The Crystal Maze and the evolution of experience

POPSCI: A scientific slant on what’s trending in popular culture

That epic soundtrack; a set of brain-addling challenges; the frenzied ticket-grabbing contestants and — perhaps most importantly — that bald-headed, bizarrely costumed presenter. The opening credits of cult ‘90s TV show The Crystal Maze is so memorable, that fans raised almost £250,000 in a single day to crowdfund its return — as a live attraction.

In a move that promises to see viewers become participants, the team behind the Indiegogo campaign are set to lovingly and accurately recreate the cult ‘90s TV show for visitors to experience themselves — complete with physical challenges in the Aztex, Industrial, Medieval and Future zones, and alongside special appearances from eccentric original host, Richard O’Brien. “The authenticity is really important for us,” says executive producer Dean Rodgers. “Otherwise you’re not really delivering The Crystal Maze, are you?”

And amongst journalists and the general public alike, it’s already proving a popular concept. While the nostalgic children of the ‘90s are clamouring to empty their pockets in the name of a return to the crystal dome, the news of such an ambitious project is proliferating across the internet at hyperspeed.

The experience economy — a concept that suggests people are more willing to pay for experiences over ‘stuff’—first found its feet in the hipster experiments of the noughties; theatrical supper clubs and immersive theatres were all the rage amongst affluent, urbane audiences. But the concept itself still stands — studies from Harvard and Cornell University have found that over half of people get more pleasure from experiential purchases than material ones.

Now, as this industry grows, it’s increasingly courting the mainstream, and — in an echo of what’s happening in cinema — the combination of nostalgia and experience is proving a sure-fire recipe for a blockbuster; it’s creating a supercharged experience economy.

Just look at Secret Cinema; its experiential screenings have proven so popular it’s been accused of ‘losing its soul’. But sellout or no, its biggest and most troubled production to date — an overblown screening of Back To The Future — sold more than 80,000 tickets to an enthusiastic public.

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Written by Susie Hogarth, senior behavioural analyst and Lore Oxford, deputy commissioning editor

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