Escape Rooms on Mental Wellbeing

Escape games have taken off in galactic proportions over the past few years and here at Escape Rooms we are always looking for ways we can introduce the craze to new audiences. As part of this endeavor, recently my colleague and I were sent on the excursion of a lifetime; to an office block in West Croydon.

Don’t worry, we were actually invited, we’re not one for cold calling. The event was to promote the importance of wellbeing to the employees of the organisation. Foolishly in spite of this, neither of us had done any proper research. Many of the attendees had never heard of Escape Rooms, which is exactly what we’d hoped, however we were greeted with a bombardment of questions regarding how the experience we offer could be considered a platform for mindfulness. In retrospect this seems the most obvious question to revise beforehand.

“Well essentially you’re locked in a room with your colleagues for an hour and you have to solve lots of difficult puzzles whilst racing against the clock“ we replied.

This didn’t seem to meet the criteria. The skepticism wasn’t helped by an episode of the BBCs Not Going Out which had aired on TV the previous night. The characters all went to an Escape Room and the outing was depicted as a pressure cooker of distress, anger and animosity which left friendships and relationships in irreversible tatters. Cheers for the publicity BBC.

So we got our thinking caps on and hastily scribbled down a list of bullet points on a piece of scrap paper. After all, between the massage therapist offering complimentary 15 minute sessions and the adorable golden retriever brought in to promote the benefits of petting animals to lower blood pressure, we had some stiff competition. It turns out that Escape Rooms do indeed offer an abundance of benefits that promote healthy relationships and a healthy mind. Suddenly we fit right in and the conversations with other visitors to the event gave us even further insight into the qualities Escape Rooms has to offer when opening a discourse on mental wellbeing. Here are just a few:

Escapism and Immersion

Sorry to get all Inception-y but in being put in a room from which you need to escape, you could say you have already escaped. Let that sink in for a moment. Mind blown? No? Ok.

The fact is the term Escape Rooms actually presents a double meaning. The experience in itself is an escape. At Escape Rooms you can find yourself immersed on a spaceship in the future, a cursed Egyptian tomb, a moon base and even complicit in a high-stakes museum heist. In short, you’re transported, if you’re willing to submit to complete suspension of reality, not only to another world but a place completely removed from the London’s rat race and from the distractions of modern life.

Nowadays when we’re unsure of how to do just about anything the answer is quite literally at our fingertips. Unfortunately Google or Siri will not help you solve our puzzles and our strict no photo/video policy means that you won’t find the answers anywhere on the web. Here the brain is at front and centre and personal phones prove useless. Smart phones are brilliant but render the user Omni-present. As such they have often been credited as a springboard for anxiety levels (I admit, there is a slight irony in that our games at Angel involves a smart phone messaging system, but all part of the futuristic sci-fi immersion, my friends). So switch the real world off for an hour and come and try an escape room if you want to train that brain in an immersive and fully tangible way.

Cohesion and Communication

There’s a reason we’re so popular as a team building activity. Communication and teamwork are at the very core of Escape Rooms and the game requires you to work as a cohesive unit towards a common goal. It can allow you to identify and cultivate each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses, learning the best way to approach working together. Much like some mad scientist in the lab you are taking the best of everyone to create one super monster (but like a good monster that’s going to win the escape room or something. Time to go back to metaphor school). One of the things in which we take great pride is the vast array of puzzles we have to offer. They may require skill, dexterity, physical prowess, a great visual mind, impeccable logic. In short there is something for everyone and thus a chance for everyone to shine. This isn’t like Scooby Doo where Velma solves everything. Without sounding like an after school special, being part of a unified team is a great feeling and positive interactions go hand in hand with a healthy mind.

Asking for help is not a weakness

When discussing mental health and wellbeing in broader terms, this is a statement that is much easier said than done. It is something that is endemic throughout all of society today and surrounds a stigma that with any hope will be quashed over time. However I am not exactly qualified or profound enough to talk on this matter in the broader sense. As such I’ll apply it to the microcosmic world of Escape Rooms.

Of the deadly ‘sins’ the one to which we are the most exposed as games masters, is pride. We can guarantee that you will reach a point in your game where all hope seems lost. You’re doomed and prepare to raise the white flag (which reminds me, whatever happened to Dido?). What a lot of players seem to forget is that the games master is there for a reason and accepting an offer of help should never be considered a sign of weakness. The teams that succeed most often are the ones that are not afraid to swallow their pride. Not only in accepting help from us, but from fellow team mates too. It really is a great applied example of the notion that asking for help is fundamental to growth and achievement. It is most certainly not something to be ashamed of. “The only shame comes from not making it to the wall of fame. And to make it to the wall of fame, one must be willing to suppress the shame“- Aristotle??

The Selfish Part

As much as teamwork is intrinsic to Escape Rooms it can also teach you a lot about yourself. The environment forces the mind to utilize skills that you might not even know you possessed. When you make the link, find the code, discover a vital puzzle component you feel ever so slightly great about yourself. You did that! After the experience has finished have a debrief with yourself and acknowledge your contribution. Speaking from my own experience and testimonials from our teams, the adrenaline- fuelled feeling you complete a room within the hour is a ‘rush’. Enjoy it. This is as much a victory for yourself as well as the team!

By Josh Buckland

Walls of Fame and Infamy

Walls do not presently enjoy a good reputation. As the physical manifestation of borders, they are despised, deplored and disparaged by that class of person for whom such things are symbols of backwardness, prejudice and intolerance…

And it is undoubtedly true that, historically, walls have a record that is far from unblemished.

They stood well at Troy, though to little gain. The walls of Jericho were renowned for their strength, yet fell to the sound of trumpets. Hadrian’s Wall was intended to stop the Scots ravaging England, and at that task it has patently failed. The English built Newcastle in a bid to trick the Scots into thinking there was nothing worth having down south. Yet still they came, the Stuarts and their ilk, marching through history a path of devastation which culminated in the premiership of Gordon Brown.

Where else? The Great Wall of China is impressive and much-loved, yet it didn’t save the Ming Dynasty from the Manchu invasion. The Berlin Wall was quite something, too, yet it crumbled (understandably) from the ignominy of having Ronald Reagan stand atop it. Jerusalem’s Western Wall has probably caused more war than it’s worth; the Athenian Long Walls certainly annoyed the Spartans, who dismantled them after they defeated the Athenian navy; the walls of Constantinople… etc.

Yet we at Escape Rooms remain fond of walls, not least because it is hard to lock people in rooms without them. (Unless they are mimes, as my colleague helpfully points out.)

That much is obvious. But we have another reason, too. At our London Bridge venue the walls are covered with the pictures and decorations of teams past; four-years’ worth of success staring down at us, and upon whatever plucky challenger makes a bid to join their exalted legions.

Success, however, is not easily won. Only 45% of teams who take on our games at London Bridge escape to tell the tale. Of that number, a smaller percentage still make it onto the walls of fame. Those who do have escaped, not only within an hour (which is difficult enough), but having used no more than 3 hints.

A hint, at our London Bridge venue, is something you have explicitly to ask for. We take a consensual approach to hints. And it constitutes your Game Master giving you between 60 and 70% of the solution to a particular puzzle. They are immensely useful to teams who are badly stuck or otherwise pressed for time.

To earn a place on the walls of fame, you can use no more than 3 hints. Should you escape having satisfied these criteria you will have earned your place. You will be given a black card, on which your picture shall be placed, and which you may decorate as you see fit, limited by the bounds of decency, of course.

Anyway, we like our walls. We are surrounded by happy faces. Indeed, we at Escape Rooms commend the idea to the President of the United States. Mr Trump, if you insist on building your wall, we feel it could use a human touch. We would be happy to franchise our idea and allow you to make use of it. For a modest fee.

Then your border wall could be festooned with the smiling faces of all the Mexicans who successfully scale it.

We eagerly await your response.

By Benjamin Mercer

How to Escape with your LIfe

I have been tasked with providing you, dear creature, with a list of ‘top tips’. This is a surprisingly difficult job, as one must walk the line between saying too much and too little. Our games require secrecy, so I cannot tell you how they work. Then again, were I to adopt HR speak and tell you of the vague importance of ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘teamwork’, you would rightly be forgiven for thinking this whole exercise a waste of time. With that in mind, I present to you this list: not quite 12 rules for life, but 12 tips for escape game success (and successful courtship thereafter).

1) Of codes and padlocks.

Most padlocks require combinations of varying lengths. Let us suppose your padlock requires a 4-digit code. Let us further suppose that you have worked out 3 of the numbers but are struggling with the last. Do you A) continue working at the puzzle until you have the final number, or B) scroll through the padlock’s final dial until it unlocks? If you picked A) you’d do what most people do, and most people do not escape.

2) Listen to your Game Master.

Whilst we take seriously that part of our job which requires us to lend grace, charm and beauty to the establishment, our role is not merely ornamental. We have interesting and, yes, helpful things to say. And most of us say these things rather well. So be sure to listen. Right to the end. It’s polite.

3) Ask questions.

Pride is all very well, and of course it is entirely up to you, but we do hand out walkie-talkies for a reason and the best teams make use of them. A well-placed question can be the difference between success and failure, life and death. Remember, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. (Stupid people, on the other hand…)

4) Communicate, how to.

In the first place, listen to your Game Master (See 2) Listen to your Game Master) when he/she explains how the walkie-talkies work. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who don’t do this, and who instead find new and innovative ways of doing things badly. In the second, if you are playing a game, for example Project D.I.V.A, in which multiple walkie-talkies are involved, you will need to remember that they only work one-at-a-time. Failure to observe this rule causes your Game Master a good deal of pain and annoyance.

5) Be Charitable. (For corporate and team-building groups.)

Remember that you are at a disadvantage. Families and groups of friends, all of whom are (presumably) playing because they want to, know how to fall out – indeed, in the case of families, how to hate each other – whilst remaining productive, they being familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, flaws and foibles. You may not be so familiar with those of your teammates. So be charitable. Remember that what may seem to you an unspeakably dumb question might have taken a good deal of mental effort on the part of Sharon from accounting. (See 3) Ask Questions.)

6) Organise yourselves.

Once again you’d be surprised how many people fail to do this, they being (one supposes) overwhelmed by the complexity of the game, or else by its sheer sensory brilliance. Organisation is particularly important in non-linear games, such as Room 33 and Pharaoh’s Chamber, where there are many items to be used and no strict order in which to use them. So, a word of advice to those taking on our games at London Bridge: keep track of what you’ve used, and make sure the whole team is kept informed. There is no sense letting Ethel waste valuable time fiddling with a key that’s already been used.

7) Don’t Complain.

It’s not that it hurts our feelings, as our feelings are and ought to be irrelevant. Rather, I warn you against complaints because they have a deleterious effect on team morale, and thus diminish your chances of escaping. If you can’t figure out a puzzle, don’t moan that it doesn’t make sense. Do not whine that the puzzle in Project D.I.V.A, which involves binary code, ‘isn’t logical’, as a team did last week. (It’s perfectly logical. It’s binary, for goodness’ sake.)
Rather, admire the complexity of the puzzle that’s baffling you. Perhaps ask questions of your Game Master. Beseech your teammates for help. All of our puzzles make perfect sense, even if you can’t see it. Honestly.

8) Be sober.

Unless (like me) you must always be drunk for medical reasons, or unless (also like me) being drunk makes you a genius, we do most sincerely recommend – and indeed beg and implore – that you turn up sober. Hilarious though your drunken antics may me to you (and, yes, sometimes to us), the chances are consumption will be a hindrance.

9) Listen to your children. (If you have any. If they’re smart.)

Sometimes children demonstrate such instinctive skill that, when you look at their parents, you cannot help but wonder if the child has been adopted. Some of my favourite teams have contained children as young as 12, and it is often the young ones who have the best ideas. There is nothing more frustrating than a parent obstinately doing the wrong thing when the child has worked it out correctly. So, parents, listen to your kids.

10) Don’t drop the cube.

This will make sense once you’ve played Pharaoh’s Chamber. Suffice it to say that dropping the cube is the equivalent of setting off a small nuclear bomb. You are highly unlikely to survive the experience.

11)Don’t over-complicate things.

First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? It is quite possible to be too intelligent. I once had a team with a genius, but he was of no use at all. He did in fact cost his team valuable time. He had found a riddle, and found the answer to that riddle, but became convinced that the answer was itself an anagram and a cypher which, once decoded, would give him a 4-digit code. No such puzzle exists. Sometimes things are simpler than they may appear, which makes Occam’s old razor an invaluable tool for any escape artist.

12)Remember, you’re on camera.

Granted, this probably doesn’t count as a tip. Not one that will be of much use to you in the game, anyway. But it is still important. We occasionally have teams who forget we can see their every move, and people do behave quite differently when they have – or think they have – privacy. We’ve seen things. Things you people wouldn’t believe. Things the likes of which I cannot repeat in polite company. So please, for the sake of decency and our good consciences, remember: You’re being watched. Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements…

By Benjamin Mercer

High Tech Rooms at Angel

Ever felt like you were destined for greatness?
Thought you were the team to take on the bad guys and win?
Have you ever wanted to save the world?
Be it by fighting Nazis on the Moon or trying to take back control of a rogue satellite set on destroying Earth, you could help save the fate of humanity by booking one of our brand new rooms in Angel!

The Dark Side of the Moon

Believe that 1969 was the first time humans made it to the surface of the moon? Think again. Word has reached Earth that a secret Nazi base on the dark side of the moon has become active and, worse still, unusual radiation signatures have been detected on its surface. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to break into the base and begin to secretly take it down from the inside. Don’t worry though, you’ll have some laser guns on hand incase things do go astray.

When first encountering the Dark Side of the Moon room you’re going to need to start the generator for power. Without power your mission will be futile. Surely a simple enough task, but you’d be surprised at how many have failed at the first hurdle…

From that point on you’ll encounter a number of obstacles such as a slide, power-generating gloves and a mysterious swastika disc. But don’t worry, it’s only the fate of the entire humankind on your shoulders.

Project D.I.V.A

A.I. systems, what would we do without them? They can make our lives so much easier, but what happens when they want to take over them? In 2038 we’re about to find out. With Earth becoming overpopulated, we’ve been looking into other planets in which to inhabit and Mars is first on our radar. A satellite is sent into orbit, controlled by the A.I. system fondly known as DIVA, in order to check out the planet and make sure it remains safe from meteorites. But DIVA has other plans…

Turns out DIVA has gone rogue and is set on everyone and everything. Your mission is to board the satellite and, hack into DIVA’s security defence system and reset it’s main motherboard. You’ll encounter codes, discs and might even have to split up from the rest of your team in order to take back control of the sataille.

It isn’t going to be easy, especially when you find yourself facing a room of laser beams, but we believe in you. Good luck.

By Kay Dekker