What the Wonkapocalypse Can Teach Us

An Immersive Experience Gone Wrong Shows Us the Perennial Emptiness of Carefully Curated Escapes from Reality

Last month, an “immersive” Willy Wonka event took over my news feed.

Normally, I’d keep scrolling.

Promoters market these voguish multisensory experiences—which are supposed to literally immerse you in an environment through projection mapping technology, virtual and augmented reality, sound, physical sets, and sometimes even actors—as “transformative,” “out-of-this-world,” and “sublime.”

I haven’t understood the appeal. The few I’ve tried out have fallen short of those ambitious statements. Far from offering a transcendent experience, they seemed gimmicky, not to mention overpriced.

But Willy’s Chocolate Experience got my attention, largely because the event, a debacle that …