Fear VR, a virtual reality Halloween haunted house at California’s Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm, has been closed down just days after its launch following complaints that the hospital-set haunt was “hurtful to those who suffer from mental illness.”
The virtual haunt placed visitors into a wheelchair seat, before visitors had their arms strapped down and a pair of virtual reality goggles were placed over their face, entering them into the experience which would have visitors being chased by crazed inhabitants of the hospital.
“Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions — Fear VR — is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses,” said a representative of Knott’s Berry Farm. “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’s original name, which was titled “Fear VR: 5150,” a reference to California’s Welfare and Institutions code which stands for a patient who is a danger to themselves or others, was also dropped after criticism shortly before the entire attraction was scrapped.
“Knott’s Berry Farm is horrifying because it demonizes people with mental illness,” said one critic in a letter to the LA Times. “Shame on Knott’s Berry Farm and on Los Angeles Times for presenting illness as entertainment.
“People with mental illness are our loved ones and yours…. People with mental illness are statistically more likely to be a victim of a crime than to commit a crime,” they continued. “Stigma and misrepresentation of the nature of mental illness continue to make it difficult for people with mental illness to get the treatment they need and even more difficult to find understanding in a world that demonizes them.”
“It’s so insensitive,” said another critic, who found the attraction offensive after losing his son to a mental illness five years ago.
The attraction, which was reviewed highly before its demise, has since been shut down at both parks, with the dedicated page on California’s Great America website now returning a 404 error notice.