Just days after their Halloween haunts made their debut, California’s Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm have pulled the plug on their newest offering, FearVR, because of concerns that the attraction could be “hurtful to those who suffer from mental illness.”
The move comes after mental health advocates in Southern California protested the virtual reality story line about a possessed patient running amok in a hospital. Parkgoers are strapped into chairs, given VR goggles and told to press the “panic button” if the experience becomes overwhelming.
A statement issued Tuesday night by Cedar Fair, parent company of the Santa Clara and Buena Park theme parks, said the “edgy, adult-only” attraction was never meant to “portray mental illness.” However, “As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween timeframe, at this time we have decided to close the attraction.”
A Southern California mental health advocate, Kay Warren, praised the decision. “I’m so grateful (Cedar Fair) listened to the voices of the mental health community,” she told the Orange County Register.
A new Halloween horror attraction that opened Thursday at Knott’s Berry Farm has drawn criticism from mental health advocates, who say it includes offensive and dehumanizing depictions of mental health patients.
Knott’s responded Thursday by changing its website to remove references to mental health from the attraction’s name.
But Ron Thomas, whose son, Kelly Thomas, had serious mental disabilities and was beaten and suffocated to death in 2011 by Fullerton police officers, went to see the virtual reality show Thursday night said the web site changes were “cosmetic.”
“You can call a duck a dog, but it’s still a duck,” said Thomas.
In the show itself, he said, “the message is clear. ‘The mentally ill are going to kill you.’ It’s just wrong. Totally wrong.”
Since the attraction was announced a little over two weeks ago, the virtual-reality experience had been promoted as “FearVR: 5150,” as part of the theme park’s “Knott’s Scary Farm” season.
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