With Disneyland’s “Legends of Frontierland” set to end on Labor Day, the past week or so has been a bittersweet one for me. A new semester of school started last Monday, and being unsure at the time how often I’d get to head down to Disneyland during the week, I’ve already shared a few sentimental pre-emptive goodbyes with the cast and other players in the game. I’ve also been gearing up to write my big, sappy, reflective love letter to “Legends” once the game is completed. While all of this was going on, though, I had been hearing rumblings of the game running longer than originally planned, and yesterday the Disney Parks Blog made it official – “Legends of Frontierland” is being extended (until September 27, I’m told). And I must say, as much as I’ve been lauding the game, this news fills me with a certain level of exasperation.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love, love, LOVE this game. What started as an experiment with enormous potential but fundamentally broken mechanics has evolved into something that has surpassed even my most optimistic hopes for it. The idea of it ending was one that did legitimately make me sad, but it’s that very sadness that is crucial. It’s the same sadness you feel when you’re coming home from a vacation or watching the final episode of your favorite TV series – it’s the culmination of something beloved, something you wish could last longer. With that sadness, though comes a reflective joy and a greater appreciation of everything that has come before. If it kept going forever, you could never arrive at that moment where the weight of the whole experience truly crystalizes. I am a strong believer in the idea that all good things must end, in as much as I think that the longer a good thing is extended, the greater chance it has of souring.
Endings are important. Endings allow us to contextualize and reflect on the entirety of a work in a way we simply can’t do while we’re in the midst of it. It allows us to look at something as a whole, rather than just a series of individual parts. There’s a reason audiences place so much weight on endings; a terrific ending can save a largely mediocre product, while a disappointing ending can sink an otherwise solid work. An ending is literally the culmination and summation of everything that has come before – it’s the definitive final stamp on a work that, if done right, clarifies and enhances the most important parts of the whole. That elevation, that feeling of culmination, is exactly how this past week of “Legends” has felt, and though it’s been sad, it has also been incredibly exciting. By extending it now, though, a lot of wind is being sucked out of the game’s sails.
Part of that deflation comes from the timing of this announcement. If Disney had announced an extension of the game even as little as a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t have impacted the pacing of the game in the same way it is now. Instead, this announcement comes when we were already in the final stretch of the game; things were already culminating and people were already making big plans to send this thing out with a bang, but now we’ve all had the rug pulled out from under us. I was speaking with someone about this earlier, and they made a comparison so perfect that I’m slightly annoyed I didn’t think of it myself. They said that this announcement feels almost like going through all the bittersweet emotions of senior year of high school – the sadness that comes with saying goodbye to old friends, but also the incredible joy in completing this phase of your life and excitement at what the future might hold – but then, it’s announced five days before graduation that school has been extended for another month. Sure, you get to spend more time with all of these people you really love, but that feeling of completion has suddenly been stolen from you. Disney really should have pulled the trigger on this earlier in order to give players and cast time to adjust to the change. It would have also allowed time to better integrate the extension into the flow of the game rather than taking a hard left turn right at the end. Now, no matter what they do, it’s going to feel awkward. They’re forced to either carry on as planned and have a big, end game culmination four weeks before the game actually concludes, or stop this climax dead in its tracks and push it 27 days down the line. Neither option is ideal for what should be obvious reasons.
And make no mistake, this game does need an ending. For purely practical reasons, this iteration of the game – which is still technically a beta test – needs to shut down so that it can be more extensively polished and reworked as needed for the “finished” version. Beyond that, though, having an end goal that the game builds towards is what keeps players engaged with it. I’ve already touched on why endings are important in evaluating a work, but they’re also an incredibly important part of experiencing something while you’re in it. Endings create urgency and the sense that all of this is leading towards something greater. This gives the audience a desire to soak up every drop of a finite resource while it still lasts. If something goes on indefinitely, it loses that urgency. Particularly in something story driven, you need to have that payoff to make it all feel worthwhile.
Because of this, “Legends” really needs to be a game that is presented seasonally. Aside from the unfortunate effects on the game’s pacing, the thing that makes me worry about this extension is the idea that it might be a pre-cursor to the game running indefinitely. As I mentioned, I’ve been told that the new plan is to end the game on September 27, but the fact that the Parks Blog post doesn’t mention a date gives me pause. I just don’t think this game can sustain an indefinite run, it needs to go on hiatus from time to time so that old stories can be completed and new stories and gameplay experiences can be developed. Keeping the cast on board as live entertainment and streetmosphere performers would be a decent way to keep the world alive between installments of the game, but the game itself should be seasonal. This also gives us time to miss the game, meaning it’ll be more exciting once it returns.
I will say that the fact that the game has been deemed enough of a success to merit an extension excites me tremendously. I love this game, and it makes me so happy to see that it’s become such a big hit. That said, I hope that Disney is able to take a measured look at all of this excitement and really do what’s best for the game. I know there are a lot of people who have been clamoring for this extension, and even for the game to be a permanent fixture in the park, but unfortunately the things we think we want and the things that most benefit the game are often different. On a purely indulgent level, I would love to bottle up the experience of playing this game and be able to access it at any time, but taking a step back I know that this excitement I feel towards the game comes in part from the fact that it’s a precious commodity with a finite supply. It’s the pathology of addiction – you want the high to last forever, but it inevitably diminishes over time.
I’m curious to see how this all will play out over the next month and how the game masters and cast adjust the game to accommodate the extension, but I hope once we arrive at the end of September, the game closes up shop for the time being. I think Disney has something really special on their hands here, and I want to see it remain special – something we can anticipate and cherish in its limited installments. The absolute worst ending to all of this would be to see the game grow stale and this exciting community it’s built dry up as a result. By keeping the game a seasonal experience, though, Disney can preserve this feeling of excitement while also allowing adequate time to reshape the game as it continues into the future.