Marvel Avengers Station, stylised “S.T.A.T.I.O.N.”, an interactive exhibit showcasing the Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, seemed right up my alley.
The tagline for the experience, from the Las Vegas exhibit at Treasure Island, reads:
Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) is a completely immersive and educational experience that brings visitors into the world of The Avengers.
All ages are welcome to access the official S.T.A.T.I.O.N. headquarters and dive deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with access to exclusive intelligence files, classified studies and experiments that explore the history and scientific origins of The Avengers while training to become an official agent of the S.T.A.T.I.O.N.
Marvel Avengers Station Exhibit Requires a Phone App
The entire exhibit fell far short of my expectations. First of all, we were told that we absolutely needed the app. If we didn’t have a phone, renting a device with the app installed on it was necessary to the experience.
Of course, this increased my expectations even more. Unfortunately, the app was simply a collection of related material. It had videos, additional information, and an integrated camera where you could decorate your photos with Avengers icons. The app also contained some quizzes that I could just as well have taken online at home.
It was not uncommon to run into people staring at their app rather than looking at the displays. In the end, the final boss battle was the only place the app was truly “necessary”. Before you exit, you participate in a co-op game where you played as an Avenger and swiped on the app to attack the evil robots (more on that later).
The unsuccessful integration of the app into the exhibition, or of the exhibition into the app, was the biggest problem. Firstly, activities in the app and in the exhibition were largely separate. In addition, there were huge missed opportunities for personalisation of a generic experience.
Hands-on activities, like a superhero grip test, were purely for the exhibit. Otherwise, digital activities, like the quiz to see which Avenger you are most like, were purely in the app.
Exhibit Design Suggestion
To make the experience “completely immersive” as promised, the creators should have integrated the two components. Designers could show your grip test scores in the app and compare them to your fellow exhibit-goers. Or, they could reveal which Avenger you are in a large display that showed you in that Avenger’s costume.
Lack of Interactive Hands-On Activities in Marvel Avengers Station
Overall, the designers were not able to leverage the strengths of each medium to enhance the other. Disappointingly, Marvel Avengers Station had precious few hands-on activities.
For every interactive activity such as a Kinect simulation of flying like Iron Man, there were twenty walls of text about the Avengers. Thus, the “fun” parts of the exhibit were perpetually crowded with long lines. It would be great, for instance, to have used the app to join virtual queues for the activities, as long as they aren’t at an additional charge.
Marvel Avengers Station Has Some Cool Displays of Costumes and Movie Props
Marvel Avengers Station displayed plenty of costumes and artifacts (movie props) behind glass. These displays, while impressive, were often “look, don’t touch” with one or two exceptions like the Tesseract. Even then, interactions with the artifacts were superficial.
Exhibit Design Suggestion
Guests could use the app to scan codes near these exhibits for information or for unlockable interactive content. Such an inclusion would bring these static displays to life.
Companion App for Marvel Avengers Station Lacks Depth, Story and Personalisation
At Avengers Station, visitors want to feel like they are part of the Avengers. Consequently, using the app to provide this feeling would have been great.
In the app, you created an Avengers profile as you start your training to become an agent. However, the exhibit did not reinforce this story. Instead, there was a purely in-app activity where you answered several trivia questions.
Exhibit Design Suggestion
The Marvel Avengers Station app could give you a QR code unique to your training progress. Then, the personal code would be scanned at various stations in the exhibit to gain points and track your way to becoming a full-fledged Avenger. Additionally, the app progress could be integrated with the hands-on tasks and activities in the physical exhibit.
Marvel Avengers Station’s App does not Add to the Exhibit, but Confounds it
The Marvel Avengers Station app provided more clutter than clarity. At the end of the day, its activities could have easily been on screens throughout the exhibit. In fact, seeing the content on larger screens within the exhibit would have been more immersive than holding a phone while trying to look around.
Mobile phones take guests out of the present environment, ironically reducing the immersion of Avengers Station, rather than enhancing it.
Exhibit Design Suggestion
If a part of the experience is not essential, remove it. Here, the app wasn’t strictly necessary and added very little to the experience. Instead, it took away from enjoying many parts of the exhibit for what they were.
It’s not Clear who is Marvel Avengers Station’s Target Audience
In this exhibit, Marvel tried to cater everyone, which is equivalent to catering to no-one at all. Ultimately, this is the core reason the whole exhibit feels like a disjointed hodgepodge of experiences, causing guests to dart between phone screen and physical exhibit.
Overall, the exhibit’s design is muddled for three categories of visitors:
1. Kids vs. Adults
At Marvel Avengers Station, there was a mix of things that kids could do and touch. But often, screens and displays were heavy with text and at adult eye level.
Those interactive portions should be aimed at the kids, with accessible designs, more hands-on activities and shorter descriptions. Often, adults get excited because their kids are. So, the app could have been used to provide more information and provide another layer of interaction with the exhibits for the adults.
2. Marvel fans vs. non-Marvel fans
I’m aware of Marvel but wouldn’t consider myself a hard-core in-depth Marvel fan. The exhibit is littered with terms like “educational experience” and “scientific origins”. These led me to believe that I would learn about technology behind special effects in the movies, or science behind superheroes.
Instead, I was inundated with fake scientific information and extensive fictional biographies of the characters, not what I felt was educational. Moreover, visitors who don’t know much about Marvel would find it hard to get through really detailed profiles of each Avenger.
If the designers had stripped away much of the fiction and focused on the movies and their creation, rather than trying to immerse us in the world of the Avengers, I think it would have been a stronger exhibit that catered to a wider audience of non-hardcore-Marvel fans.
3. Gamers vs. non-gamers
The final boss battle was the only interactive game using the app on your phone and a large screen. However, despite the technology, the interaction was trivial, purportedly to aim this experience at people with less tech know-how.
All you had to do was swipe up on your phone and the corresponding effect would show up on the screen. On the screen, the many attacks from your fellow players conglomerated into an indiscriminate blob of explosions.
Although it was a fine choice to outfit the exhibit with a tech experience, designers made a strange decision to focus on games for an audience of mostly non-gamers.
For gamers, phones and a deep interactive experience using them would have been better, and for non-gamers, the opposite holds true. In Marvel Avengers Station, the designers erred by trying to include everything and everyone. As a result, the games weren’t strong enough experiences.
For example, the final boss battle would have been just as effective with stationary tablets or devices you picked up on site that were themed to the Avenger you were fighting as.
Future Strides in Immersive Displays Like Marvel Avengers Station
While Marvel Avengers Station’s attempt at “completely immersive” missed the mark, Disney appears to be trying new things with Marvel. Like it has done for Star Wars through Galaxy’s Edge and the highly interactive Galactic Starcruiser hotel at its theme parks, Disney will use Avengers Campus to continue to bring the Marvel universe to guests.
Furthermore, Universal Studios’ Super Nintendo World pushes the boundaries of using your phone in an interactive setting while trying to maintain immersion of the land itself.
With a better focus on target audience, the next few years in themed entertainment will get more personal, more interactive, and hopefully more fun.