Episode 317: Brendan Walker talks about structuring and creating emotions, the formula for thrill, and failing positively

Entrepreneurship, Podcast, Technology, Themed Design

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Brendan Walker is the Founder Director of Studio Go Go and the Thrill Laboratory.  Billed as the world’s only Thrill Engineer, Brendan spends his time designing and creating thrilling experiences. He regularly features in character as the Thrill Engineer and has worked with international groups such as Nissan, Durex, Royal Caribbean, & Merlin Entertainment to communicate & amplify core experiential brand components by working both in front, and strategically with the client’s team behind camera. In this fascinating conversation, Brendan talks about structuring and creating emotions, the formula for thrill, and failing positively.

Structuring and creating emotions

“The granularity of anticipation goes from months to weeks to days to hours to minutes to seconds leading to the experience.”

Emotions may feel random, but in fact they are calculated reactions to specific stimuli. Long before there were roller coasters and thrill rides, our emotions, such as fear, worked to keep us safe in the event of danger. According to Brendan, for the engineers that are paying attention, it’s very possible to intentionally weave in experiences that stimulate specific emotions to enhance or drive the experience. 

But it also goes beyond merely tapping into the emotions a guest may feel at a certain time.  It’s also about creating emotions, perhaps where the guest didn’t expect them. For example, the telling of an attractions’ story begins prior to the visit, so feeling a sense of anticipation, even a little uneasiness before even stepping on the property can elicit a stronger emotional response to the experience itself. 

The formula for thrill

“You can quantify thrill.”

Brendan not only recognizes that thrill can be quantified, but he goes on to explain where the thrill-seeking gene, D40R lives within us. This gives experience creators a formula or road map to follow when designing experiences. While nothing is foolproof, it means you can be a bit more confident that your new attraction will deliver the thrill your guests seek.

In a survey about what people find thrilling, the answers ranged from whitewater rafting to knitting, but the formula was the same. People described the sensation of thrill as a “sudden and large increase in both pleasure and arousal at the same time.” This indicates that regardless of the level of the thrill, the formula to get there is consistent. 

Failing positively

“If something is going to fail, we want it to fail positively.”

Most parks or attractions that have rides with a high thrill factor play up that angle to get noticed, to market their latest and greatest creations and to generate positive buzz to bring in visitors. Then, if the ride happens to go down, and especially if people are left in an uncomfortable position for an extended period, those without the behind-the-scenes knowledge will assume, largely due to the park’s assertion, that those guests are in real danger.

To the contrary, the ride manufacturer and the park officials know that in the majority of cases, the ride behaved exactly as it should have and the guests are actually quite safe. This is what Brendan means about failing positively… that even with a malfunction, there is still a positive outcome.


Brendan invites you to visit both Studio Go Go and the Thrill Laboratory to learn more, and to contact him directly: brendan@studiogogo.ltd.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:

  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • A/V editing by Abby Giganan

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