SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) — A virtual reality thrill ride featuring a trip through a haunted psychiatric ward is being shut down at Great America after some riders found it to be insensitive.
Mental health advocates say the ride dredged up all the old, ugly stereotypes of the mentally ill – that they’re dangerous – or possessed by demons.
“We’re really working hard to get rid of the stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness. And this ride really just perpetuates that stigma,” Kathy Forward, Santa Clara County NAMI Executive Director said.
Great America unveiled the virtual reality attraction with great fanfare last weekend, but was forced to shut it down just three days later after the same ride – originally called Fear VR: 5150, a reference to police code for the mentally ill, riled advocates in Southern California.
Critics started an online petition, describing the ride as “disgusting” and “mocking” of people with mental illnesses.
“The title to me is disgusting,” Gina Marie Cecconi with NAMI said.
Cecconi says she suffers from depression and anxiety, and finds the ride’s story of a mental patient who goes on a murderous rampage to be offensive.
“I just find it very disturbing that a theme park would use that term, and that story for an amusement ride,” she said.
A spokesperson for Great America released a prepared statement saying that, “The attraction’s story and presentation were never intended to portray mental illness.” The statement goes on to say that because there wasn’t time to address concerns before the park closed after Halloween…We have decided to close the attraction now.”
“We’ve made a lot of progress. But I feel like this ride was taking us backwards,” Cecconi said.