Controversy Over Popular Game: “Psychiatric Ward — Enter if you dare, escape if you can!”

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The Toronto Transit Commission has removed billboards for a popular escape game after The Toronto Star reported on four complaints about its mental health-themed ads. Modeled on similar games in Japan, “Mystery Room” invites groups of participants to gather clues and work together to try to escape from different rooms in a large building. “Enter if you dare — Escape if you can!” read the dark billboards for the game, listing four rooms called Satan’s Lair, Prison Break, Mummy’s Curse, and Psychiatric Ward. The Mystery Room’s website description for the Psychiatric Ward explained that, “Ward 15 is the place the mentally disturbed were contained. Dr. Johansson had a passion for experimenting on the unanesthetised living…”

“…The patients grew mad, losing the ability to speak as their throats ruptured from constant screaming,” continued the website description of the Psychiatric Ward. “These people now haunt the ward, seeking and exacting their revenge on unsuspecting victims. As you enter the ward, one thing is certain: it is going to take all of your knowledge and skill to get out alive.”

On her blog The Belle Jar, Anne Thériault quoted that text and wrote an open letter to the Toronto Transit Commission which complained that the ads reinforced a stereotype of psychiatric patients being violent. “It also makes psychiatric hospitals look like frightening, terrible places, which is pretty discouraging to someone who needs treatment for mental health stuff,” Thériault wrote. “Dealing with this shit is scary enough without advertising campaigns like this.”

Mystery Room’s owner told the Star, “We didn’t mean to offend anybody. We were just thinking of scary themes and someone suggested a psych ward would be scary, but we didn’t really think of someone who was in one who might be offended.”

The Star reported that Thériault was a former psychiatric hospital patient herself, but did not include the section from her open letter comparing the Mystery Room Psychiatric Ward description to the now-infamous CIA-funded MKUltra project at McGill University. “That is actually a thing that has happened. I seriously cannot stress that enough – that is actually a thing that has happened to psychiatric patients in this country,” wrote Thériault. “To make light of this type of violence inflicted against the mentally ill is beyond awful, and to turn it into a form of entertainment makes me pretty much choke up with rage. There are victims of these experiments who are still alive, and you’re advertising a game that makes a joke out of the horrific things they’ve experienced.”

The ads were removed and the name of the room was changed to “Haunted Hospital,” with the description, “This challenge will bring you to the brink of madness.”

Getting locked in is now a popular night out in Toronto, thanks to escape rooms (Toronto Star, July 26, 2014)

An Open Letter To The TTC – Please Remove These Posters (The Belle Jar, August 11, 2014)

Woman urges TTC to remove ads for psych ward escape game (Toronto Star, August 15, 2014)

TTC to remove psych ward escape game ads after complaints (Toronto Star, August 16, 2014)

Mystery Room — Haunted Hospital

Project Mkultra: One of the Most Shocking CIA Programs of All Time (Gizmodo, September 23, 2013)

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12 COMMENTS

    • Well, honestly I don’t agree with her on that. I mean I don’t see anything wrong with the game or advertising of it. Afterall the popular culture provides a more adequate description of psych wards than the “mental health professionals” and I applaud anything that will discourage people from “seeking help” in these places.
      “comparing Mystery Room Psychiatric Ward description to the now-infamous CIA-funded MKUltra project at McGill University” – well, that’s the recent history of psychiatry. If I were to give some message to game makers is to include that information as the inspiration for the game, just to educate some people.
      Games are made about all sorts of horrific things: wars, traffic accidents, crime, etc. so it seems like psychiatric wards are in the right company.

  1. I don’t know what they are complaining about: “place the mentally disturbed were contained. Dr. Johansson had a passion for experimenting on the unanesthetised living” – sounds like an accurate description of psych wards.

    • I have to agree with you – that was my first hit on this: perhaps slightly exaggerated but pretty much on target – you are a captive and they experiment on you until you’re allowed to leave or manage to escape.

      It is interesting that those images were seen as viable selling points. Shows that maybe the public on some level recognizes the truth.

      —- Steve

      • I think people do more than they are comfortable to admit. Look at popular culture and count all the instances where psychiatrists are “good guys”. And even when they are sort of “good” they still act like manipulative jerks.

  2. I’ve been trying to encourage a friend to do a deck of psychiatric labellee tarot cards for a while now. If you can’t fight the mainstream, you may as well enter it with the message you want to be heard. After all, truth is stranger than fiction, and how hard would it be to invent a scary game based on what actually happens in the system.

  3. Most hospitals are crazy tho. Inside you have chronically abused patients who are forced to fight each other and themselves just because that is the type of environment they’re in w/o separation from one another, and you got violence from staff storing things up plus some legit mental illness. Next up come the doctors who are paid to control the patients through any means necessary even if they engineer situations and make the clients act out; they perform deadly chemical lobotomies and mutilate people, creating some peoples mental illness from scratch. And finally CIA and government experimentation (weapons testing, illegal operations to sabotage individuals, etc) continues on today, it never ended, and patients fall victim to conspiracies amongst unionized workers, doctors, and judges who simply think these people have no worth. Details on modern CIA programs at http://www.OregonStateHospital.net/ .. I am a modern CIA mind control victim, set up and abused originally at the Oregon State Hospital. Began in 2004.

  4. I think that is great that she was able to express her opinion and get the company to make a change.

    http://www.theasylumwv.com/ <— Scary. Watch the movie. Skip to 4:30 for advertisement.

    The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (historically accurate name) is a former mental hospital that is now a tourist attraction. It even has the stamp of approval from the state of West Virginia.

    http://trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com/

    Anyone who has publicly expressed offense at The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has been unequivocally shouted down. The state wants money to "preserve her," lol.

    Honestly I am unable to decide if I find this stuff offensive.

    • As a former resident of Carrier Clinic (5 months in 1979-80) I think I have some cred to help you in your assemennt of WV Lunatic Asylum.

      First, in a place with outrageous unemployment, at least the ‘Asylum Tour’ creates some jobs. Plus it’s located in a state with one of the highest rates of illiteracy and a “thank God” state – as in “Thank God for WV, whose infant mortality rate is higher than ours”.

      Second, we have to have a sense of humor to survive.

      Third – for me personally, if it scares people, all the better. Yeah, I’m crazy – so don’t mess with me.

      M oxoxo

  5. “As you enter the ward, one thing is certain: it is going to take all of your knowledge and skill to get out alive.”

    Wow, look a that quote out of context.

    Maybe make the game where Black Ops go in and save the mentally ill from the abuse? Works for me.

  6. Yes indeed.
    Trying to ban a game liked this–judging from the description in article– is the kind of thing NAMI would do
    It is so rare when the prevalent psychiatric stereotypes are implicitly undermined in popular culture– the anti-psychiatry movement should not try to suppress this.
    Just read this description:’ “Mystery Room” invites groups of participants to gather clues and work together to try to escape from different rooms in a large building. “Enter if you dare — Escape if you can!” read the dark billboards for the game, listing four rooms called Satan’s Lair, Prison Break, Mummy’s Curse, and Psychiatric Ward.’ Not one thing depicting Psychiatry as anything other than oppressive and evil.
    Leave it to the APA to try to ban such games. I’m sure virtually every psychiatrist who sees this is bothered. Does anyone doubt that?
    Why do THEIR business for them?
    I’m glad to see such a game.
    Seth Farber, Ph.D.
    http://www.sethHfarber.com