This used to be my childhood dream
This used to be the place I ran to
Whenever I was in need of a friend
Why did it have to end?
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. If the playground shows up in an After the End setting, or in an area that has faced great destruction, an abandoned playground is shorthand to show that adults weren't the only victims of the terrible tragedy that has befallen the place.
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.
- In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion in the dome where Rei lives (and the Dome itself is a Ghost Town) there is a "recreational area", a small patch of grass with the tree (probably transplanted) on it, which has a swing.
- Subverted in All in the Family. The Warden and the Mistress head out for this in Chapter 3. It then turns out not to be abandoned after all, as a mom with a young daughter comes along and kicks them off a swing.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: In "Making an Entrance", there's one, well, it's a sandbox, and it has a brief Empathy Doll Shot:
Her gaze slid over the fake pillars and support structures that defined the basic design of a façade, skipped over the engravings beside the door, and came to rest on the rectangular depression that seemed to serve as a front yard. In a sandbox littered with hastily-abandoned childrens toys, she spotted a half-finished wooden figurine and a carving knife. Its grip was just the right size for the tiny hands of a toddler.
- In Pinocchio, this is what Pleasure Island ends up looking like after the boys are turned into donkeys and rounded up by the Coachman.
Jiminy: Where is everybody? This place looks like a graveyard.
- Anna and the Apocalypse: This is where Anna gets her first kill in the movie. She stays there with John for a little while afterwords in order to figure just what the heck they're going to do.
- In the movie Children of Men, Ki sits on the swing at an abandoned schoolyard during a quiet moment. It's wouldn't be notable except in another movie, but here the playground is abandoned because nobody on earth has been pregnant for decades and all children have grown up. This is especially significant for Ki because she is pregnant.
- The Dark Tower (2017). Roland and Jake find a derelict theme park entangled in a forest that has grown up around it. Jake has to tell Roland what it is, as to the latter it's just another strange construction from before the world moved on.
- Featured in a deleted scene of the Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake, set right after Kenneth finds Anna. There are lots of toys lying around and a baby carriage too.
- In Edge of Tomorrow, there is deserted trailer park including an Abandoned Playground behind the enemy lines.
- There's one in The Exorcist, too.
- 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.
- In the 'not abandoned, but empty' variant, Ginger Snaps has the sisters sneaking through a playground late at night in order to pull a prank— it's here that Ginger gets her first period and is subsequently bitten by a werewolf.
- Several of the later scenes including the climax of the Hanna take place in the decrepit remains of a Brothers Grimm theme park near Berlin. It is creepy as outlined in the trope description, but symbolically appropriate to the passing of Hanna's unconventional childhood.
- The film of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban features one of these as Harry runs away from the Dursleys' place at night. For some reason that is never explained, the swingset and merry-go-round start to move on their own.
- The playground at the beginning of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) isn't abandoned, either, but something about it is just 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.
- Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Outside of Jason's old, abandoned home is a small playground where the protagonists battle Jason at night.
- Koyaanisqatsi includes some shots of an abandoned playground in the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe housing project, just before its demolition.
- In Preservation, an old playground, covered in graffiti and obviously having seen better days, is located within the preserve. A couple of tense scenes take place here.
- Red Dawn (1984): Matt and Jed are sitting in one of these as they die.
- 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 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.
- Used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a brief piece recapping how the future's going to turn out. Optional skulls added.
- The opening credits are of the same playground, as the whole thing burns in nuclear fire. Coupled with the music, the effect is powerful.
- 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." (Elizabeth's all right, though; she turns up later in the story, and presumably the kids are fine.)
- Dexter is Delicious features Buccaneer Land, an abandoned amusement park Dexter and Deborah used to love when they were children. It has fallen into disrepair and is now home to a bunch of fake vampires and real cannibals.
- 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."
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 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.
- In Order of the Phoenix, Harry has a Trauma Swing moment in a locked, vandalised park before Dudley and his friends show up...followed closely by Dementors.
- Stranger Than Fanfiction has High Tydes, the amusement park/water park that Cash Carter used to love going to when he was a kid. When he decides to go back with the Downer's Grove gang, he discovers, to his horror, that the park has been closed down since September 26th, 2007 because the costumed entertainers were groping the guests, and the staff was serving alcohol to minors.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark? has this in the theme song.
- Batwoman (2019). In "The Rabbit Hole'', suspecting that supervillain Alice is her long-lost sister Beth, Kate Kane sends a message for Alice to meet her at the waffle stand where they used to hang out as children. Although the park is not quite abandoned, like everything else in Gotham it's seen better days, with the waffle stand vandalised and boarded up.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- In the Cold Open of "Lie To Me", which has a theme of how the illusions of childhood give way to the Black-and-Gray Morality of the adult world, there's a boy who's been left at the playground. It's dark, and he's the last one there, and then the vampire Drusilla shows up. Fortunately for him Angel shows up and stops her.
- "Helpless", the episode where Buffy reaches her eighteenth birthday has an Action Prologue of Buffy fighting a vampire in a playground at night, with all the 'leave childhood behind' metaphors that implies.
- In "Blood Ties", Dawn finds all her memories of the past are false. Walking through a playground at night she has a memory of her sister pushing her on the swing, which she now knows never happened.
- 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.
- Dollhouse. Echo is programmed to believe she's a baby's mother in "Instinct". At the end of the episode when she's forced to give the child up, she sits in a playground in the park at night with her handler.
- The Fugitive had its series finale set in an abandoned amusement park.
- 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 one episode of Supernatural Sam notices that a playground is empty at four in the afternoon; it's the first sign that something is wrong with that town's children.
- 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.
- 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.
- There's some creepy old playground equipment, complete with squeaking swing, next to the restaurant at the gas station in Barrow Hill.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops also has an empty playground. It's in the level "Rebirth", right in the middle of the area covered with Nova-6.
- 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.
- The DLC Point Lookout has an abandoned fairground.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Modern Warfare 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.
- The PC game The Path features one of these in the woods. The site is where Ruby meets the wolf.
- Pokémon X and Y has one on Route 14 devoid of children, although nothing weird happens there, just a friendly Pokemon battle. However, you can find a Rare Candy hidden behind the bushes.
- Professor Layton and the Curious Village: St Mysterie's abandoned amusement park. It was originally a gift to Flora from her father Baron Reinhold to cheer her up after her mother passed away. Sadly, it failed to make Flora happy. The park was eventually closed down after it failed to attract visitors.
- The Secret World has several, but notable examples include the Atlantic Island Park in the Savage Coast region.
- 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.
- There is a playground right outside the house on the first part of Slender: The Arrival.
- Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat features the same playground in Pripyat that appears in Modern Warfare. This playground exists in real life.
- In Call of Pripyat, Zulu will fight a group of snorkers at an abandoned playground in a school. Major Degtyarev can opt to rescue him or not. If Zulu is rescued, he will award Degtyarev with his unique customized RP-74* machine gun.
- A more fictional example appears only in Clear Sky, in the Ghost City of Limansk-13. Being an inner courtyard's playground unlike Pripyat's, it's a much smaller one.
- The Subspace Emissary adventure mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl features a level called the "Ruined Zoo", that certainly gives off this vibe. Here, you play as Lucas trying to outrun a Giant Porky Statue.
- In season 2 of The Walking Dead the climax of Episode 5 takes place just outside of a rest stop's abandoned playground.
- Homestar Runner has Papa Cardgage's Puddin' Patch, from the Strong Bad Email "Licensed". It's a sketchy day-care with cinder-block walls decorated with Off-Model pictures of Strong Bad and the Cheat, a crossed-out "Restroom" sign, a barbed-wire fence, a Chalk Outline in the front yard, and no one there but Senor Cardgage singing a vaguely-creepy nursery song:
Senor Cardgage: (to the tune of "Frere Jacques") Where is Tompkins? Where is Cole Slaw? Here I am...
- One entry in Marble Hornets has Alex fleeing (or seeking out) the Operator in a deserted playground. And then again in Entry #70 when he apparently returns to the same 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. Angry Joe protests that the girl's too old to play there, and gets a Dope Slap from an outraged bad guy. 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.
- On American Dad!, there was an abandoned playground in the vasectomy clinic video showing the wonders of a childless future.
- In Futurama, turns out that Robot Hell is located in a abandoned amusement park. In New Jersey!
- In Gravity Falls, part of Stan's mind is represented by a broken-down swing set. We see it again in The Stinger for "Not What He Seems", only in a flashback where it's not broken down and it's being used by Stan and his brother as children.
- 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.
- Pripyat (the city where workers of the Chernobyl power plant lived) has a few that can be seen in documentaries. (But that comes with the whole "city of creepy abandoned stuff" thing.)
- Six Flags New Orleans. It closed in 2005 to prepare for Hurricane Katrina and never reopened. Various proposals have been made to revive or replace the park, but the theme park remains abandoned and in extremely poor condition.
- 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 visible from other locations. Abandoned for various reasons that included high levels of a potentially 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. Despite being closed for several years the lights are still on and the plumbing still works, there's abandoned furniture and clothing and toys lying around, the slides and stairs are overgrown with vegetation to the point of being barely visible, and the man-made river and pools are stagnant and/or nearly evaporated. Incredibly frightening if you find pictures people have taken of inside the buildings. Disney finally demolished the park in early 2019 and intends to build a new hotel on the site.
- 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 its course and everything soon broke down and became overgrown by plants and trees. By the mid-2000's the buildings became dilapidated and most have since burned down and/or collapsed from fire damage. 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.
- A temporary example of an abandoned theme park was Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, which closed in 2009 amid the bankruptcy of Six Flags (which had operated the park) and remained closed until a former operator of the park put together a deal to reopen it in 2014.
- Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in West Virginia, the site of a desecrated Indian Burial Ground turned into a settler farm which saw three settler children killed by Indians and several Indians killed by settlers in retaliation, turned into an amusement park in the 1920s. After two children died, the park shut down in 1966 amid rumours of the land being cursed and haunted, with the rides and structures still standing in varying states of disrepair. It was briefly reopened in the 1980s, then abandoned again. Tours are available in the days leading up to Halloween.
- Geauga Lake Amusement Park in Aurora, Ohio. The park closed in 2007 after over 100 years in business under various forms after its parent company was unable to restore visitor traffic lost by a few years of ownership under Six Flags. Even though every ride was very quickly torn down—with one exception. Every building in the park including the main gate was left standing as late as 2016, nearly ten years later. The many themed areas of the park are still standing with signage and paths still in place twisting past run-down buildings and concrete footings where rides used to be located. Just one ride was left standing for nearly ten years, a historic wooden coaster named the Big Dipper, and video footage showed it also taken back over by nature. For ten years the park even stood across from a very busy water park called Wildwater Kingdom. When even that closed in 2016 everything there was demolished very quickly before it could reach the same state. A lot of Geauga Lake's buildings did finally get demolished in 2016 but the empty park remains due to mismanagement by the city of Aurora and the company that owns it.