There's just something about the image of a playground that's been abandoned and neglected: chipped paint, rusted or partially decayed metal frames, overgrown sandbox, empty swings swaying ominously in the breeze, the conspicuous absence of the normal sounds of children playing and laughing. Everything seems empty and broken, in contrast to the usual cheerful feeling that a place where children gather is supposed to invoke. The scene may be creepy, or just forlorn.
Sometimes this is used to illustrate the nostalgic longing for a disappeared childhood and the pain of growing up, or the loss of innocence. Other times the Abandoned Playground is home to a Creepy Child humming an Ironic Nursery Tune, or haunted by ghost children, either stringy-haired or Cute Ghost Girl.
This could also include playgrounds that aren't actually abandoned, just empty. Visiting a place like this after hours when all the children have gone home can be equally strange and unsettling.
Or it may be a good place for our protagonists to sit and contemplate their problems. The image provides a well of symbolism for writers to dip into, which is probably why these places appear so much in fiction.
Anime and Manga
- In the movie Children of Men, Ki, who is pregnant with the first baby in eighteen years, sits on the swing at an abandoned schoolyard during a quiet moment.
- Friday the 13th (film): The Final Friday. Outside of Jason's old, abandoned home is a small playground where the protagonists battle Jason at night.
- Used in Terminator 2 in a brief piece recapping how the future's going to turn out. Optional skulls added.
- Flatliners. While David Labraccio is trying to track down Winnie Hicks so he can apologize to her, he goes to the school playground where he tormented her as a child. We see it as it was (with all of the children), then the children fade away leaving just the Abandoned Playground, revealing that the scene we just saw was Labraccio's memory.
- The French short Replay explores the emotions of a boy in a Fallout-style dead and deadly world, and he finds his way to a park like this in a nearby ruined city. Watchable here.
- The playground at the beginning of the '70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't abandoned, either, but something about it is just totally off and disturbing, maybe it's the sounds or something...
- Look carefully in that scene. Robert Duvall, in a priest costume, is on one of the swings.
- There's one in The Exorcist, too.
- Featured in a deleted scene of the Dawn of the Dead remake, set right after Kenneth finds Anna. There are lots of toys lying around and a baby carriage too.
- The Firefly movie Serenity has one of these in the newly destroyed by Alliance forces colony on Haven. River wanders through one and get a nice framed shot between a swing set that is on fire.
- Koyaanisqatsi includes some shots of an abandoned playground in the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe housing project, just before its demolition.
- Red Dawn: Matt and Jed are sitting in one of these as they die.
- In Harry Potter, he sits in an abandoned playground after a fight with the Dursleys when the Grim appears. The playground is only empty because it's the middle of the night, but in the movie version, art director Dave McKean makes the scene surprisingly creepy, even though it's daylight.
- And in Order of the Phoenix, Dudley and his friends show up there just before the Dementors arrive.
- The Fictional Video Game in Ender's Game has a creepy playground level, inhabited by children who turn out to be wolves. Ender has to kill them to proceed.
- The Father Brown story "The God of the Gongs":
"A bird flew over it in silence. And I felt that no man would ever be happy there again."
- Richard Brautigan has one of these in A Confederate General From Big Sur. Lee's friend Elizabeth lives in a rustic cabin with her children, but when Lee and Jesse visit nobody's home. Jesse is slightly unnerved by the abandoned playthings in the yard including a game the children had made with dirt, abalone shells and deer antlers: "Perhaps it wasn't a game at all, only the grave of a game."
Live Action Television
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?? has this in the theme song.
- In Season 2 of The Wire, after Ziggy confesses to murder, his cousin Nick gets drunk in the old playground where they used to play and reminisces about it. In Season 3, drug kingpin Marlo holds court in an abandoned park/playground because it's difficult to bug.
- In one of the early seasons of Charmed, Prue and Phoebe get stuck in one of these. Home of all the creepy demon kids the Ice Cream Truck Man drops there, and The Nothing will slowly pick off anything that lives there.
- The Barracks on Lost have a swingset, which was used happily by the Dharma kids (Ben, Charlotte) in the 70s. However, in present day it just serves as a reminder that the Others can't have children.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer there's a boy who's been left at the playground. It's dark, and he's the last one there, and then Drusilla shows up. Fortunately for him Angel shows up and stops her.
- The Little Fears: Nightmare Edition has one of these in Closetland, made worse by being intended to kill or trap children on top of it.
- The PC game The Path features one of these. The site is where Ruby meets the wolf.
- There's one in Final Fantasy VII in the slums of Midgar.
- There's a few in Half-Life 2, which are both creepy to see and fun to explore - a lot of the equipment responds to the physics engine. They're abandoned since humanity's reproduction was repressed 20 years prior, so all the kids are grown up and there's no replacements being born. You can also hear the faint laughing of children in the first one you come across.
- Silent Hill Homecoming has an abandoned playground. You can find a photograph by the slide!
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories also has one, and in a possible callback you can find an Echo Photo and Echo Message there.
- Fallout 3 has several irradiated children's playgrounds.
- The most prominent example (because it factors into an early, and very long, quest) would be the town of Minefield. As the name implies, it's full of mines and a sniper. The quest involves making it to a certain part of the playground and (optionally) taking back a mine with you.
- Call of Duty 4 features these on at least two occasions. One is the playground where Jackson dies soon after the nuclear blast. The other is in the Pripyat flashback. Both scenes are made even creeper by ghostly voices and laughter of children that are no longer there.
- There's some creepy old playground equipment, complete with squeaking swing, next to the restaurant at the gas station in Barrow Hill.
- The playground in Fate Stay Night gets this treatment whenever Ilya isn't around to play with you, particularly in the Heaven's Feel Route. Said route also has Shirou sit down on a bench to contemplate whether to save the girl or save the world.
- In an outdoor level of Metro 2033 there is one of these, and when you enter it, you see a flashback of kids playing. When the flashback ends, some of the equipment is still moving and you see a Dark One observing you.
- In Left 4 Dead 2 there's an abandoned playground in the level of Hard Rain, this serves as a landmark for the player(s) when they're getting back to the boat.
- One entry in Marble Hornets has Alex fleeing (or seeking out) the Slender Man in a deserted playground.
- Subverted in Suburban Knights, in which they battle on a playground that appears to be abandoned until a mother and daughter come to play.
- They try to continue the battle on another one, but the TGWTG team escape before the Cloaks set up.
- Plus it's not as cool as the previous one.
- They try to continue the battle on another one, but the TGWTG team escape before the Cloaks set up.
- The Simpsons—Season 7, Treehouse of Horror VI, Segment: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace. Bart battles Willy at night in a foreboding, nightmare playground which is empty until the battle.
- On American Dad, there was an abandoned playground in the vasectomy clinic video showing the wonders of a childless future.
- Papa Cardgage's Puddin Patch. No one there but Senor Cardgage.
- In Futurama, turns out that Robot Hell is located in a abandoned amusement park. In New Jersey!
- This featured in Garth Ennis' Crossed, particulary the early ads for the series.
- Prypiat has a few that can be seen in documentaries. (But that comes with the whole "city of creepy abandoned stuff" thing.)
- Not sure if a theme park counts, but Six Flags New Orleans. It closed in 2005 to prepare for Hurricane Katrina and never reopened. It's creepy as fuck and unfortunately it's due to be torn down in...who the hell knows when.
- River Country, the first water park at Walt Disney World Resort was closed in 2001 and currently sits abandoned but thanks to being really close to the other Disney parks and hotels in Orlando is visable for other locations. Abandoned for various reasons that inculding high levels of a potentally dangerous amoeba in the lake water that was used in the park, a law that protects tourists from local unfiltered lake water, and a large drop in attendance thanks to being pitted against the larger Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks. Dispite being closed for several years the lights are still on, the music still plays, and the plumbing still works, there's abandoned furniture and clothing and toys laying around, the slides and stairs are overgrown with vegetation to the point of being barely visible, and the man made river and pools are stagment and/or nearly evaporated. Incredibly frightening if you find pictures people have taken of inside the buildings.
- Water Wonderland near Odessa, Texas.
- Chippewa Lake Amusement Park was a very well known abandoned park in the American Midwest. When the park was closed in 1978 all of the still functional rides and buildings were simply left on the property untouched and unmaintained for 31 years. Time took it's course and the everything soon broke down and were overgrown by plants and trees. The buildings became dilapidated and most burned down and or collapsed from fire damage in the mid-2000's. However, many rides and a single building (the hamburger stand) continued to stand in varying states of decay. Most famously the Ferris Wheel and Roller Coasters which had trees growing in and through them.
- As of 2010-2011 the park is now being torn down. The hamburger stand and coaster have been demolished and the remains of buildings and rides will be likely be removed soon. The Ferris wheel and tumble bug ride are being saved to be possibly be restored.
- Search with these words on Flickr.
- Americana Amusement Park, shown in Life After People.