From zom­bie apoc­a­lypse to tick­ing time-bombs, the new Es­cape Room craze sweep­ing across Scot­land


YOU have been locked in a room with a hid­den bomb. The clock is tick­ing and there is just one hour to lo­cate and defuse the ex­plo­sives... No, it’s not the plot of the lat­est TV thriller, but one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing game crazes tak­ing the coun­try by storm.

Across Scot­land, there are now 75 Es­cape Rooms – in which teams of play­ers have to solve Crys­tal Maze­type puz­zles against the clock – and new ones are pop­ping up ev­ery month in lo­ca­tions as un­likely as Orkney and Unst, the UK’s most northerly in­hab­ited is­land. Experts say the games are be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly main­stream part of our en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Themes – in­clud­ing se­cret bunkers, zom­bie apoc­a­lypse rooms, heist sit­u­a­tions, as well as film and lit­er­a­ture tieins from In­di­ana Jones-style tombs to Harry Pot­ter-in­flu­enced mag­i­cal tur­rets – are at­tract­ing thou­sands of Scots each week with con­tin­ued growth pre­dicted, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try fig­ures.

Es­cape Room en­thu­si­ast and game re­viewer Ken Fer­gu­son, who runs blog site Exit Games, claims new rooms are open­ing at a rate of around one a day in the UK and with about 800 now oper­at­ing he predicts that the mar­ket – which he es­ti­mates to be worth £40 mil­lion – will con­tinue to ex­pand through­out 2018.

Fer­gu­son claims many have been in­spired by TV shows such as the Ad­ven­ture Game, screened by BBC in the 1980s and The Crys­tal Maze, first broad­cast by Chan­nel 4 in the 1990s be­fore re­turn­ing to screens in June this year. The rise of TripAd­vi­sor and other re­view sites have made it eas­ier for peo­ple to track down far-flung rooms.

“More than any­thing, I think that peo­ple have moved from want­ing phys­i­cal goods to want­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” he added. “Mem­o­ries mat­ter more than ma­te­rial ob­jects. Peo­ple are also look­ing for more in­ter­est­ing ways to so­cialise. It’s not enough just to head to the pub for a drink, they want some­thing more ex­cit­ing.

“At some level it’s – no pun in­tended – a form of es­capism. Peo­ple want to leave be­hind the stress of their lives and ex­pe­ri­ence an ad­ven­ture whether that’s find­ing an an­cient arte­fact, pro­tect­ing the world from an im­pend­ing dis­as­ter or es­cap­ing from prison.”

Daniel Hill, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Es­cape brand, which opened Scot­land’s first room in Ed­in­burgh in May 2014, said the growth of both his own busi­ness, and the in­dus­try as a whole, over the last few years had been strik­ing. “When you look at the map you can see them pop­ping up all over the world,” he said.

Locked, at Sum­mer­hall in Ed­in­burgh, has at­tracted five-star re­views since open­ing two years ago. Co-owner Jackie Jack be­lieves peo­ple are at­tracted by the au­then­tic feel of the former small an­i­mal hos­pi­tal – which lay derelict for 10 years – where themes have in­cluded a dis­sec­tion room, an anatomy theatre and a se­cret lab.

Hus­band and wife team John and Sharon Rankin opened one of the UK’s most northerly rooms in Ler­wick, Shet­land, 18 months ago. Post­man-turned-fire­man John Rankin de­vel­ops the games, adapt­ing them reg­u­larly in recog­ni­tion of the is­lands’ small 20,000 pop­u­la­tion, and com­bin­ing tech­nol­ogy with old fash­ioned puz­zles to cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences to en­gage all ages. He has also de­vel­oped games for other own­ers in­clud­ing a bomb-on-the­bus themed one in Mis­souri.

Linda Tor­rance, of Es­cape Rooms Scot­land, has rooms in Glas­gow, Ed­in­burgh, Dundee and Stir­ling. “It’s great fun but we also find that peo­ple learn some­thing about them­selves and how they re­act un­der pres­sure,” she said. “We have par­ents com­ing out, say­ing: ‘I didn’t re­alise my kids were so clever’. It changes the dy­namic be­tween them. There are men­tal puz­zles, maths rid­dles, as­so­ci­a­tion games. Once peo­ple try it they get the bug.”

Es­cape Room en­thu­si­ast Pa­trick O’Neill from Glas­gow, has been tak­ing part for four years. “It’s like be­ing a kid again,” he said, “ex­cept this time you’re play­ing with your adult mates in your very own Crys­tal Maze.”

Es­cape Rooms take on many guises, from flee­ing mur­der­ous zom­bies to sav­ing the world from im­pend­ing dis­as­ter. Above right, Locked In, an ad­ven­ture at Sum­mer­hall, Ed­in­burgh’s old vet school Pho­tographs: Vir­gin Ex­pe­ri­ences; Locked In Ed­in­burgh

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