At Disneyland, however, most of the weird historical details are also compound. In Disney parlance, the subject-bound sections of theme parks are called “lands” (like Tomorrowland), and the news is Avengers Campus, based not on a fairy tale but on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel Comics spin-off movies and TV shows that began in 2008 with Iron Man and continue, this week, with the Disney + show Loki. Like the movies, this physical universe version of the decades-long comic book story has all kinds of dummy stories built into it. One of the attractions is built, in the story, inside a former flying car factory owned by Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark, the man inside Iron Man’s armor . This is a historic gesture that is not implausible for this part of Southern California, even if it is not true – an imaginary brilliance on Philip K. Dick’s concept of “historicity,” of shattered details like history. which add a patina of authenticity. Amusing!
During this time you can walk about 20 minutes through the theme park to another land centered on a different Disney-owned Shared Stories Universe—Edge of the galaxy, based on the Star Wars franchise of movies, TV shows, books, and more. Both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars Universe have prescribed timelines and geographies, even given the occasional shenanigans you would expect in any sci-fi universe movie. They both have their own ownership stories.
Except Avengers Campus is like other things to do and see in Disneyland in that it has a certain timelessness to it. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is not set on a timeline in the mrtoadiverse. But Galaxy’s Edge takes place not only on a specific planet in the Star Wars universe (“Batuu”) but at a specific time. On a specific day, even – repeat, reset. He has what I described when it was opened as chronotopic properties – a temporal narrative like the books and movies, and also a spatial narrative like other immersive theme park environments. It’s ambitious, but it also means that, for example, all artists walking around dressed as stormtroopers must wear the new, more angular white armor from the most recent film trilogy – the old style seen in Star wars or the clone armor from the previous trilogy would be anachronistic.
Well, I got it: a book is not a theme park. But let me go over all three possibilities here: you have historical fiction, real-world sci-fi stuff set in the past, with the familiar physics of our universe and actual historical events as guides. For my purposes here it is The Hidden Palace. You have spatial, immersive storytelling in an invented place and time, but with rigid (albeit fictitious) events and guide rails. It’s Galaxy’s Edge, or any fictional or future universe – the Expanse, perhaps, or Middle-earth. And you have Avengers Campus, set in a fictional universe with spatial but not temporal guide rails. The timey-wimey is wibbley-wobbley.
It’s the digital ectoplasm that fights Twitter. Do the details of the lands respect the canon and the chronology? And you can kind of see the point. Well actually let me revise that – no you can’t, that’s nonsense. But it may be true that Galaxy’s ruthless application of chronotopic status reinforces loyalty – critically important to the transnational corporation that owns the intellectual property – while limiting narrative flexibility. At the Avengers Campus, someone disguised as Iron Man can “coexist” with an actor in the Sam Wilson version of the Captain America costume, although in the story, Sam only became Captain America after the death of Iron Man. You just go with it. But at Galaxy’s Edge, Darth Vader can’t just show up; he died a few movies ago and disappeared with a pop at the entrance. (Even though Vader can participate in Jedi training at Tomorrowland, as it’s out of the timeline.)
When an aspect of a game’s mechanics, its rules and its mode of play, contradicts the history, this is called “ludonarrative dissonance”. It’s when the pieces, the cards, anything that can do something within the rules that violates the narrative superstructure. (If chess is a battle between two opposing armies, are the players the generals? And if so, why can they command the king? Maybe that’s a ludonarrative dissonance; that’s the sort of thing about which players have some exciting fights.) Then Darth Vader in Galaxy’s Edge would be the equivalent of a theme park – chronotopic dissonance, perhaps. But Iron Man in a supposedly remodeled Stark factory wouldn’t.