You are locked in a room with up to nine other people. They could be known to you but chances are they are strangers. The group is given 60 minutes to find the key to the door by discovering clues that lead to puzzles that reveal “meta-puzzles.” Solve those larger brain teasers and you might just get out in time. Oh, and you each paid $30 for the experience.
And by phenomenon, I mean that every major city has more than one room escape enterprise with over 2500 around the world – and a long way to go until this fad peaks. The nascent industry has recently hosted its first conference in Toronto, led by Scott Nicolson whose in-depth “white paper” on Escape Rooms is a great primer.
Grown from the gaming world, video escape games coupled with immersion (Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing) gave rise to the first live escape rooms in Japan just three years ago. Of course, the mighty MIT Mystery Hunt has been going strong since 1981, but the rise of these 60 minute, easily playable-by-all immersion games have exploded like wildfire. Many have themes like Victorian (Sherlock-esque), Spy (Mission Impossible), future, techno and horror. All require the team to interact with the puzzles that drive the narrative and the fantasy element is what makes them so special.
Want the cutting edge? Try “Trapped In A Room With A Zombie” where a “zombie” (complete with makeup and moans) is actually chained to the wall. Every five minutes the chain loosens another foot and allows the zombie to start to reach the group. Get touched and your movement is restricted (Sit in the corner!) and all the while everyone must solve the puzzles and locate the key.
Teamwork is essential in these events as the group, whether they know each other or not, must come together and solve multiple problems simultaneously. Lateral thinking is common. Delegation of jobs, sharing of info and constant communication are essential and when the problems are solved, there is often a group elation (called “froth” from the video game world). There can be no competition within the group while a zombie is trying to grab your ankles. The immersion into a new world where a problem needs to be solved is a great way to hone your strategic planning skills, for sure.
It’s no accident that almost every establishment running an escape room also includes corporate team building in its drop-down menu. But that is very misleading. Companies can buy an entire room out for the hour or more, but only ten people can play at a time. Sure, a “team” of ten from a company can play a game for an hour and derive effective team skills from the experience, but what about the rest of the company?
That’s what started my engines and for the last several weeks I have been designing an Escape for large corporate meetings with each table of ten in a “virtual room.” All the benefits with none of the headaches of a brick and mortar business. And with today’s hi-tech A/V, we can bring the immersion to the meeting.
Years ago, I had a hit team builder called “Mission:Possible” where teams had to work together to find clues around the conference center to ultimately cut the wires on a ticking bomb at the front of the room. To say it was persuasive, is an understatement. The last time I ran it, the staff from New Jersey’s Johnson and Johnson were trembling as the final countdown started. Yes, they defused the bomb but that was September 4, 2001. A week later, the game became irrelevant as anything explosive became taboo (and rightly so.) But that “froth” that I saw in their eyes and on their faces was real and now, with the Escape Your Room roll out, I know we can recreate it.
Live action adventure. Team work with a deliverables and lots of excitement.