A famous theme park decided to shut down one of its main Halloween themed attractions after receiving backlash and complaints from mental health advocates.
Knott’s Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California shut down one of its virtual reality attractions known as Fear VR.
The virtual reality attraction is a haunted house ride that follows a storyline about a possessed patient named “Katie” running around a mental institution. Park visitors are strapped into chairs then are given VR goggles as they move around the attraction. In the event the ride gets too intense, people can press the “panic” button.
The attraction was originally called “FearVR: 5150,” with 5150 referring to the state code involving an involuntary psychiatric hold because they may be a danger to themselves and others. On the ride’s opening day on September 22, the park omitted the “5150” from the attractions name.
The attraction does not have a minimum age requirement, but the theme park does mention that the ride contains “extremely adult material.”
Many mental health advocates spoke out against the ride, saying that it was a negative portrayal of people suffering from mental illness.
One person that was against the attraction was Kay Warren, wife of pastor and author Rick Warren, who lost his son to mental illness in 2013. She told the OC Register that her son was “held on 5150” multiple times because he was a danger to himself.
“I get that someone wouldn’t know what that’s like unless they have a family member or themselves going through this pain,” Warren said. “We wouldn’t use a person suffering from cancer or heart attack and leverage it to create a thrill ride. It glorifies stigma and exacerbates people’s pain.”
After receiving multiple complaints, the theme park said in a statement that they decided to close down the attraction.
“California’s Great America is proud of its popular annual Halloween Haunt event. For nine years we have delivered unique and immersive haunted experiences to our fans and loyal guests. Our evening attractions are designed to be edgy, and are aimed at an adult-only audience. Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions – FearVR – is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness. As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween timeframe, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
Cedar Fair, the company that owns Knott’s Berry Farm, also shut down the attraction at two of its other theme parks: California’s Great America in Santa Clara, Calif. and Wonderland park in Toronto, Canada.
Following the announcement that the attraction would close, a petition was created to re-open the attraction. So far, the petition has received more than 4,000 signatures.
“It is a haunted amusement park, the things that exist in it are meant to terrify and disturb you, this is what people sign on for when they go to the park,” the petition reads. By purchasing that ticket a person is voluntarily giving up there right to be offended by blood, gore, and humor.”
“This attraction should be re-opened, and if nothing else a blanket disclaimer should be made that states this is not meant to make light or or make fun of mental illness,” the page concludes.