Joyland is China's 'Disneyland' for the digital era

Joyland is China's 'Disneyland' for the digital era

The massive Chinese theme park takes inspiration from popular video games like "World of Warcraft" and "Starcraft"

joyland -- inline 1Video games' settings are brought to life at Joyland ... unofficially.

When Joyland (嬉戏谷) first reared its costumed head back in 2006, it was billed as the Disneyland of the digital era.

Now, the colossal RMB 2 billion (US$315 million) venture is best known to the outside world as the theme park of "World of Warcraft" and "Starcraft."

Roughly two hours' drive northwest of Shanghai, in the Wujing District of Changzhou, the 800,000-square-meter park is a digital-themed wonderland with zones and rides modeled after video games and comic shows.

Two main areas are heavily based on game franchises "World of Warcraft" and "Starcraft," though neither is officially licensed by Blizzard Entertainment.

Having thrown open its gates in May 2011, Joyland -- whose Chinese name translates roughly as "Play Valley" -- is now one of the most popular theme parks in China.

joyland -- inline 2Visitors in costume gather outside the park’s entrance gates on the first anniversary of Joyland's opening.

Joyland is a headquarter hangout for Chinese cosplay fans.

During the park’s opening festivities, visitors helped break the world record for the largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters.

A Guinness World Records' adjudicator tallied 1,530 cosplayers, though another 201 were disqualified because they were dressed as characters from video games rather than comic books.

Cosplay culture has thrived among Chinese students for more than a decade. Youngsters go to great lengths to look like characters from video games, mangas and animes.

The celebration of the park's first year drew many more costume-clad visitors to catch a glimpse of Japanese star Aoi Sora, who came to perform in the park.

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joyland -- inline 3Real-life video games. Where to start?

The theme park consists of several zones set around Fairy Lake, a 31,000-square-meter manmade lake which serves as the main performance area.

The main recreational zones include the Terrain of Magic (modeled after "World of Warcraft"), Universe of Starship (modeled after "Starcraft") and Taobao Street, a 150-meter-long shopping street for video games and comic book side products.

Although these unlicensed copies bother some of Blizzard Entertainment’s foreign fans, Chinese visitors seem content to enjoy the settings and characters of these popular games brought to life, untroubled by notions of copyright.

joyland -- inline 4A ride inspired by "World of Warcraft."

Visitors wait to board the Path of Demon Spirits ride in the Terrain of Magic area.

The entrance is surrounded by glowing-eyed guardians and projections of lighting swords.

joyland -- inline 5Brace yourself for the 10-meter splash.

Bursting through the gates below the guardians of the Hot Splash Bay at speed of 80 kph, log flume riders are washed by waves as high as 10 meters.

A glass-covered viewing platform is built to protect onlookers from the splash in front of this 26-meter-high mountain.

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joyland -- inline 6"I'm so glad I bought the raincoat."

Having survived the colossal waves, riders regroup, thankful that they donned the bright colored rain slickers -- on sale at the entrance for RMB 7 -- before they boarded the ride.

joyland -- inline 7Another dazzling lakeside performance.

Crowds gather for an afternoon performance around Fairy Lake.

During the park's first anniversary gala, more than 30,000 visitors pitched up at the park, many of whom came here just to see Aoi Sora gliding round atop an eagle boat.

joyland -- inline 8Your first boss of the day.

In place of normal animals, angry battery-powered dragons (which are for sale on Taobao Street) flap their wings, flash their eyes and make as it to take a bite out of children.

joyland -- inline 9A good place to wrap up your day.

In the arcade hall, Betty Wang (王美玲) mans the rainbow toss game. The Changzhou native, who has worked at Joyland for half a year, says it's a fun place to work and business is good in the park.

Although initial reports of the park were lackluster, mentioning rides still under construction and empty streets, Joyland now appears to be picking up speed (with only the spaceship-like temple at the top of Holy Palace Mountain still unfinished).

With a 3.5-star rating from netizens on the popular review website, the park seems to satisfy Chinese video gamers and cosplay fans who are looking for a wonderland of their own.

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Getting there: Located in near Taihu outside of Changzhou, Joyland is an easy day trip from Shanghai. High-speed trains run frequently between Shanghai and Changzhou. A one-way ticket costs RMB 51.

At Changzhou train station’s north square, visitors can buy entry tickets to Joyland at the bus station’s ticket counters (RMB 200 for an adult) and board a shuttle bus for the hour-long journey to the park’s entry gates.

Shuttle buses begin running around 7:30 a.m. on weekends and 8:30 a.m. on weekdays, with the last bus back from the park at 5 p.m. Visitors are advised to call ahead to confirm shuttle bus times on their desired day of transport.

The park is also accessible via public transport from Changzhou station, however the journey takes longer.

Joyland, Taihu Bay Da Dao, Taihu Bay Resort, Wujing District, Changzhou, Jiangsu 江苏省常州市武进区太湖湾旅游度假区太湖湾大道; +86 400 186 8888; open daily 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (September-June), 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (July-August); admission: RMB 200;

After working as a full-time photographer and multimedia producer for small-town American newspapers for several years, Gillian followed her camera across the globe in pursuit of new experiences and adventures.

Read more about Gillian Bolsover