rides, especially where riders can see each other’s faces to watch reactions, are a big draw for Socializers. Wave pools, lazy rivers, and river raft rides, which give Socializers the chance to talk and pass the time, also create ideal scenarios. And of course, interactive play structures – such as an APX or AquaCourse from WhiteWater – also create a great platform for social interaction and can help encourage intergenerational play, providing an activity for different age groups to interact as part of the experience.

Do your attractions check all of the play type boxes? Ride mix considerations aren’t just about meeting the needs of different demographics, you also have to plan for different play types. Curious about your own play type? Take the quiz at to find out where you rank, then register for the full report, which will help you audit your play type mix and learn how to apply these insights to your park.

Be sure to visit WhiteWater, booth #2240, at IAAPA to learn more about the different play styles and products which can help meet the needs of the types you may be underserving. •


WhiteWater Honored with Leading Edge Awards and Hall of Fame Induction at WWA Show

WhiteWater and the Psychology of Play

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