An Iowa business that offers live-action escape room scenarios is facing criticism from mental health advocates after families complained they were triggered by the experience.
Escape rooms are interactive games, in which an individual or group solves puzzles and clues that hold the key to getting out of an enclosed environment, usually within a designated time limit. They have become increasingly popular in recent years.
But apparently not everyone’s a fan.
The Escape, an escape room business located in Ankeny, is under fire for one of its scenarios, which critics say is problematic for how it plays on stereotypes regarding the mentally ill.
NAMI Iowa, a mental health advocacy organization, said it received letters from numerous local families complaining they were “emotionally triggered” by their visits to The Escape. NAMI specifically took issue with one of the scenarios offered by The Escape, entitled “Psych Ward.”
“It was infuriating when I first read the description because it’s simply the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do today with a society with regard to mental illness,” Terri Hale, an upset patron, told CBS-affiliate KCCI.
Peggy Huppert, NAMI Iowa’s executive director, told KCCI that The Escape is “putting their profits and their money ahead of the concerns and the mental health wellbeing of the community.”
Nathan Nvedt, The Escape’s Owner, disagrees. He told KCCI that he’s come to an accord with NAMI, which will result in the elimination of the “Psych Ward” scenario at an agreed-upon time and doesn’t understand why they’re still upset.
“We understand where you’re coming from. We understand how some people could see this. They could misconstrue and misinterpret what we’re trying to do here and how that could come off as possibly offensive to a very small group of people,” Nvedt said.
The Escape and the rise of the trigger warning
In recent years, many mental health advocates have urged society to adopt trigger warnings, disclaimers which alert consumers that they are about to experience something that could be emotionally or psychologically distressing.
They say a properly used trigger warning can help protect vulnerable individuals’ mental wellbeing and ensure the safety of those who have suffered psychological trauma in the past.
But several commentators have pushed back against a broad movement that seeks to eradicate anything in the culture that might possibly cause offense.
In an influential published in The Atlantic in September of 2015, sociologists Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argued that a cultural attempt to “coddle” American students by sheltering them from ideas and words that might offend them was having a disastrous effect.
In an essay entitled, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Haidt and Lukianoff wrote that the “current movement is largely about emotional well-being.”
“More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable,” they argued.
According to the duo, “vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way.”
“It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too,” Haidt and Lukianoff averred. “A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.”