An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. Escape rooms are inspired by "escape-the-room"–style video games. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles themselves follow the theme of the room.
Escape rooms became popular in North America, Europe and East Asia in the 2010s. Permanent escape rooms in fixed locations were first opened in Asia and followed later in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and South America.
The format of a room or area containing puzzles or challenges has featured in multiple TV game shows over the years, including Now Get Out of That, The Adventure Game, The Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard. A similar experience can be found in Interactive fiction software, and Escape the room video games.
Real Escape Game (REG) in Japan was developed by 35-year-old Takao Kato, of the Kyoto publishing company, SCRAP Co., in 2007. It is based in Kyoto, Japan and produces a free magazine by the same name. Beyond Japan, escape games appeared in Singapore from 2011, growing to over 50 games by 2015. Kazuya Iwata, a friend of Kato, brought Real Escape Game to San Francisco in 2012. The following year, Seattle-based Puzzle Break, co-founded by Nate Martin, became the first American-based escape room company.
Parapark, a Hungarian franchise that later operated in 20 locations in Europe and Australia, was founded in 2011 in Budapest. The founder, Attila Gyurkovics claims he had no information about the Japanese escape games and based the game on his job experience as personality trainer. Supposedly another escape room, "Origin", was created in Silicon Valley by a group of system programmers in 2013, but no concrete evidence for this game has been found. The mysteries and challenges in the game were inspired by the works of Agatha Christie and became a popular tourist attraction.
In 2015, the first escape games opened in South America in Porto Alegre and São Paulo. As of July 2015, there were over 2,800 escape room venues worldwide. These can be particularly lucrative for the operators, as the upfront investment has been as low as US $7,000, while a party of 4-8 customers pay around US $25–30 per person for one hour to play, potentially generating annual revenue upwards of several hundred thousand dollars.
The South China Morning Post described escape rooms as a hit among "[h]ighly stressed students and overworked young professionals." Sometimes the excitement becomes a bit much, though, and players get so invested that they tear down equipment or decorations inside their "fake" prisons, as Zhu Yumeng, chief operating officer of Beijing room escape game site Taoquan, told China Daily.
On December 24, 2016, US President Barack Obama and his family visited Breakout Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii after being challenged on Twitter by the escape room, and successfully completed the Mission Manoa room with 12 seconds remaining.
Some common themes and story lines that are often found in escape rooms include zombies, haunted houses, science laboratories, prisons, pirates, hostage, and kidnappings.
Most escape rooms offer plots and usually have a short introduction to establish how the player got there, and sometimes an outro when the game is finished. Rooms are played from a first person perspective, where the player usually needs to find clues and objects to interact with them. The rooms usually have multiple stages that are needed to be cleared in order to continue with the plot.
The adventures are usually indoor. However, there are exceptions that would lead players to outdoor adventures. Sessions usually last 60 minutes and can reach up to 120 minutes.
The minimum number of players is usually 2 and can go up to 8 (although there are exceptions that can lead to a higher number of players). Some escape rooms will team you up with other random players in order to fill the required number of players needed.
Escape rooms usually have a minimalistic interface, an ambient soundtrack, and sometimes actors acting as plot characters. These elements are used to enhance the escaper’s sense of isolation.
Escape rooms are evolving at a fast pace with technology being used more frequently to enhance the visitor experience and make puzzles more interactive. More elaborate story lines coupled with the whole experience being ‘in character’ creates an experience that is more theatrical and atmospheric.
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