7 Functional Purposes of Theme Parks

Have you ever wondered why we have theme parks and what are their overarching functional purposes? I have broken down the functional reasons why theme parks were and still are being created and placed them into seven major categories.

Here are the seven functional purposes of theme parks:

  • Economic Function
  • Educational Function
  • Emotional Function
  • Escapist Function
  • Informative Function
  • Self-improvement Function
  • Social Function
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Theme Park Functional Purposes Defined

Let’s first begin by defining each of the seven functions of theme parks and then dive into the details.

Economic Function:

Transformative economic improvement to a city, state, or region by creating or increasing that area’s tourist industry.

Educational Function:

Gives the opportunity to acquire new ideas or creative solutions because of the vivid impressions.

Emotional Function:

It creates positive emotions and promotes mental improvements by safely and temporarily immersing you into unfamiliar situations and thrill-based scenarios. 

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Escapist Function:

Frees a person from the fatigues and rigor of everyday life.

Informative Function:

Exposes one to new information, learn about new technology, and new cultures and stories.

Self-improvement Function:

Promotes physical well-being and physical activity as well as cognitive improvement. 

Social Function:

Theme parks allow you to interact in a socially safe environment with friends and family, while sparking new relationships with strangers. 

Theme Park Functional Purposes Explained

Economic Function

The positive economic impacts on a regions, counties, or states due to theme parks and themed resort have been studied and documented for decades by economists and within acedemia. Many case studies exist, one of the most notable being the economic impact and boost to the Orlando area and Central Florida by theme parks such as those within Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Orlando. Prior to Disney, Orlando, Florida was a sleepy banking town for the region’s citrus industry with a minor impact of tourism from seasonal, wealthy travelers from the North during the winter months. The positive economic impact, tax base, and tourism industry theme parks can create is well documented.

Educational Function

The educational function of theme parks can take on many forms and avenues of influence. At a high level, theme parks and their stories – while fun and forms of escapism – can also imbibe a sense of discovery. Theme parks are most likely some of the earliest forms of what are dubbed as ‘edutainment’ venues that can infuse and educate their Guests about new cultures, new stories within those cultures, new technology, artistic means of storytelling the Guest may never have previously considered, etc., etc. One of the most prominent examples of this is Epcot, at Walt Disney World. Epcot’s overarching theme is ‘Discovery’. The ‘discovery’ of new cultures, new technology, new ways of doing things are conveyed through the food, the entertainment, the shows, the attractions, the theme park’s design, etc.

Emotional Function

Theme parks can more than just ‘fun’ places to visit. Theme parks are safe environments where Guests can temporarily immerse themselves into instances and situations they may not experience in their day-to-day lives. Instances and situations that may push their persona comfort levels such as fear of heights, speed, or thrill levels on rides and attractions; or unique sensory experiences set within dark environments such as dark rides where special effects enhance the immersive experience; or shows and films that may evoke personal feelings of happiness, sadness, and exhilaration; or engage one’s sense of nostalgia of positive and negative memories of things in the past.

Escapist Function

Quite often, Guests of theme parks visit during planned yearly vacations. Typically, the sole reason for a vacation or getaway is to escape the daily routine we all experience on some level. Theme parks take that concept and amplify it 20-fold by immersing their Guests into unique places where unique and often thrilling stories are being told that cannot be experienced in one’s normal daily life. Quite often in theme park design, we spend great design effort and money in shielding the ‘outside’ or ‘real’ world while one is inside a theme park.

Informative Function

Similar to but still unique on its own terms, the Informative Function of theme parks speaks to the broader meanings behind the stories that are being told within theme park attractions, shows, etc. A great example of this is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While that theme park is educating its Guests about far-away cultures via music, foods, shows, rides, etc., there are also underlying informative narratives being conveyed such as the need for preserving the Earth’s natural resources, preserving and protecting endangered species of animals, conveying how a particular animal’s health is impacted and addressed by the team of experts working in the background.

Self-improvement Function

Theme parks enable their Guests to exercise, both physically and cognitively, while having a good time. Think about the number of miles one walks each day they visit a theme park; the number can easily be five to fifteen miles in one day. Since walking is a healthy low-impact way to exercise, you are giving your body the activity it needs while mentally having fun. Speaking of the cognitive, theme parks – while you may not realize it is happening – can exercise your cognitive function since they affect your emotional functions via vivid impressions you may experience during your visit.

Social Function

It goes without saying the positive, social function theme parks enable is one of the most important reasons many visit theme parks. Think of your personal visits to theme parks with a group of your friends or your family. Remember the incredible times you had during those visits that generate lasting memories throughout one’s life. Also, consider the new people and friends you may have initiated personal connections with during your theme park visits, i.e. that complete stranger you were standing in line with where a conversation started, a new friendship began, and social interactions were created. Think about the employees of the theme parks you may have interacted with that may your visit extra special because of something above-and-beyond they did for you, your group of friends, or family. The social possibilities of theme parks are endless for both the Guests, the operators, and the design team members that create them.

About the Author J. Daniel Jenkins, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP is a licensed Architect and a former Walt Disney Imagineer with over twenty five years of Commercial + Themed Entertainment design, design mangement, and A&E subject matter expertise. Jenkins, President | Owner of Holihoon Media, is also the Founder | Editor of themeparkarchitect.com who's goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture, engineering, and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment industry related topics.
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