Fundamentals of Immersion

Jul 02

I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) at Universal Studios Orlando in 2012, several years after opening but before the Hogsmeade expansion. I was familiar with the Harry Potter storyworld and accompanied by an avowed super-fan I found the place captivating. Since the two of us were familiar with the Harry Potter world we found no impediment to understanding or enjoyment of the park – it was designed for us.

There is no meaningful onboarding for non-fans, and unlike some of the other rides at Universal Studios that remediate the plot of the source material, there is no retreading of known plot lines. WWHP stands alone as a transmediality, existing as a distinct artefact separate from any of the films or books (although it is explicitly based on the films, as it uses actors from the films and is designed after the look of the films). Interestingly, it seems to exist at a specific point in the Harry Potter timeline, being set before the events of the last few books, as evidenced by the presence and age of the young stars of the films.

The sense, then, is of inhabiting the Harry Potter franchise at a pivotal time in the plot – before the climax and denouement of the final books but after most of the world is established by the first few books. This is a distinction that would not be noticed or appreciated by those who are not familiar with the story world.

Embodiment in the space translates to embodiment within the narrative. It is those for whom the cult geography resonates that are the core audience of WWHP. These people become embodied within the plot by their presence at the park, and their presence at the park generates the sense of communitas that brings the park to life.

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