Room Escape: live-action virtual reality

Approx read: 2 mins
Jorge Royan

Claustrophilia: an abnormal desire for confinement in an enclosed space.

The room escape virus has jumped from virtual reality to real life.

Worshipped by trash-talking game nerds from all over the world, room escape games started as puzzle-solving point-and-click adventure games. ‘Nunquam pardus umquam’ (‘Never trousers, ever’) may be a classic gamer motto, but trust me, you’ll want to put something on for the live action version.

Real people meet in real places to play room escape. Stuck together for about an hour, teams must solve puzzles to crack codes, diffuse bombs, and find a way out without killing one another before the buzzer goes off.
Each game has a theme, with accompanying clues, props and décor: ‘Sherlock’ ‘Cold War Spy’ ‘Egyptologist in the Mummy’s Den.’

Room escape companies tend to set up shop in really, really beautiful places. There are over 50 in Budapest alone, and one can find others from Tokyo to Kuala Lampur to Los Angeles.
Hagia Sofia, anyone? No thanks, I think I’ll just diffuse a fake bomb with these fake friends I just made. Live-action virtual reality. Harrumph.

All sorts of people enjoy the challenge of spending €35 to be locked in a small space with other people and forced to do maths not done since the 6th form while the clock tick tick ticks.
‘Team-building, corporate leader-defining,’ business people call room escape experiences.

Couples claim that cooperative problem-solving strengthens relationships. Aren’t these the same people who stare at maps-clearly lost- and seethe at one another?
I know I should love this kind of thing, at least the history bits. Lots of escape room themes reflect the local history and culture of their surroundings.

It’s just a game, isn’t it?

I get the appeal. Travelling can be a lonely experience. Spending an hour figure out how to save yourselves (and/or the world) in a safe place (sorry, you can’t file a travel medical insurance claim for a bruised ego) can be a real icebreaker. Many room escape puzzles rely on mathematics or logistics, so a room escape can be fun for a Brit in Tokyo or a Russian in France.

Closed conditions and finite outcomes can be comforting, but isn’t travelling the ultimate room escape puzzle?

Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.