On June 25th, a group of students (Katy, Miheliwan and Christiana), faculty (Matt and Aaron) and a friend (Nicholas) were locked in a room for one hour as part of the “Escape the Room” experience. Once we went in, the door was locked and a computer started to count down from one hour. During this time, we had to solve a series of puzzles in order to unlock additional clues that would eventually lead us to a key that would open the locked door. If we can escape the room in this time, we “win.” (There is no prize, just bragging right, since only 15% of the participants is said to make it out in time). The experience – entitled simply “The Room” – allows for a maximum of six people to participate, and is set in a kind of Victorian setting. The puzzles didn’t need worldly knowledge (although they can help to some extent). In order not to ruin the fun for future attendees, we won’t go into the details of the puzzles, or how we solved them. But we will talk about what the experience allowed us to think about after the fact. Oh, by the way, we made it out in time!
“Escape the Room” is a kind of “video game in real life.” Many of the puzzles are not unlike the puzzles you might encounter in an adventure game: Solve a riddle, unlock a box, find another riddle, decode a clue, that kind of thing. The ability to collaborate with other people makes it tremendously fun, especially if you have a diverse group of people who brings in different points of view. There were some setbacks – clues we didn’t see or misinterpreted. Admittedly, we also didn’t play the game in the exact way the designers of the experience anticipated. We followed all the rules – to an extent – and we don’t believe that there is only “one” way to play a game. Just as in a video game, the game designer might expect you to go from A to B to C, but if you somehow manage to invent your own steps, and go from A to F to C, and finish the game anyway, then that’s all that should matter.
As this New York Times article notes, these types of rooms are not new and have been popping up around the world for a number of years. There are instances when a game designer can transform an entire city into a game, with clues dropped around a city for people to chase and interpret. Another version of these types of games is called “transmedia,” in which a game can transcend a single medium and spread into “real life.” This is often seen in viral marketing campaigns for movies or product launches, most notably the marketing for “The Dark Knight,” in which clues were embedded in movie posters that a potential player will have to decode.“Escape the Room” is far less ambitious. It has clear boundaries and a set time frame. But this and other experiences like it allow us to think more broadly about games in general and how it can be used in vastly different ways, from quick one-minute games you play in between stops on the subway to larger, more immersive and time-consuming games that unfold in “real life.”
“Escape the Room” as a total of five room, of which “The Room” is just one of them. There are also additional ones that allow for up to 11 people. We were really pumped after the game and we anticipate we’ll be back there with a larger group in no time. If you have an hour to spare this summer, find a group of friends and pick a room to be locked in!
Anyone who is interested can check out their website (escapetheroomnyc.com). Admission is $28 per person.