FearVR: 5150 Mocks Mental Illness
It seemed like a great virtual reality attraction for the 2016 Halloween season. At least to its creators, anyway. Participants in FearVR: 5150 donned a pair of virtual reality goggles and earphones and were strapped into a wheelchair. The goggles made it appear as though they were taken to Meadowbrook, a hospital for the mentally ill. Once they arrived, they were terrorized and threatened by a patient who had escaped from her room. Those who found the experience too intense could push a panic button to end it.
Soon after its unveiling at two California theme parks — Knott's Berry Farm and Great America — there was a public outcry. FearVR was offensive to those who struggled with mental illness, people said. The attraction "adds to the hurtful, dehumanizing, discriminatory, prejudicial, insensitive, offensive and stigmatizing of mental illness," wrote John Leyerle, president of the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in his letter to the president of Cedar Fair Entertainment, the company behind the attractions. Kay Warren, a mental health advocate and wife of Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" posted on her Facebook page to her 149,000 followers that the ride needed to come down [sources: Bowerman, Zavoral].
The theme parks quickly responded, changing the attraction's name to simply FearVR, as "5150" is a code for someone who is possibly disturbed and may be a danger to himself or others. But the protests continued, so Cedar Fair Entertainment closed the attraction prematurely and apologized for any offense [sources: Bowerman, Zavoral].