Disney taps the power of mobile gaming to transform your Orlando trip into a real-life RPG

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Jul 2, 2018, 5:24 PM EDT

Now that smartphones are almost as commonplace as the air we breathe, Disney is beginning to tap the potential that lies in nearly every one of its theme park guest’s hands, enriching what’s always been a conventional trip to Disney World and other destinations by finding new ways to more deeply immerse visitors in the overall experience, while adding an addictive slice of value to the mix.

By linking guests with the bigger picture of their Disney vacation via the free, just-released Play Disney Parks app, the Mouse House is innovating new ways to transform the ho-hum logistics of navigating its parks and waiting in lines — all with the goal of boosting that magical feeling that all those rides and shows, as well as the total Disney vacation experience from start to finish, are designed to inspire. 

Think of it as using your phone as the quest menu for your own Disney parks role-playing adventure, where it’s up to you and your gang to level up your experience as the protagonists of your own open-ended vacation story. Because games are immersive by nature, and because they’ve gone mainstream, it makes a perfect complement to what most guests already want to see as an adventure, Josh Gorin, an R&D lead on Disney’s Imagineering team, recently told Variety.

“When you think about the history of Imagineering storytelling over 60 years, it’s about creating truly immersive places where guests can step into fantastic worlds, meet characters they love and connect with the people they’re with,” he explained, “and Play Disney Parks is a natural extension of that original vision by leveraging the latest and greatest in technology to bring those worlds to life and give our guests an active role in the story.”

How does that work? By using the app to access a slate of mobile games specifically tailored to enrich the experience of whatever ride or attraction you’re about to board. While you’re in line at Toy Story Land, for example, you can call up the app to play Andy’s Board Game Blast, “a digital take on a classic family board game that’s been designed to pass the phone around for multiplayer interactivity,” Variety reports. 

It’s a feature that’s been built out for Space Mountain and tons of other attractions as well, with the hope of turning that hour-long lull spent waiting in a queue into an appetite-whetting primer for the main event. Disney says the idea is to get families excited and talking amongst themselves about the rides they’re about to take, rather than losing individual guests down the rabbit hole of staring at their phone screens — something Gorin described as “a nose-down experience.”

Play Disney Parks is just the latest evolution of Disney’s ongoing quest to make every part of a Disney vacation feel more immersive. The company already has been using interactive game installations to gobble away the time spent waiting in line for popular attractions, but converting more and more aspects of a theme park visit into part of the whole adventure is the ambitious new twist — and it’s one that executives believe will satisfy an itch that guests have always been trying to scratch when they buy that admission pass.

“We walk around with our smartphones all day long and have this thirst and demand for real-time information, for customizing and personalizing experiences, for leveraging technology to create a simple and seamless sort of consumer experience,” Disney’s Dan Soto told Variety.

Play Disney Parks released on June 30 and is free for both iOS and Android users. Disney is touting the app’s level-up playability for guests to “[e]arn and share themed achievements…awarded for experiences in the app and across the Disney theme parks.” That sounds like an addictive level grind if ever there was one. If you’ve already had a chance to put the app through its paces, let us know in the comments if Play Disney Parks has helped you max your Disney vacation stats.