Friday, August 13, 2010

Incluing

Incluing is a type of exposition used in world building which creates the idea of a larger world backstory beyond what guests are able to access. Consider the scene in the original Star Wars film in which Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker about his father;

LUKE: No, my father didn't fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.
BEN: That's what your uncle told you. He didn't hold with your father's ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.
LUKE: You fought in the Clone Wars?


In just a few lines of dialogue, a few throwaway comments have created a flurry of information and questions about this created world. What are star freighters and where are they carrying spice to? What is spice and where does it come from? What were his father’s ideals? How did he get involved? What were the Clone Wars? Where did they take place? Who was fighting and who won?

These never get answered within the film, and that’s the very point – they needn’t, and even shouldn’t, be answered. For one, they strengthen the idea that these are real people, talking about real things, with real shared knowledge. Awkward exposition is not crammed in just to inform the audience: these two characters already know about what’s gone on because they’re living amongst it, or so it seems.

And yet this is generally just good writing and style – a second function of incluing does much more. Incluing is one of the critical elements of experience based attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, as it provides the starting points and hooks for the guests imagination to create their own story around them. We’re not given an explanation why the Ghost Host hung himself from the rafters in the gallery. We aren’t told who the mysterious bride is. It isn’t revealed to us where the dozens of doors in the corridors lead to, why the party is going on or who the many ghosts and ghouls were in their mortal state: the guest is allowed to let their imagination run wild and fill in these details on their own. Perhaps the bride was a black widow murderess, or perhaps she was a heartbroken fiancĂ©e jilted at the altar. By crafting these stories themselves, the guests have even more of an emotional connection to the material.

All the unexplained puzzle pieces create a sense of wonder and mystery about the location, as if we are only glimpsing into an entire world. The upstairs windows of Main Street and drifting noises of dentist visits and music lessons bring the place to life even if we know none of the details – we can imagine an entire community bustling in and out of the buildings around us.

One of the criticisms of the 2006 update of Pirates of the Caribbean, which added Captain Jack Sparrow and other elements of the popular film series into the classic attraction, was that it took away the mysteries that had hooked guests for decades. Instead of speculating at who this rowdy crew was, why they were seeking out the treasure, what the mysterious curse was and many other questions, everything was provided on a plate; they were seeking Jack Sparrow, and the curse was from the Chest of Cortez. Dead men tell no tales … but there were no questions left to ask.

One of the big problems with the original version of Disney’s California Adventure Park was the massive overuse of puns in places where incluing would have massively added to the park’s story. Rather than truly represent the richness of California with appropriate attractions and activities, the Imagineers had paid lip service to the golden state through a barrage of cheap puns.

Disney California Adventure Puns

A Sweet Shop Named Desire, Award Wieners, Baker's Field Bakery, Ben Hair, Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream, California Screamin', Catch A Flave, Dial M For Muscle, Earborne Popcorn, Engine Ears Toys, Excess Braggage, Floral Canyon, Gone With the Chin, La Brea Carpets, Laod Bhang's Pin Traders, MaliBOOMer, Man Hat n' Beach, New Haul Fishery, Phil M. Noir Private Detective, Philip A. Couch Casting Agency, Pizza Oom Mow Mow, Schmoozies, Souvenir Itch, Taste Pilot's Grill

The result was that instead of transporting guests to fantastic locations across California, from the national parks, to the wine valleys, to a seaside amusement park to Hollywood by immersing themselves like a film in a created reality, the guests were bombarded with joke after joke so that rather than feel like a real place, they highlighted the artificiality of the place: no-one lives and works in that upstairs detective agency… it was just a joke. The opportunity to hint at a phantom sleuth diligently working at cracking the case of the stolen Hollywood jewels was lost.

Of course there’s a balance; too much incluing and the guests become lost in a world they don’t understand, constantly feeling out of the loop amongst references to places and events they’ve never heard of. Similarly this does not mean a pun should not appear amongst signage and storefronts; they are a key part of Imagineering’s intellectually silly humour, but are much better when balanced into the atmosphere of its location and sprinkled about the park in moderation.

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