At Universal Studios Florida, you can pretend you're battling 30-foot-tall robots engaged in urban warfare inside the multimillion-dollar Transformers ride.
Or, across the lagoon, you can just whack a mole.
In an industry where bigger, faster, higher and newer attractions garner worldwide attention, there's still room for an old-fashioned ring toss and other carnival games that send winners home with crazy-big stuffed animals and other souvenirs.
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These simple games of chance — with perhaps some skill thrown in — started appearing on circus midways in the 19th century, said Robert Thompson, a professor who teaches pop-culture classes at Syracuse University.
"They feed an appetite for a certain kind of an amusement that it's really hard to improve on," he said. "They seem so primitive to a population of people that are growing up with incredibly great video games, where you immerse yourself into these graphic universes."
For the parks, low-tech games bring a high profit margin, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a trade group. Parks started adding the carnival-style games after Kings Island, an amusement park near Cincinnati, opened with them in 1972, he said. Other operators visited and liked what they observed.
"They saw that they were such a high-volume revenue generator, with a very high margin, that all the parks put them in," Speigel said. "That was sort of the rebirth of games in the theme parks."
The games don't cost much to operate, requiring few workers and giving away an inexpensive piece of merchandise, he said. Visitors pay about $5 to take a shot.
Some of the old games are getting new looks. Last year, Universal added some in front of the Simpsons Ride as part of its new Springfield area, which salutes the scenes and humor of the long-running animated TV show "The Simpsons."
The carny games at the ride, based on the fictional Krustyland theme park, are incorporated into the façade. The competitions are familiar, but the names have been Simpsonized. A basketball game with Springfield children and Principal Skinner is called Dunk or Flunk. The green, glowing ring-toss competition is named Mr. Burns' Radioactive Rings.
Whac-a-Rat — a variation of Whac-a-Mole, in which players take a hammer to mechanical moles ducking in and out of holes — encourages guests to pound Itchy, a rat from "The Simpsons."
"It's the standard game that you'd see elsewhere, but it's really cool that they are themed to the attraction," said Matt Roseboom, editor of Orlando Attractions magazine. Among the prizes: a stuffed Homer Simpson doll and an oversized pillow that looks like a can of Duff Beer, Homer's favorite brew.
"I definitely wouldn't have been playing as many [games] as I had if they weren't Simpsons-themed," Roseboom said.
The Springfield games were added after others were displaced by the park's demolition of its Amity area to make room for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's next phase, which will open this summer.
Universal Orlando also has games in two sections of Islands of Adventure. At Walt Disney World, they are built into the carnival theme of DinoLand USA at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom has an old-style shooting gallery at Frontierland, though prizes are not earned. SeaWorld Orlando has an array near Shamu's Happy Harbor, and it has a stand-alone game near the Manta roller coaster.
The Timbuktu area of Tampa's Busch Gardens theme park was home to carnival games, and they will continue to be played there after its retheming into a land called Pantopia is complete this spring.
That's because guests of all ages still enjoy playing the games, said Brian Morrow, director of attraction design and development.
"There's a weird resurgence of those games," he said. "I think it's because they're the exact opposite of what you can buy at home. They are physical games. They're games of skill. They don't require a joystick. They're non-digital."
And they inspire togetherness, he said.
"You never do them by yourself. That's really unique," Morrow said. "Theme-park experiences are less about separating people. I worry about attractions that pull people apart."
The economic downturn hurt business, but it appears to be rebounding, Speigel said. Visitors "didn't have $5 to throw a ball to win a big dog."
But the possibilities of success — which can be defined as winning a prize for your date or scoring hoops in front of your pals — continue to entice, he said.
"From the park side, it was profit and revenue generation," Speigel said. "From the guest side it was 'winning.' It was walking away and having felt like you beat the casino. And you had to carry this stuffed gorilla in the park and figure out how you were going to get it home."
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