Roller Coaster Dream: A Chinese roller coaster enthusiast community

Carissa Baker

University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Roller Coaster Dream, a Chinese roller coaster enthusiast club, is a good example of an emerging fanbase in a rapidly developing theme park market.

[0.2] Keywords—China; Online fan clubs; Roller coasters; Theme parks

Baker, Carissa. 2022. "Roller Coaster Dream: A Chinese Roller Coaster Enthusiast Community." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38.

1. Introduction

[1.1] One of the underdeveloped areas of theme park scholarship is the subset group of roller coaster fans. While there are certainly fans who participate in several related fandoms (for instance, Disney theme parks, Universal theme parks, theme parks in general, or dark rides), there are fans who prefer roller coasters to other amusement and theme park elements (placemaking, storytelling, landscaping, other ride types, etc.). Roller coaster enthusiasts have had a robust fandom for decades now, with both communities and practices that could be explored in more depth. An emerging area in the literature is the booming theme park industry in China (Freitag and Liu 2019; Zhang and Shan 2016). The existence of a formalized coaster-based fan community in China, however, is of recent origin.

[1.2] One Chinese roller coaster enthusiast club, Roller Coaster Dream, is an example of the kind of group that can shed light on how theme park fandoms are likely to form and practice in China. Visitation behavior for theme parks is developing in mainland China. Staged authenticity is an aspect of park presentation with historical reenactment, merchandise consumption, and cute culture features of guest preferences (Cheng, Fang, and Chen, 2016; Ong and Jin 2017; Wei 2018). Roller Coaster Dream and groups like it, however, are focused on thrill rides and thus a different aspect of the amusement industry than the more discussed elaborately staged designs in well-known theme parks; roller coasters, rather than theming and storytelling, are the most common subjects of discussion. Like theme park fandom, coaster enthusiasm represents a material type of fandom where the objects of enjoyment are impossible to truly replicate in digital spaces. It likewise signals middle-class consumption values but is an addition to (or a potential divergence from) the qualities of theme parks theorized as aligned with Chinese cultural values (e.g., perceived harmony with nature, nostalgia, good over evil) (Tuan and Hoelscher 1998). If studying Chinese theme parks assists in comprehending "middle-class landscapes in contemporary China" (Ong 2017, 188), then understanding more about this kind of community would benefit the fuller picture of a nation with an ever-expanding theme park industry, park visitation culture, and related fandoms.

2. Roller coaster enthusiasm

[2.1] Since the rise of the amusement park in the mid-nineteenth century, there have been people fascinated by roller coasters. Roller coasters connect with human psychological needs (Lukas 2008) and can signify greater societal attributes. Judith Adams (1991) contends that coasters built in the 1920s "reflect the culture and collective psyche of the period" (17) with aspects like speed, thrill, and conquest. Coordinated fandoms are more recent, with contemporary generations seeing the advent of the roller coaster enthusiast. There are several notable roller coaster fan organizations: the American Coaster Enthusiasts (1978), the Western New York Coaster Club (1982), the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain (1988), the European Coaster Club (1996, but magazine First Drop dating from 1988), the Florida Coaster Club (1998), and others. Affinity groups for roller coasters became solidified after the arrival of the internet. Communities were started online instead of only in person or through print media, though physical meet-up components remained. Conversations online began with Usenet groups like rec.roller-coaster (1991) and grew through sites with discussion forums such as Theme Park Review (1996), Thrillride (1996), Ultimate Rollercoaster (1996), Coasterbuzz (2000), and several successive entries. It continues today with social media including the subreddit r/rollercoasters (2010) or multiple Facebook groups. Information on roller coasters' whereabouts and manufacturers became easier to find with the index site Roller Coaster Database (1996) or the news site Screamscape (1998).

[2.2] Though enthusiast groups vary in character, there are some common practices. One of the most frequent is coaster counting, a form of collecting wherein the enthusiast tracks and compiles the coasters they ride; for instance, I am around the 600 mark. Fans may count the number of circuits they take on a particular ride while others do not. Some focus on getting the best quality rides (or "credits"), while others focus on getting a high quantity of rides and will ride any coaster (with these enthusiasts pejoratively or jokingly titled "credit whores"). Enthusiasts often have bucket lists and holy grail coasters that may be rare or hard to achieve. Attending park- or club-sponsored enthusiast events is an activity for some community members, and most will go on personal trips that consist of going to theme or amusement parks with roller coasters. Coaster enthusiasts span the globe and come from varying backgrounds in terms of age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, though anecdotally Western communities trend cisgender male and Caucasian. Enthusiasts are also diverse in terms of their objects of fandom. One group prefers wooden versus steel roller coasters, for example, and others are fans of specific parks (Cedar Point is a popular one) or particular ride manufacturers such as Bolliger & Mabillard, Intamin Amusement Rides, or Rocky Mountain Construction. Within these categories, preferences can vary, with some preferring certain ride elements to others, for instance more or less "air time" or weightlessness/negative G-force, intensity of positive G-force, or specific types of inversions/"upside down" elements.

[2.3] For those who choose to engage online, discussion areas are used to post advice, ask questions, share trip reports (where one reports on a park visit and reviews rides), engage in critique, and rank roller coasters. Fan creation activities are popular in these communities, with frequent examples being designs for new coasters or park maps (or "armchair engineering"), the making of attractions in simulation video games (e.g., the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, No Limits, or Planet Coaster,) and the posting of photos and videos (such as on-ride videos, off-ride videos, history, critique, rankings, news, ride construction and testing progress, humor, and tributes). Like most fandoms, coaster enthusiasts have a common vernacular. This features acronyms for park/ride names and ride elements or terms like "GP" (general public, a term occasionally used derisively to indicate the regular/majority of guests at a park), "bad ops" (when a park is operating a ride inefficiently), or "staple" (indicating coaster lap bars pushed down to the point of discomfort). Also like other fandoms, there are hierarchies, celebrity fans, and both encouraging and toxic behaviors.

3. Roller Coaster Dream/过山车之梦

[3.1] Since the 1990s and on, China has been emerging as one of the largest sites of the amusement and theme park industry in the world. They possess more than one hundred major parks, have dozens more in the pipeline, and are expected to be the largest market for visitation in the future (Li 2018; Rubin 2019). This theme park boom has helped to spur roller coaster enthusiasm in China. One of the noteworthy Chinese enthusiast clubs is Roller Coaster Dream, known on Weibo as 过山车之梦_RCD, on Twitter as @RCDclub, on Facebook as @rcdchina, and on YouTube as Roller Coaster Dream. Founded in 2011 by Candice Fu, Roller Coaster Dream (henceforth RCD) states that they are the oldest and largest coaster enthusiast club in China. Their former tagline was, "We take you to the virtual and real coaster and park experience in China." Their current description, "This channel is featuring high quality roller coaster/major rides/POVs—mostly in China and amusement industry related videos," reflects a widening scope. Also of interest is the fact the group was founded by a female, something less common in the West (as indicated on the "about us" pages of the organizations listed in this article), but fandom has been shown to be appealing to Chinese women (Fung 2009b; Tian 2015; Wu 2019; Zhang 2021).

[3.2] To learn more about this enthusiast group, I interviewed Candice Fu (via email, with permission). I learned about some similarities to Western communities. One aspect was the nature of the club itself. They kicked off with a meetup at the Joyland theme park in 2011, but as the group expanded, virtual meetings were added to "enable members to make friends with each other." The group produces many ride videos, includes interviews with manufacturers and other specialty pieces, and posts "roller coaster super talk," frequent discussions on coaster news and trivia. Some of the activities of the members are comparable as well. Candice explains these: "They like visiting parks all around the country for more ride credits. Also, they like visiting parks with enthusiasts who can ride a coaster for many times, but the rest of the time they just chat on the web." Generally, RCD seems to "borrow existing expressions" of Western coaster enthusiasts rather than create their own at this stage (Wang 2020, 1). The group shows pride in its knowledge of coasters and its discerning taste. A Weibo post from July 2019 ( mentions a ride (Celestial Gauntlet) that "captured the heart of the group" who are picky about rides; as the message quips, "Delicacies must be tasted by people who know how to eat, and the roller coaster is of course no exception."

[3.3] While there are some similarities between Western groups and RCD, there are also some distinctions. In the West, the advent of the internet brought roller coaster fans together and spawned a more public and coordinated enthusiasm. By the time Chinese coaster fandom arose in earnest due to the industry’s expansion, the internet and social platforms were already ubiquitous. Remarking that industry expansion gave visitors more choices, Candice also believes that public transit got more convenient and "shortens the distance between homes and parks." These together are "why the number of enthusiasts increased." When my husband and I lived in China, we also took public transit (primarily trains) to parks in several provinces, something we have also done in Europe, whereas US-based enthusiasts are more likely to travel by automobile or plane. RCD began because Candice wanted to "introduce the roller coaster culture to Chinese roller coaster enthusiasts," so the beginning of the group was purposeful rather than organic, though it has adopted its own practices now. For instance, forum discussion is common, but videos are posted on the video websites rather than in the forums, and unlike in other communities, Candice finds that trip reports are not common. Neither are more negative behaviors such as flame wars, banning for different opinions, or fan leaders attempting to control opinions. Though Wang (2021) explains that politeness and face-saving have been a part of Chinese fandoms, negative behaviors have been witnessed in fan communities (Wu 2021). Nonetheless, fan leaders using the common dialogue of Western fandom will still inevitably shape perspectives and ways to practice in the fandom. Also noticeably rare are lifestyle influencers that fans watch going through their day at a park and riding or ranking rides, something that has become common in the West. The lack of this thus far is interesting considering previous literature has found that there is a celebrity fan culture in China (Lai 2021; Lee and Yoo 2015). At ten years old, this fandom is still in its infancy, so it is possible these things will materialize over time or that completely new practices will emerge.

[3.4] Nevertheless, many facets of coaster fandom are observed in RCD. A look at some of the posts reveals discussions common to most of these communities, such as excitement about new rides and different kinds of experiences. For example, an average guest would be worried or frightened if a ride experienced a "rollback" or a "relaunch," but an enthusiast knows that it is a safe but sporadic occurrence. A post on RCD explains this (figure 1) with a use of emojis along with the video showing what happened. Also common is critique, in one case of a coaster in the middle of a new paint job (figure 2), though in this instance it is rather light ribbing as opposed to ridicule and is prefaced with a positive statement.

A screenshot of a Weibo post translated from Chinese.

Figure 1. Screenshot of an RCD Weibo post about a roller coaster not making it through the course, requiring it to relaunch (translated from Chinese on Google Translate). Link to the video discussed:

A screenshot of a Weibo post translated from Chinese.

Figure 2. Screenshot of an RCD Weibo post about a roller coaster appearing less-than-stellar during a paint update (translated from Chinese on Google Translate).

[3.5] The platforms that Chinese enthusiasts engage with may be a bit different. Candice finds the most regular platforms to be Bilibili and TikTok, with YouTube also popular for those who have access to it (from experience, one needs a VPN to use that Google-owned platform as it is included in the Great Firewall). Candice speculates that roller coaster enthusiasm has been the most formalized park-based fandom in China thus far. There are also WeChat and QQ groups with visitors who go to popular theme parks (such as Shanghai Disneyland) rather than focus on thrills, and there are fans of local park companies like Fantawild or Happy Valley, but these have not necessarily formed as distinguishable groups yet. It was particularly interesting to see the focus on roller coasters in RCD as the Chinese market itself is generally concentrated on themes and storytelling over amusements (whether Western properties such as Disney and Universal or Chinese brands like Fantawild, Songcheng, and Sunac) (Baker 2021; Li 2018). In general, though roller coasters may be present, there tends to be a focus on theme, decor, and story-based shows or dark rides, especially those tied to history and legends. Another fascinating trait of RCD is its presence with enthusiasts in the West. Their content is available on Western platforms, they engage with Western enthusiasts through sharing and reposting, their content addresses rides in the West in addition to China, and they have followers from other countries. This has increased interest in Chinese rides and parks for the Western audience and influences opinions in those communities.

4. Further inquiries into Chinese theme park fandoms

[4.1] Shuyu Kong (2012) explained nearly a decade ago that Chinese fandom online emerged as a kind of "creative energy and interpretive practice among the younger generation of Chinese in the digital age" and as a "new kind of social bonding and communication through cultural consumption" (4). Citing Henry Jenkins's notion of participatory culture, Kong argued that these fan spaces would become valuable ethnographic sites, providing a window to understanding aspects of contemporary China. In the case of theme parks, they are part of a rise in consumerism, though it is a more intangible leisure consumption (Fung 2009a). Roller coasters, however, have essential materiality; while videos and photos of roller coasters are popular on these sites, the fan-object relationship cannot be digitized in the same way as in other fandoms (Yin 2020) due to the loss of multisensory and physiological components of riding. It has been questioned whether fandoms, for instance that of Japanese anime, can impact the values of the fans in other contexts (Fung, Pun, and Mori 2019). This would be an interesting question to ask with coaster fandom, which emphasizes collecting, fun, thrill, and leisure time. These are slightly different than theme park aspects that have been associated with Chinese values, such as feng shui (Groves 2011), romanticized historical reenactments (Ludwig and Wang 2020), or the trifecta of "culture, nature, and heritage" (Erb and Ong 2017). If some fan activities and creations are stigmatized as a waste of time (Lai 2021), how are the less tangible practices such as collecting ride experiences perceived?

[4.2] Further inquiries should be made into what the Western context-based practices of this fandom are, how these will translate or be altered in a Chinese context, and whether their interactions with Western enthusiasts will be reciprocally influenced. Will coaster fan communities continue to be rather separate from, say, Disney park fandom in China? As China becomes the biggest visitation market, what will the ramifications be for Chinese roller coaster enthusiasts? It is Candice's prediction that "as the number of enthusiasts increases rapidly, you may find more and more sites and clubs from China in a few years." As Chinese theme parks develop their own design ethos (Baker 2019), it follows that theme park-based fandoms will also acquire a clear regional identity.

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