With the Halloween season approaching and immersive horror experiences growing in popularity, let's take a moment to reflect on whether you are ready to move from the conga line haunts at main theme parks to an experience where you get to be part of the story and participate. For many, the idea of going to an experience by yourself can seem overwhelming and downright terrifying, but maybe there is a small part of you that is wondering what this might feel like. That's who this is written for.
Briefly a little about myself. My background is in psychology, I have my MA in counseling psychology and have worked with clients, I'm currently earning my PhD in depth psychology writing my dissertation on extreme/immersive horror. I've been attending extreme haunts since BLACKOUT first came to Los Angeles in 2012. Since then a few main experiences I've attended are all of BLACKOUT's LA shows, HERETIC, ALONE, VICTIM EXPERIENCE, and MCKAMEY MANOR. I've also enjoyed horror themed immersive performances that pop up as well as escape rooms. Over the years I've learned a lot about myself and this genre of horror entertainment. I've had positive experiences and I've had negative one's that have left me suffering the aftermath. I'm passionate about these haunts, and I would like to take my knowledge to introduce ways in which one might venture into this arena conscientiously and with care in mind.
Where to start?
- be informed
- know your boundaries
- be aware that you have control
- have support/community
First I would recommend looking up events and reading anything you can about the experiences. From there you can get an idea of the mythos a certain company constructs. This is important because it brings us into the next point of boundaries. Knowing what sort of things a haunt typically employs or how long an experience lasts are key points to be aware of.
Boundaries are generally something that's good to be aware of in life aside from immersive horror, but in this context it's more about what is a line you are unwilling to cross. Some haunts will include physical roughness, degradation, water, electricity, tight spaces, crawling, and/or themes of rape and violence for example. These can be trigger points. To know one's self going in can make or break an experience. It is more common than not that we have experienced trauma in our own lives and if this has not been processed through there is a risk of psychologically causing damage or stirring up material. The idea is to enjoy attending, not re-traumatization.
It's helpful to keep in mind that most experiences have a safe word. The moment you are pushed past a threshold you say the word and the experience ends. Despite entering into a experience where you are generally given directions to follow playing into a submissive role, it is you the attendee who maintains power over when the show ends. There is no shame in using a safe word and instead can be seen as an act of self-care or empowerment to call the shots.
Here's where things get a little tricky. I am a firm believer that we need to have space to talk about our experiences; it's healthy and important. Some haunts will tell you that you can never say anything about what you experienced, some won't mind, others will want you to remain silent until the show is completely over for the season. Every company is a little different. I would recommend even if the haunt explicitly states to keep your experience to your self to have at least one person you can confide in. These experiences can be emotionally charged, powerful, and difficult to process through alone. Community is helpful. I'm certainly not saying go on Facebook and publicly blast out what happened, because spoilers are not fun and if you want to attend a haunt again that asked you to not reveal the happenings inside, it's best not to publicly reveal all. So some might be asking who do I talk to? If I told my friends what I did, they would think I'm crazy. I get it, when I started out no one understood what I was doing. Still being able to share the experience with a close friend can be enough to not feel isolated. Fortunately if you are just getting into this there are more people out there online who you can likely connect with. Facebook has made community more readily available.
These are a few simple highlights to consider if you are interested in this emerging form of entertainment. There of course are many other aspects and every person has a different experience and outlook on these shows. In the end it's about having a good time, some of us need a little extra something. If you live in or around Los Angeles there are many options and some of them aren't just running during Halloween. So what are you waiting for? Feed your curiosity and immerse yourself if you dare.