Today it was announced that Knott’s Scary Farm would be closing their newest attraction, Fear VR: 5150 due to an outcry from some (not all) of the mental health community.  This is in regards to the experience of Fear VR taking place inside of a haunted psychiatric unit which is home to a possessed and most likely evil girl as well as the attraction having 5150 – which is a section of the California Welfare and Institution Code which authorizes a qualified officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themself, a danger to others, etc – in the title.  There has been a huge upset with fans of the park who think that Knott’s Berry Farm should have stood their ground and now allowed for the reaction of a few to close down an experience (and jobs) for a lot of people.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a chance to check out Fear VR: 5150 when I went on media night, but had I been able to, I would have done so gladly.

This article isn’t about who said what, how all this started, what the tipping point was, etc.  I don’t know all those facts and there have already been quite a few sites that have been able to lay those out for us to read (I suggest going to where they expertly laid out all the information).  This is an article about my reaction, and my reaction alone, to what Knott’s has decided.  See, I suffer from what doctors would call a mental illness in the form of major depressive disorder that can oftentimes become severely acute.  I have been outspoken about mental illness as I believe it needs to be more acceptable in society without the fear of a stigma attached to it.  However, this is not why I’m writing this article, as most people deal with some form of depression on a daily basis. The outcry from people involved in the mental health community has to do with Fear VR being called 5150 and taking place in a psychiatric unit.  Well, let me be the first to say as someone who suffers from depression as well as being having been in a psych unit, I believe Fear VR: 5150 should not have to be shut down.

Most people, when they hear that someone has been in a psych unit, either shun the person or want to know every intimate detail.  It’s not that exciting I promise you.  I voluntarily signed myself into a psych ward about 8 years ago when I was going through an incredibly difficult time in my life following the death of my father, a penchant for self harm, and a growing alcohol addiction.  I was there for 5 days and though I hope to never return, it helped set me on the straight and narrow and helped me in ways that I didn’t realize for years to come.  Psych wards are scary, 90% of your control is stripped away from you and you are left at the advice of the doctors and nurses.  Psychiatric units have a sordid past, but modern ones are not as controversial as ones from the 1800s and they can really be a tool to help people and give those suffering a much needed break from life.

So, the question remains, why am I okay with Fear VR: 5150.  I’m okay with it because it’s par for the course.  Look, we are all familiar with the fact that psychiatric wards have housed some pretty interesting, smart, sophisticated, dangerous and deranged characters (both patients and doctors alike). I mean look at the tales that came (and still do) from Danvers State Hospital as well as the tales of hauntings from Waverly Hills Sanatorium and Pennhurst Asylum.  People die at these places, people have gone insane, people have done horrible things, but people can do these anywhere.  Knott’s Berry Farm conceded and shut down Fear VR: 5150 but they have allowed their other haunt, Paranormal Inc., which centers around a haunted asylum where patients were tortured by doctors and nurses, to remain open. How is that okay but the other isn’t?  Asylums are scary but they make for interesting stories and they sure as hell make for fascinating movies and haunts.  The problem is that people need to stop being so sensitive and come to terms with the fact that they may not be able to do certain things due to triggers they may experience.

When I was released from the hospital, I couldn’t watch “Girl, Interrupted” for years, but I didn’t scream a battle cry and ask for justice.  I waited until I was able to watch it without being triggered.  Haunted attractions are not for everyone and that’s okay.  But why ruin the fun for those who enjoy them?  I love going through insane asylum houses and experiences ghost tours at old psych wards.  It’s fascinating, if not slightly terrifying, and it gives me a rush.  Do I ever think that these people who are putting these events on are being insensitive to those who have experienced being in a psych ward?  No.  We all have the choice to go or not, that’s the beauty of free will.  I hope Knott’s Berry Farm takes a good hard look at the choices they’ve made and realize the error of their ways.  Horror is about pushing the boundaries of what is comfortable and that’s what the creators of Fear VR: 5150 did.  With all that said, I stand behind what the creators put together, I don’t think it’s being mean or insensitive, I think it’s doing what horror is meant to do and that’s to push the envelope.

Currently there is a petition you can sign to get the attraction reinstated and I urge you, if you feel so inclined, to sign it.  The link can be found HERE.

Shannon McGrew
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