A popular Halloween attraction featuring a possessed patient called Katie running around an insane asylum has been closed down after several people claimed it reinforced a stereotype of mental illness.
The virtual reality attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, was called FearVR: 5150, referring to the state code involving someone who was held against their will in a psychiatric facility.
Visitors were strapped into a chair and given virtual reality goggles. They were given a panic button to use if the game became too much for them.
Anne Fischer, executive director of the San Francisco branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, called the attraction “incredibly damaging” for stigmatising the mentally ill, according to the Associated Press.
Ron Thomas, whose son, Kelly Thomas, suffered from schizophrenia and died following a violent confrontation with police in 2011, said the attraction was “wrong”.
"The mentally ill are people. They're human beings," he told ABC.
"They're suffering. They have illnesses, and we have to do something to help them - not demonise them. Not to continue the stigma of mental illness."
Kay Warren, the wife of pastor and author Rick Warren, whose son died of mental illness, wrote on Facebook that the display was "not entertainment".
"I’m infuriated that they use the pain and suffering of millions of people for laughs or thrills. Take it down!"
Park officials said in a statement they were "proud" of the event which had taken place for nine years, as it was supposed to be "edgy" and for adults only.
"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."
The attraction has since been closed in other parks owned by the same company, Cedar Fair, in Santa Clara and Toronto.Reuse content