Games of­fer an es­cape from stress Puz­zles pro­vide a new way for ur­ban­ites to party and an al­ter­na­tive team-build­ing ac­tiv­ity

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China -

A few weeks ago, Yuan Chao­jun quit his well-paid job with a trad­ing com­pany in Shang­hai and started teach­ing peo­ple how to “es­cape from rooms”.

Room es­cape is a real-life ad­ven­ture game, dur­ing which “im­pris­oned” play­ers are re­quired to es­cape from “dun­geons”, “pris­ons” and mys­te­ri­ous cells by solv­ing puz­zles and con­nect­ing clues in a fixed pe­riod of time.

The venue where Yuan works is in down­town Shang­hai, and his job is to ex­plain the plot of the game to play­ers be­fore the game be­gins, warn them of pos­si­ble dan­gers, and help the gamers if they find it dif­fi­cult to “es­cape”. Af­ter the game, he is also re­spon­si­ble for putting all the equip­ment back where it be­longs.

“Room es­cape is ex­cit­ing be­cause it al­lows peo­ple to play dif­fer­ent roles and ex­pe­ri­ence another life for a short time,” said Yuan, 29. “Al­though time is lim­ited, it is a good way to re­lease stress from work and school.”

Room es­cape is said to have orig­i­nated in Sil­i­con Val­ley in 2006, in­spired by the nov­els of Agatha Christie. Mixed with ex­cite­ment, chal­lenges and fear of the un­known, the game has be­come pop­u­lar in China.

In Shang­hai alone, more than 200 lo­ca­tions of­fer these ad­ven­tures. Across the coun­try thou­sands of such es­cape rooms with var­i­ous themes have sprung up.

Room es­cape at­tracts peo­ple from all walks of life. Yang Shuyu is among them. He pre­vi­ously worked for an on­line gam­ing com­pany, but he switched to cre­at­ing room es­cape games at Magic Cube in 2013.

“The in­dus­try is es­sen­tially about gam­ing, which I love, but it is ut­terly dif­fer­ent from on­line games,” he said.

Four years later, his Magic Cube has shot to fame in Shang­hai, and now Yang and his wife op­er­ate five venues across Shang­hai, Hangzhou and Nan­jing, plus three fran­chises, in­clud­ing one in Lon­don. Each venue has a dif­fer­ent theme, and two won awards this year for orig­i­nal­ity.

Stress re­lief is one of the ma­jor rea­sons why these games are so pop­u­lar, Yang said.

“Tired, stressed-out Chi­nese ur­ban­ites, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, want to meet friends, chat and find some in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties,” he said.

“That’s why room es­cape has be­come a new way of par­ty­ing, fol­low­ing karaoke, video games and board games.”

Room es­cape games of­ten re­quire group think­ing, mak­ing it a good al­ter­na­tive for com­pany team-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ye Kai works for a film pro­duc­tion com­pany. He and col­leagues re­cently took on a room es­cape game called “As­sas­sin”, and only made it out “with the help of everyone”.

“The game gave me a strong sense of in­volve­ment and team­work,” Ye said. “I will def­i­nitely come back and try other themes.”

But es­cape games are not with­out their crit­ics, es­pe­cially as they ex­pand into res­i­den­tial dis­tricts.

Ac­cord­ing to a La­bor Daily re­port, a venue opened in a base­ment in a res­i­den­tial area in Shang­hai’s Jin­gan district re­cently, at­tract­ing a large num­ber of devo­tees to the area. As the door to the com­mu­nity is now con­stantly open, some res­i­dents have been left ir­ri­tated.

“How can our safety be guar­an­teed if they al­low these ran­dom strangers into our com­mu­nity freely?” one res­i­dent was quoted as say­ing.

The game de­vel­oper apol­o­gized for the in­con­ve­nience af­ter the news­pa­per broke the story last week.

“We are think­ing about em­ploy­ing se­cu­rity guards at the en­trance to check on our cus­tomers,” the de­vel­oper said. “We want peo­ple to have fun. It was never our in­ten­tion to dis­turb the neigh­bor­hood.”

PHOTOS BY YI PENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Room es­cape games are con­sid­ered a good sub­sti­tute for con­ven­tional team-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Par­tic­i­pants of a room es­cape game try to solve puz­zles in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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