Theme Park For Geeks

On the rare occasions when my World of Warcraft fanboy friends have crawled out from their gaming dens, all they’re able to jabber about is when the Chinese WoW shrine is going to be done.

If you haven’t heard, the organizers behind China Joy, China’s largest gaming exposition, are building a massive amusement park called Joyland. It’s essentially an ode to Blizzard Entertainment’s cult-status RTS games Starcraft and World of Warcraft.

Now, it looks like the news has leaked from the gamer forums and onto the radar of the mainstream media.

However, there still seems to be a real dearth of information regarding what exactly the hell is going on. Like, will I be able to give hugs to real zealots at the entrance? Will the park’s aesthetics follow Starcraft’s vintage feel, or Starcraft 2’s hyper-modernism? Rolling up my virtual sleeves, I bravely plunged into the (painfully slow) official Chinese-language website and a second, more corporate version to try and glean some facts.

Joyland’s full name is actually translated as World Joyland Play Valley, and it is being marketed as China’s step towards building the next generation of world-renowned amusement parks. Disney’s cartoons and Universal Studios’ movies are old news, the site’s introductory page implies, while integrating the internet with reality is the way forward.

Propaganda and corporate jargon abound on both sites, especially variations of statements like, “Joyland is a new model of China’s booming amusement and culture industry.” There is also an emphasis on “actual situation interaction,” which probably means gamers coming as themselves as they embark on real-life quests.

Along with some pretty sweet mock-ups of the park’s various rides, there are also photos of pretty joyless looking executives from the “Municipal Committee,” likely freaking out about the impending May 1, 2011 deadline.

This video of a Chinese news report features a construction manager reassuring reporters that the park is well on its way to completion, while pointing to bare skeletons of infrastructure.

The park is located in the city of Changzhou, in a valley right by the Yangtze River. While Changzhou is a third-tier, business-driven city, Joyland’s website stresses that the park is a mere two hour drive from Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou.

It also boasts that Joyland will occupy four square kilometers, and will attract 79 million people—although I’m not sure where this number is being pulled from. Perhaps they’re referring to the guaranteed swells of Korean visitors, who treat Starcraft as their national sport.

Joyland will be divided into five zones, each with its own themed rides, which were accurately translated by this French game blog as “Island of Mystery;” “Terrain of Warcraft;” “Universe of Starcraft;” “World of Legend,” and “Molesworld.” There will also be a Main Street shopping avenue called “Taobao Street” (Taobao is like the Amazon.com of China, but on crack) meant to mirror Disneyland’s Main Street USA, which will sell gaming-related paraphernalia.

More importantly, Joyland is just the first stage of a much larger project. In addition to the amusement park, the valley will be turned into a massive gamer’s paradise, including a museum of video games, a stadium for online sporting events and an “anime and game expo pavilion” will provide a space for gamers to trade digital content and share anime art.

While China’s economy surges from industrial manufacturing towards a more innovative, technology-oriented future, creative industry playgrounds such as this one have been popping up nationwide. There is no doubt that a killing is to be made by exploiting appealing to young video game enthusiasts.

Gaming is already the largest market by revenue in China’s internet industry, earning $3.57 billion in 2009. According to a forecast by Niko partners, that number is expected to rise to $9.2 billion by 2014. The rampant nationalistic lingo on Joyland’s websites bring up another interesting angle—the relationship between these creative parks and China’s continuous efforts to elevate itself on the world stage. Will the government’s enduring grip on media and internet content work in tandem to the country’s booming culture industry?

See also: an introductory video on Joyland (with subtitles!), awkward translations and grandiose, orchestral music definitely included.

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