Sheffield attraction sparks outrage over 'cruel and stigmatising' new Asylum game

Hannah Duraid and Peter Lecole, who are behind The Great Escape - Picture: DEAN ATKINS
Hannah Duraid and Peter Lecole, who are behind The Great Escape - Picture: DEAN ATKINS
Have your say

A Sheffield events company has come under intense criticism for stigmatising mental health issues over its latest attraction 'The Asylum'.

The Great Escape Game Sheffield is a live escape room where partipants are locked in a frightening room with only 45 minutes to escape.

Currently, the company offer themed rooms including 'Placebo', 'Mad Scientst', 'Homicide' and 'Alcatraz'; described as a mixture between The Crystal Maze and the Saw series.

However, campaigners have been left outraged after the Escape announced plans for a new room entitled 'The Asylum'.

In an advert for the new game, participants are told they will meet "captured souls" who have been tortured and tormented.

Actors are bound to chairs and locked in straight jackets while 'doctors' treat their patients using strange and horrific devices.

Mental health campaigners have been left outraged by the new attraction, including charities Mind and ConnectingwithPeople (CWP).

Dr Alys Cole-King, Director at CWP tweeted Escape Sheffield to register her "extreme concern" for the nature and content of the new attraction, before urging them to "do the right thing".

She said: "It is hugely stigmatising and dangerous as it promotes and feeds stigma. Stigma kills people.

"Stigma makes it embarrassing or frightening for someone who is struggling to seek help. Mental illness and mental distress is not entertainment, it is not a laughing matter.

"Often stigma comes from fear and lack of understanding and I would welcome the opportunity to explain to you and the team why your attraction is not acceptable."

Dr Cole-King also warned that people in distress often did not seek life saving help because of the stigma of mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

Great Escape stressed that the game itself is set in a fictional abandoned asylum, does not feature torture and psychiatric illness is not a theme of the game.

A spokesperson Great Escape said: "We have not stigmatised psychiatric patients as "scary people" or helpless".

"The theming of the game is that of a film set, not a real life Asylum. We now understand how some of the wording from the website could be interpreted negatively and will be working to address this, as well as other issues in the coming weeks.

"The game doesn’t stigmatise and the game hasn’t affected those with psychiatric illness who have played it."

Great Escape said they have taken "appropriate measures" before launching the game to ensure it would not offend, including holding a focus group of people affecting by psychiatric illness.

A team of mental health professionals were also invited to play the game and, Great Escape said, their feedback showed it did not have "any connection to psychiatric illness".

However, David Smith, Chief Executive of Mind Hull and East Yorkshire said that their branch of the charity would not take up the invite to play the game.

He said that national leaders, organisations, people with mental illness, NHS and council chief executives have all condemned the game and said the PR response was "wholly inadequate".

A spokesperson for Great Escape said: "Moving forward, we are working hard to ensure that our game will not stigmatise psychiatric illness in the future.

"We have reached out to Mind Charity and Time To Change and will be inviting them to come play the game and take part in a focus group so that we can gain some further understanding from a professional point of view on how we can ensure this game does not cause any future offence."

The Asylum is advertised on the Great Escape website as coming soon to St James House on Vicar Lane with customers able to book from Friday, June 30.

The game is also scheduled to open at the company's Leeds venue.