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