In a chaotic world, escape rooms make sense
August 9, 2019 8:22 AM   Subscribe

 
Is it maturing into a steady industry? The article appears to finish with the acknowledgment that it's a trend.
posted by Selena777 at 8:30 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Look, you said you wanted prison reform
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:32 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


The article misses the primary driver of the escape room industry: abandoned big box stores to house the things. Dirt cheap rent, relatively cheap to start up, but scale to more expensive to draw previous customers back.

It's not really going to die out as a 'trend' until the abandoned big box store become valuable enough to where the rent gets too high.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:33 AM on August 9, 2019 [11 favorites]


I went with a group of eight people to do this for a friend’s birthday, and we did not escape in time, in part because all of the clues were math based and we were all hopeless at figuring them out. It was pretty embarrassing!
posted by sallybrown at 8:38 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


It was nice to get some info on the history of escape rooms, but this bloviating about the deep meaning behind them is nonsensical bullshit. All these articles about how every stupid thing in the world Says Something About Society are so, so tiresome.

It's just an elaborate puzzle game. People have liked puzzles and riddles since forever.
This is logical to me, and also seems to ignore one important detail, which is that escape rooms are fundamentally odd. It is weird to gather in a themed room for an hour to unlock combination locks in a high-stakes situation that matters not at all. We didn’t use to trap ourselves in $30 rooms and now we do, and it doesn’t feel like an accident that the rise of escape rooms in the first half of this decade corresponds almost exactly with a seismic shift in how we relate to technology (intimately, all the time).
Has this person literally never encountered the concept of a game? Escape rooms are no more or less weird than moving a ball around a field according to arbitrary rules with a bunch of other people, or sitting around mashing buttons to make pictures on a screen do stuff.

Why did they come to be when they did? The article itself discusses how it arose out of the context of video games, and people have been doing stuff like dinner murder mysteries and group riddle games for ages. People have paid to be put into situations that scare or thrill or stimulate them for ages. Sheesh.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:41 AM on August 9, 2019 [37 favorites]


If you've got a few hours, check out some AskReddit: Escape Room Employees threads.
"At our establishment we have a room called "Jailbreak" with a fake door towards the very end (it's covered with plywood). this girl takes one look at it and says "jail...break...." and charges the door full force and breaks through."
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:44 AM on August 9, 2019 [15 favorites]


idk i do think “why can’t we make these video games into real life” is a pretty 21st century thing to do.

you’d sort of naturally expect that it should be the other way — adventure games as cheaper digital simulations of the original real world version.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:53 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


idk i do think “why can’t we make these video games into real life” is a pretty 21st century thing to do.

...because video games didn't exist until the mid-20th century, and didn't become a mass phenomenon until even more recently.

you’d sort of naturally expect that it should be the other way — adventure games as cheaper digital simulations of the original real world version.

That did happen. Some of the earliest hit games were adventure/puzzle games like Atari's Adventure in 1979. Video games started off copying real-world stuff like mazes. It's not surprising that eventually, as they became more popular and entered the popular culture, they would inspire people to go the other way.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2019


There was a game show on Nickelodeon in the 90s that involved putting the contestants into a life-sized video game as the final round. I can’t remember what it was called, but the concept was entrancing when I was a kid, like you could be vaulted inside of a computer.
posted by sallybrown at 9:04 AM on August 9, 2019


Selena777: My editorialising of "maturing into a steady industry" comes from the second link, which indicates a levelling-off in the number of US facilities this year.
posted by adrianhon at 9:11 AM on August 9, 2019


There was a game show on Nickelodeon in the 90s that involved putting the contestants into a life-sized video game as the final round. I can’t remember what it was called, but the concept was entrancing when I was a kid, like you could be vaulted inside of a computer.

It was NICK ARCADE! The host was Phil Moore, a black guy who looked just like LeVar Burton. He would occasionally wear a Geordi visor (as seen here) and joke about telling people he was the Star Trek guy. Which confused me into thinking he was Levar Burton, who, at that age, I knew more from Reading Rainbow than TNG.
posted by riruro at 9:22 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


On the topic of "video games in real life" and escape rooms—

There was a pretty cool Metal Gear Solid escape room in Japan.
posted by FJT at 9:23 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


We did an Escape Room last year. Star Wars themed and our content person hates the movies and had never seen them. At the end we were having trouble getting that last clue and she was like 'is this that stupid may the 4th be with you?' crap and lo it was and we escaped successfully.

She still rolls her eyes when my coworker turns on the BB-8 robot for afternoon play.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


A few years ago, my workplace did one for people at my level, and they divided us up into two groups and put us in adjoining rooms. The group I was in was not super-motivated, and spent our time complaining about how we all wanted to be checking our work e-mail instead, and generally about the fact that we were all wasting an hour of our lives on this event that was supposed to raise morale.

And then, over the not-very-good room partition, we heard the distinctive voice of a well-known and generally disliked person*, bossing other people around. He was being loud. He was being obnoxious. It was clear that they were significantly ahead of us. And you could see the electric current go through us.

Was that person going to win?

Was this person going to be allowed to ESCAPE THIS NONSENSE FIRST???? WERE WE GOING TO HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIS VOICE THE WHOLE TIME???

Glances were exchanged. The one person who'd manage to smuggle his phone put it away. Without a word, we actually started to pay attention to the stupid fucking thing, which was, from what I remember, maybe 70's themed? We didn't quite manage to catch up to the other from, but we got out maybe 45 seconds after they did. Literally, we burst into the hallway right as the last person was exiting from the other room. Our pride was at least salvaged.




* His father is a big swinging dick in the profession, and he once stopped by our offices to pick his son up for fancy dinner. Son was still wrapping up his assignment, so dad wandered on the floor while he waited, and saw a very conventionally-attractive woman also working late. Being the kind of man who feels entitled to the time of conventionally attractive women, he decided to interrupt, and positioned herself at the office door, where he asked, "So, are you the paralegal working with my son?"

Reader, she was the senior person who had given his son the assignment.

The son was, eh, not right at the trunk of the tree? Maybe a couple feet out? But definitely still under the branches.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:55 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Has this person literally never encountered the concept of a game? Escape rooms are no more or less weird than moving a ball around a field according to arbitrary rules with a bunch of other people, or sitting around mashing buttons to make pictures on a screen do stuff.

Or how about laser tag and paintball? Escape rooms fit PERFECTLY into the entertainment category that these things used to dominate, yet neither activity is even mentioned in the first article, which seems utterly ridiculous to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:20 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Rooster Teeth has been doing a series of turning videogames into real life: Immersion.
posted by doctornemo at 10:35 AM on August 9, 2019


Victor van Doorn

Irrelevant to the story, but raise your hand if you read this as Victor von Doom and had to double-take.
posted by jackbishop at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also, live action Hitman!
posted by Mogur at 11:09 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've played over a hundred escape rooms, and am friends with people who've played five times that many. I'm currently working full time on trying to get a new escape room business started. So I obviously don't think escape rooms are going to completely disappear any time soon! I think comparisons to paintball and lasertag are interesting, because all three businesses rely on novelty, but I think escape rooms are more of a framework for creating novel experiences, whereas paintaball and lasertag are themselves the novel experiences. So hopefully escape rooms will continue evolving. Victor von Doorn's take is interesting to me, and kind of is "nothing lasts forever and this won't either" but that's not really saying whether he thinks the bottom is going to drop out of the market, or if in 25 years escape rooms will have evolved into something unrecognizable. (BTW, I've played one of his company Sherlocked's rooms in Amsterdam, and I highly recommend it).

One other comment about the Vox article: You know how a lot of the time when you know a lot about a niche thing, popular media coverage of it gets tons of stuff wrong or misses the point? This doesn't do that at all. A+
posted by aubilenon at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Eight people wanting to be checking work email instead of spending an hour collaboratively trying to solve a puzzle strikes me as the saddest thing I'll read all day. Like not even walk in the park. Work email.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2019 [9 favorites]


Escape rooms exploded in popularity in Poland to the point there's nearly 500 of them for our 38-ish million people (so nearly twice as much per capita as in the US). Until a garage converted into an escape room caught fire, killing five 15-year-old girls.

The government facepalmed and sent firefighters to check all escape rooms in Poland. You know how many of them were in line with all fire and safety codes? 83. Over sixty were immediately shut down as danger to life and limb.

Personally if I'm getting locked in a room, I'd rather it had a way out in case of fire...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:20 PM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


...they actually LOCKED people in?!

There isn't actually a need to really lock the door! It's supposed to be a self imposed challenge. Poland, why.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's not that rare in the US to lock people up (though any such place that ever has been competently fire inspected will have an ugly dumb "emergency release" button). But it is becoming less common, and more and more rooms say it's okay to step outside if you need to use the bathroom or check in with your babysitter or call your boss to say you're quitting your job so you can do nothing but play escape rooms 100% of the time.

That change was underway before the Poland fire but it's definitely accelerating after it. Fire marshalls are getting serious, but so are owners, because who wants to have that on your hands. The popular blog Room Escape Artist (who were interviewed in the first FPP link and made the second one) pointedly avoid giving scores or ratings to the rooms they review, but they are doing that with safety issues, because they want to convey it's important, and they want players to be able to vote for safety with their wallets.

I know at least a few companies are trying to get away from the name "escape room" since many of the rooms are about going on an adventure and doing some kind of quest or mission, rather than just escaping from jail, a serial killer's basement, or an occult secret society. I dunno how effective that will be. I guess "quest room" is a popular term in Russia, despite the fact that horror themed rooms, which rooms tend to more escape-oriented, are super popular there .
posted by aubilenon at 2:12 PM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager (early 90s), the Crystal Maze and Knightmare were both popular among my (nerdy) friends. Crystal Maze especially has a lot of overlap with escape rooms, but was only ever a TV show. I wonder how many people behind the scenes it took to make that whole thing hang together.

I've only played one escape room (a Mars themed one in Orlando the day after the Falcon Heavy launch), but it seemed from that one that the rise of Arduino has a lot to do with the improved complexity/possibility space that have made these things so popular recently.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend this podcast listen for a perspective on the trend and future of escape rooms.
posted by meinvt at 2:57 PM on August 9, 2019


I mentioned to a mansplain-y friend of mine that I'd always wanted to try an escape room. She said that she didn't because she's so competitive and likes being right and would get frustrated doing puzzles with other people.

A few months later my team at work went to an escape room and I felt exactly that, especially with co-workers I didn't like very much. I ended up spending most of the hour moving from puzzle to puzzle and looking over people's shoulders without saying much.

We did end up escaping but only because we inadvertently cheated. One of the mechanized boxes was broken and we were able to open it without solving a puzzle.
posted by bendy at 6:31 PM on August 9, 2019


I went to one of those things with a group. And contrary to the escape company's recommendation, I was really drunk at the time. I 100% didn't give a shit about escaping, but still managed to find a clue because I was goofing around with the props and found shit by random chance. Then I solved/cheated another puzzle because I was lying on the floor and could see the wiring.

in conclusion: alcohol
posted by ryanrs at 11:22 PM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have always figured I'm too dumb to be able to do an escape room.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:38 PM on August 9, 2019


The article misses the primary driver of the escape room industry: abandoned big box stores to house the things. Dirt cheap rent, relatively cheap to start up, but scale to more expensive to draw previous customers back.

It's not really going to die out as a 'trend' until the abandoned big box store become valuable enough to where the rent gets too high.


in the city i'm from (vancouver; also have only been to one escape room) and the city i've lived in the past eight years, big box stores have nothing to do with escape rooms. the most recent one of which i've become aware where i live (toronto) is in the recently closed queen west video. pretty much all of the escape rooms i'm aware of are around downtown cores. maybe it's different elsewhere but in major canadian cities at least they don't seem to have anything to do with abandoned big boxes
posted by LeviQayin at 2:26 AM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


Ditto in the U.K. and other escape rooms I’ve visited across Europe.
posted by adrianhon at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2019


contrary to the escape company's recommendation, I was really drunk at the time

I think it’s more of a request than a recommendation; drunk players are way more likely to break props. Stoned players OTOH will just have no idea what’s going on, which I guess if you want to spend a bunch of money doing that, most escape rooms will be okay taking it.
posted by aubilenon at 8:27 AM on August 10, 2019


« Older Giant Roar   |   Whatever happened to Villanova basketball star... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments