A Brief History Of Escape Rooms


So, Where Did Escape Rooms Come From?

If you're reading this article then there’s a very good chance that you know I definitely know about escape rooms already. They are real-life puzzle adventures where the team of players is locked in a room and they need to look for clues and solve riddles in order to escape before their time is up. It's an interesting concept, but many people ask where the idea came from? The truth is that they have a fascinating history that goes back to Greek mythology and includes Victorian Gardens and video games along the way. 

The Minotaur And Labyrinths

When it comes to creating elaborate ways of getting lost and then challenging ourselves to find a way out, History is full of these efforts. One example is the Labyrinth. Providing you did your Greek homework at school, then you would already know that this refers to a maze built by the artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos, in order to keep the Minotaur imprisoned. It was so complex that even it’s builder was lucky to find his way out. Anyway, you’ll also be aware that the Athenian hero, Theseus,  navigated his way through the maze of a labyrinth in order to kill the Minotaur. You can find images of the labyrinth pattern on Greek coins from as early as 4:30 BC. But it's important to keep in mind that the labyrinth wasn't necessarily a phenomena only found in ancient Greece. References to this maze have been found as far afield as Russia, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, England and even across the Atlantic in the art works of Native Americans in North America. This is because the traditional role of a maze was as a means of trapping evil spirits. Religious pilgrims would walk through the intricate paths of Labyrinth reciting their prayers.

Mazes As Garden Puzzles

In the 16th century the fashion for creating mazes from hedgerows became very popular amongst the aristocracy of Europe and in particular the English. Probably the most famous maze structure, which you can still explore today, is the Hampton Court Maze. There are no religious connotations to these. They were simply a means of creating games. As a result, you'll find them featured in many works of literature and across popular culture. For example, in the books of Alice in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series. As far as Hollywood goes, probably the most famous maze is the one in which Jack Nickerson finds himself unable to escape from in Stanley Kubrick’s fright-fest,The Shining. Around Halloween, across the central States of the US and Canada, you'll find many corn mazes springing up. These are designed for entertainment purposes. What's interesting is how the labyrinth and maze eventually moved online. If you think back to one of the earliest computer games, then Pac-Man is probably the best known maze-based game in the world.

The Online Origins Of The Escape Room Genre

If we look at the concept of today's escape room games, then we can trace back their roots to online games. Back in the day, virtual players were “locked” in an online room and had to try and uncover virtual clues in order to escape. And in the 1980s, these games were incredibly popular with gamers. Probably one of the earliest examples of this escape-the-room type game genre was John Wilson's “Behind Closed Doors” which came out in 1988. It's a simple text-based adventure game where you have to enter text commands in order to escape a room. Of course, since then the escape room genre has come a long way. After Wilson's game, we had some graphic escape room games like “MOTAS” (Mystery of Time and Space), along with Toshimitsu Takagi’s online Flash game, “Veridian Room.” And finally the CDrom-based game, “Myst” from the Miller Brothers which came out for PC in 1993. But it was probably Toshimitsu Takagi’s “Crimson Room” that changed everything. It was first released in Japan in 2004. The game was an instant hit with hundreds of millions of plays to its name. In fact, this is the game that's considered to be the inspiration and OG for the whole escape room genre that you can see today.

The Real Escape Game From Takao Kato

The first real life escape room was opened by Takao Kato in Japan in 2007. The escape room was called “The Real Escape Game” (“Riaru Dasshutsu Ge-mu”). Today you can find Kato running the Kyoto based event company, Scrap Entertainment inc. He said he got the idea for an escape room after watching classmates play an online version. As he said, “I thought I could create my own adventure, a story, and then invite people to be a part of it.” What's interesting about this story is that many businesses seem to follow the path of going from real-life physical adventures to those which are digital. Yet Kato decided to go in the other direction, and to move from what was once digital to creating a real world escape room game. In the beginning he created his own storylines and then invited people to be part of it. The Real Escape Room events were held in bars and clubs that had been previously outfitted with puzzles and clues. Tickets were then sold to these live events. The concept proved incredibly popular and within no time at all locations were spreading around the globe. From Japan an escape room opened in Singapore in 2011, and the following year in San Francisco. Around about the same time the first escape room game appeared in Hungary to be followed by Romania and then Switzerland. The US had to wait until 2013 until the Seattle based company, Puzzle Break, which was founded by Microsoft Allum Nate Martin, opened. 

Escape Rooms have Evolved Into A Huge Business Today

Today, you'll find any number of escape rooms in cities all around the world. Many of these locations will feature up to 10 rooms, ranging from easy to very difficult in gameplay. This allows players to return again and again as they work their way up the difficulty of the levels. At the end of the day, escape room games have proven to be an incredibly lucrative business opportunity. Many individual companies see their revenue grow by a bonkers 800% on an annual basis. And not only are escape rooms being utilised by the public, but also many businesses have formed around the ideas of corporate entertainment and corporate training. To that end, almost every weekend there's an escape room hosting a corporate team building event for a business somewhere in the world. 

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