On a lazy, rainy Saturday afternoon, children can be a real handful. They’re whiny, agitated and complaining about how bored they are and how all of their thousands of dollars worth of board games, video games, and action figures “suck.” What in the name of shutting them the fuck up can you do to appease them? That’s where family fun centers shine like a beacon of hope in a sea of destructive thoughts like “Why the fuck did we ever decide to have kids?” and “Could we get away with murdering them?” Family fun centers are the answer.
However, the best family fun center ever invented closed its doors in 1996 due to bankruptcy. Their bottom line was stretched to the point of collapse with each new expansion the company made and it finally had to close its doors and hand over the keys to the far inferior wasteland of broken dreams and shitty arcade machines known as Chuck E. Cheese.
I am here to honor and cherish the memory of one of my favorite childhood distractions of all time. It was the birthday party mecca. It was the car ride you begged your parents to take you on. It was a place every kid dreamed of. A mess of slides, climbing play structures, ball pits, and giant foam everything, Discovery Zone was THE most fun place imaginable to get out all of your pent up childhood aggression with minimal adult supervision.
As evidenced in this 1993 Discovery Zone TV commercial, it was advertised as a place where kids could be kids without getting in trouble for it.
Kids were used to being told no. Whether it was sliding down the columns at the local history museum or running and climbing on things at the grocery store, children were told to sit still, be quiet and behave when out in public. Discovery Zone wanted to change all that.
Just look at this lucky bastard sitting on top of a giant pyramid in the ball pit. “King of the Hill” games were never as fun as they were at Discovery Zone. I distinctly remember throwing other kids off of this thing into the balls below. When I was feeling particularly violent, I would perform flying elbow drops as well.
Speaking of childhood violence, remember these things? These giant foam blocks arranged in a crude staircase were the site of the some of the most epic battles between friends and strangers alike. They were set up in such a way that kids were forced to fight for dominance. I’m sure these two girls in the commercial were eyeing each other up, just waiting to pull hair and throw punches when their parents weren’t looking. These foam blocks punctuate everything beautiful and chaotic about the freedom of youth.
The one thing that’s not in the commercial that was the only other part of the experience I thought was worth mentioning was their roller slide thing. Shown below, this Skittles-like rainbow of fun was a slide made entirely of smooth colorful plastic rollers. It felt like a combination of a cheap massage and a conveyor belt of happiness. I spent most of my time at Discovery Zone riding this thing over and over again and I thought it deserved an honorable mention.
Also, like I said before, this place was the most exciting birthday party a kid could ever have. Forget bumper bowling and group trips to the movies, this was the absolute greatest birthday in a child’s life. Not only could you beat the crap out of your friends, but you’d also get to open presents and have a custom-made Discovery Zone cake with sparklers on top. What a magical fucking place.
My only regret is never having met this amazing looking robot on any of my visits. It was in the commercials, but I never remember seeing this little dude around any time I’ve been there and I will regret that fact for the rest of my short, pitiful existence.
It’s a real shame that Discovery Zone didn’t have a better business model because, in my opinion, it would still be relevant today. There aren’t many places that fill this same void in a parent’s everlasting quest to alleviate their child’s boredom and misbehavior anymore.
Should there be another family fun center to come along and take America by storm, I hope it borrows a few of Discovery Zone’s key values and brings back a little bit of that magic that made places like these so special.