Our Escape Adventure Part 16: All Good Things Must Come To An End!
Greetings from St. Augustine, FL! After eight months on the road, 46 states and 282 escape rooms, we have made it back to the Sunshine State!
This article is based mainly on the statements of two groups: company owners and enthusiasts visiting rooms as part of escape room tourism. Thanks to this, it was possible to reach many real perspectives, and the article took the form of a collection of conversations.
You may hear about escape room tourism more and more often. At first, we associate it primarily with a trip organized typically for visiting escape rooms - this is its main goal, in which things such as sightseeing or exploring the city are much less important, and all organizational steps are planned strictly for gaming. We can also look at this aspect a bit more broadly, in terms of organizations and institutions. Therefore, escape room tourism can also be the use of the advantages of a given location for tourist business, aimed at creating an attractive form of promoting a city, region, or the place itself.
To understand the phenomenon of escape room tourism, we must first ask ourselves: What is escape room tourism in general? Do players and owners understand it the same way? There has never been a permanent definition of this phenomenon, so perhaps it's a matter of perspective? Or maybe we need to find a golden mean that combines these two perspectives?
To this end, we asked for the definition of a few enthusiasts who travel the world to explore escape rooms. It’s worth noting that this test group is governed by different specifics because we limited ourselves to supporters of escape rooms from Europe. If we were to analyze the international Facebook group of fans “Escape Rooms Enthusiasts” with the majority of US citizens, we could conclude that Americans mostly (in my opinion, around 90%) travel between states and they would have a completely different view of the term escape room tourism, because not much of them go overseas to Europe or to South America (what is understandable concerning to the distance).
It is worth emphasizing now that the thesis has been partially confirmed. Although people who are not related to the industry (who are not the owners of the objects) indicate in their definitions only the aspect of travel itself, the authors also mention the concept of the arrangement of the area with the use of its advantages. So let's compare the two collected definitions: one belongs to the enthusiast and the other belongs to the owner of the escape room.
Joanna Fijałkowska, Museum of History and Archeology in Stargard, Poland (owner’s perspective): In my opinion, it’s one of the many branches of tourism, which is conditioned, among others, by tourists' motivations. Just as you can do culinary, religious or sightseeing tourism, so can it be the escape room tourism too. These are sometimes places, cities that are famous for good escape rooms such as Bydgoszcz, but there are also escape rooms that can make a given city famous on the map (for example, “Seria Niefortunnych Zagadek”, eng. “The Series of Unfortunate Riddles” in Pszczyna). Escape room tourists usually make "trips" to a specific place (city, province, country) to play in as many rooms as possible in the shortest possible time. Therefore, the cities with several companies offering a dozen rooms have the greatest chance to attract such people, because it will be a more tasty morsel for escape room fans.
Dominika Gładysz, escape room enthusiast from Poland (enthusiast’s perspective): The definition would depend on the level of escape room craziness. At first “escape room tourism” would just equal making some ER-based trip plans often including some sightseeing and other tourist attractions. Next level of craziness comprises visiting each city that has good ER games or even traveling abroad out of curiosity, and fishing for some cultural differences in approach to creating escape room experience. Madness begins with differentiating cities based on the rooms You have actually played, with creating Your own vacation schedule having mainly ERs in mind, and subsequently giving up visiting Acropolis in favour of one more thrilling ER visit. Everyone has seen it in the books, right? Oh, I probably shouldn't have admitted to that one.
Every tourist or enthusiast visiting an escape room in an unusual location or using its unusual historical and cultural aspects of this location sees the effect of someone's work - such a room is a ready product that we see as the result. However, the process of land adaptation is a crucial thing - many factors should be taken into account already at the design stage of such a place. For example, in an escape room placed in a museum and using its elements, it will most likely be impossible to destroy the walls and modify the rooms due to the protection of the monument conservator. It would also be difficult to remove a massive wall in an escape room adapted to the area of an old bunker.
However, this does not mean that modifications are impossible at all. Many of them simply require a different approach and imagination - so the features that are necessary for the creators of any other commercial escape room. At this point, it’s quite important to mention an article by National Geographic, in which a ranking of the seven most unusual escape rooms in Poland was created. Their main determinant was their location. The list includes, among others:
How did they use the advantages of the place to create an escape room and at the same time attract tourists' attention?
Joanna Fijałkowska, Museum of History and Archeology in Stargard: Basteja in Stargard during its opening (2013) was the most modern museum facility in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship. It somehow forced a non-standard approach to create the offer. The Education Department of the Museum in Stargard, in addition to traditional educational forms, such as guided tours, museum lessons, and workshops, faced the challenge of making the offer more attractive to attract visitors from outside Stargard and mobilize people to visit this place many times. That’s how the idea for an escape room in the museum has been created. It was an innovative plan as the escape room was implemented in a functioning, active museum hall. During the challenge, ER players were locked in the exhibition, which allowed them to experience it in a completely non-standard way. This solution, of course, was associated with sacrifices - we could not create electronic puzzles there or modify the structure of the room or exhibition, but it gave us some space for our creativity. We were able to use the exhibition scenario, room layout, and multimedia accompanying the exhibition to the maximum, and on their basis, we could develop a scenario dedicated for an escape room. I think it worked out quite well, as evidenced by the fact that since 2015 there have been three escape rooms (in different rooms) and they enjoy uninterrupted popularity.
Michał Olejnik, owner of the company “Cinema Escape”: First of all, I decided not to divide the huge space into several different rooms (what we could do), but to make one room that would retain the unique atmosphere of the old cinema while maintaining its values. Thanks to the use of this uniqueness, the room can stand out from others as something different and unusual. I think that this is why we can attract players from all over Poland, even though unfortunately there are no other rooms around, which makes it difficult for teams to plan trips for more games (sometimes discouraging them from coming to us).
Michał Kucharski, Cudotwórnia Events, creator of rooms located in a closed mine shaft in Zabrze (“Szola”) and the Silesian Museum in Katowice (“Skrytka Powstańców”): As for “Szola” - we had an amazing place, because the room was located in an old mine. The entrance was through a sewage pit that was connected to the room. So people were walking over the entrance to the escape room, going to us to get ready before the game and discussing the rules, and when we opened the hatch and told them to come down here to start the game, they didn't believe us. The escape room itself was located in the former ventilation room - in the place where once there were giant fans that blew air into the mine shaft. There was a built-in window through which you could look down into the darkness of the mine. Basically, we only relied on old mining equipment - we knew from the beginning that we would not put too much electronics. For example, you had to shift a pile of coal to find something. But thanks to this it had its atmosphere. This attracted attention and was most praised by visitors.
As for the adaptation of the room at the Silesian Museum, it was specific that it was built at the museum exhibition - we had partitions in a huge hall. We could also design from the very beginning, for example, room spacing, fixings for a hundred-year-old wardrobe, or all "electrical issues".
The escape rooms themselves, over time, begin to go beyond certain frames - not only in terms of the advancement of puzzles, electronics, or decor but also in terms of location. The usage of the surroundings and the place to play with puzzles is another proof of the creativity of their creators.
There is no better way to gather evidence of similar location usage conventions than to ask a group of enthusiasts who have visited rooms in many countries. It turns out that creativity knows no limits. The conclusions are obvious - if there is desire, an escape room can be created literally anywhere, using the values of the surroundings, local culture, or a historical point.
The question for enthusiasts was: During one of such trips, did you come across an escape room in an unusual location by common standards? If so, how was this place arranged as an escape room? Have the advantages of this place been used to design the room?)
(At this point, I must warn every reader that below you will find a lot of stories from players about rooms in unusual locations. Don't worry about the amount of text - read and find out that there are still many things we don't know about escape rooms. As an author of the article, I had a great time collecting this information for you!)
Heiner Stepen, escape room enthusiast from Germany, an author of a blog about escape rooms and their reviews “Escape Roomers DE”: In France, we played an escape game in a real wine cellar. The storage rooms and original interior were included in the game. The extreme ceiling height was used very well. In Hamburg, there are a total of 6 escape games on a tall ship and a cargo ship. You sometimes play on several deck levels, climb through hatches and climb steep stairs. In Holland, there is an escape game in an abandoned factory building on 4000 square meters. The players must move over several floors. Professional lighting and sound enhance the already oppressive atmosphere.
Justyna Śnieżek, member of the escape group “Zagadkowcy”, author of the blog “zagadkowcy.wordpress.com”: In a souvenir booth in a tourist town by the sea; shells, necklaces, postcards, and the like were sold there. We couldn't believe Google Maps that we were there. In a sea container - the way you need to escape was brilliant, this would not be possible in a normal location. In the museum - in this escape room was possible to get some information about the local legends in an interactive, mysterious way. In the science center - it was created in cooperation with scientists and gained a lot of original scientific gadgets that I have not seen in any other escape room. In the attic - the "nook and cranny" space of the attic was perfectly used, and the structural elements such as columns and ceiling beams fit like a glove to the mine, in which there are similar columns and beams, preventing it from collapsing. In a house built from scratch to be one big escape room - it’s an amazing impression when the game takes place in a two-story house with a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, basement, and lots of other rooms, that were not built for someone to live here, but to go through an escape room.
Wojciech Nadara, member of the group “EWarsaw Eagles”, triple finalist of ER Champ, ambassador of TERPECA: During my trips, I definitely played a few escape rooms in unusual locations. The best examples that come to my mind are "Where Dark Things Dwell" in Toronto, "SOS" in Dublin, and “Carfax” and "Monuments" in Nottingham. "Where Dark Things Dwell" took place in an open-air museum called "Black Creek Pioneer's Village". It was a very unusual game, where up to 60 players could have played simultaneously. Players were divided into smaller teams that were initially distributed into multiple cottages that were filled with puzzles, but then we needed to visit many places across the village. Multiple actors (10-20?) were engaged in this experience and they gave it a theatrical flavour by acting as villagers where some of them were possessed by evil ghosts. "SOS" in Dublin is a game by a company called Escape Boats. The scenario of the game places players in a situation where they need to escape a sinking boat and fittingly this game takes place on a real boat that is stationed on the local canal, which makes it a highly immersive game. Nottingham is a city that is known for its complex caves system. Apparently, throughout the ages, these caves served multiple purposes and were used for example as dungeons or bomb shelters. Now you can add escape rooms to that list as Cave Escape games are placed in real caves beneath the ground! Moreover, the themes of their games nicely suit the environment as "Carfax" is a game about Dracula, and "Monuments" tells the story where caves serve as a hideout place where precious items stolen by Nazis during World War II are hidden.
Dominika Gładysz, enthusiast from Poland: Unusual locations are like hidden gems in ER world. The most popular include some remote and often industrial areas. Usually potential is unexplored, but sometimes it adds beautifully to the experience. I remember an ER in the old printing house, the theme of the game was connected with location, moreover, the building's old age as well as damages caused by time, made this experience a unique one. We were also given an introduction during quite a long and well-thought tour to the place of the game. Sometimes even getting to such a remote location and trying to find an ER is like a first puzzle to explore. I had a funny moment when I exited a room into a corridor that belonged to the common area and I was supposed to look for another door and open it to finish the mission. I was stopped by an odd man in a porter's uniform who started quite a creepy conversation about chances of escaping… I was uneasy, however, convinced he was an actor, his answers were so strange and seemed extremely well-planned to throw players off the stride. After a while of prolonged strangeness (I really couldn’t figure out what I have to do to defeat that last obstacle!), I was rescued by a GM. Apparently porter really enjoyed conversing with players and always wanted to help with opening final doors. Unforgettable! Another benefit of unusual and old buildings comes with things we can find inside such as old furniture, industrial equipment, stairs to the basement, or even stairs to upper floors. Apparently all of them (old basements especially!) have an aphrodisiac effect on me. Most of the ERs, that have such magnificent surprises, implement them perfectly. Escape room games that take place in the whole building and often adjacent areas, provide an additional dose of immersion and adrenaline. Searching through a backyard, climbing through a window, and exploring real houses with their hidden secrets, give players an enormous sense of real adventure. Such places are often in a suburban area, however, I have played in a house that was located in a neighborhood full of restaurants and nightlife. The old townhouse was tucked in between some noisy bars, there was no address on the building and we got there by pure chance. The experience and all the scenery inside was breathtaking. My emotions were extremely maximized by this exact location, this entrance from the noisy street full of nightlife, and finally our sudden exit to normality with all the people around completely oblivious to the fact that a show of mystery and horror takes place next to them, behind closed doors of this inconspicuous building. I have played a few games that were made in a bus or a trailer, some took place in an attic, an old bunker, or a cinema. The Location certainly added to the experience and boosted the creator’s creativity. Most of the games were thematically consistent with location, however one used advantages of the space to create a different environment. My biggest disappointment was with a room in an old, but working train station. The location had it all. The characteristic and not-so-pleasant smell, the possibility to move part of the game to the real building, and the noisy atmosphere with people searching for their transport. Unfortunately, ERs even didn’t refer to all that magic that was already there and practically screaming to be used. In the future I would really like to experience more regional and cultural references, and more connections to geographical locations, which is extremely rare, but very rewarding during ER trip.
Ewa Gutowicz, an enthusiast from Poland: The first room I visited in an unusual location was in the bunker - that was “Prisoned in a fallout” by 8 Gates (Poland). The room is located in an original fallout shelter in Bielany housing estate in Warsaw. The unusual atmosphere seeps there from every angle and adds extraordinary emotions to the game. (...) Another interesting place is the room of Cinema Escape in Pszczyna. The room is arranged in a real old cinema. The plot of the room is extremely well thought out in terms of using the advantages of this particular building. (...) When thinking about unusual places, it is difficult not to include companies that use external space for gameplay. The Polish company Forest Escape should be mentioned here, which builds its rooms over a large space, combining outdoor play with indoor play. At this convention and in a similar location, we managed to visit “El Cartel” by Quitzone. When looking for more unusual locations (although in this case, I am not sure if this is the right term) it is worth paying attention to the escape room from Warsaw “Unexpected change of route” from Escape Service, the action of which takes place in a moving bus. In my opinion, this is a very original idea, opening a new space for escape rooms in the future, which can certainly be very interesting and mysterious. In Poland, we can play another unusual bus. This time it is a stationary bus, but its interior has been ingeniously transformed into the interior of an airplane. (..) This room is “Hijacked Plane” by Escape Bus/Escape in Wrocław. When thinking about interesting places where the action could take place, I think of rooms arranged in the basement. The cellars are perfect for the thriller and horror genres. (...) The room which, in my opinion, made the best use of this type of location was “The Yellow Sign” from Action Game in Poznań. In addition to the extremely “cooperating” dark scenery, this room offered quite original, for Polish conditions, largely interactive entertainment. Unfortunately, this room is already closed, but a copy of it, although not as perfect as the original, can be visited in Bydgoszcz under the graceful name of “Sacramentum”(Fabryka Czasu). Another interesting room arranged in the original basement is “The Catacombs” of Zagadkownia in Warsaw. (...) Trying to recall foreign rooms (I visited about 40 of them), I find that none of them was in some spectacularly unusual place. However, I would like to draw your attention to the rooms in the Greek capital city, which sometimes have a special charm and original details of buildings "with soul". The makers of rooms in Athens seem to be very aware of the importance of the synchronization of the plot and architecture, so they invest a lot of effort in it with great sensitivity and often with panache. In this respect, the proposals of “Bookstore and Music Academy” (Paradox Project), “The School of Burning Souls” (Lockdown), and “Mystic Project” (Mystic Corporation) are amazing. When we talk about rooms that no longer exist, I’m thinking of one of my favorites - “The Printer's Mystery”. The room was located in the Praga district of Warsaw, in a real old printing house. This location meant that players could feel the ambience of the game before the actual gameplay began. I admit that this location made an impression on me, cause the game was planned for the evening, and it was raining a little, which made everything even darker and more mysterious. The atmosphere was boosted by the fact that the game master took us a few minutes through the secret corridors in the printing house before we got there. (...)
Okay, so now it's time to ask the key question: who is the target group in the case of organizations using escape rooms for the promotion of cities, monuments, or local history? There may be many assumptions, but what does it look like in practice? Who are the most frequent visitors to such an escape room? People who are here for tourist purposes and visiting the room by the way, or maybe seasoned players who come here, especially for the chosen room?
Michał Olejnik, owner of the company “Cinema Escape”: Most of them are people whose main goal is to play the escape room - however, after the game they go very often to visit the town, historic castle, or other tourist attractions, such as the European bison’s farm. Customers who come to me do not expect such a large space - often the mere fact of an escape room in the cinema surprises them on the spot, and the arrival itself is dictated by more good reviews that they have read or heard. There has not been a situation where someone wanted to visit the cinema itself - the mere fact of "old cinema" is not very attractive - I think players only appreciate them after visiting and playing.
Joanna Fijałkowska, Museum of History and Archeology in Stargard: Most often they are citizens of Stargard - “Basteja” is the only escape room in this city, so out of curiosity, this place is visited. But many groups visited “Basteja” during an escapade, for example, to Szczecin - among them, there were also teams from Germany and other countries.
Michał Kucharski, Cudotwórnia Events, creator of rooms located in a closed mine shaft in Zabrze (“Szola”) and in the Silesian Museum in Katowice (“Skrytka Powstańców”): In the mine, they were rather local people, possibly tourists visiting the old mine shaft “Maciej”, because it contains historical elements itself. During their visit, they found out that there was also an escape room. Of course, some people practiced escape room tourism - especially after National Geographic included our escape room in the list of the 7 most unusual escape rooms. When it comes to the escape room at the Silesian Museum, there were people who were directly interested in history, but also - if I know it correctly - many people found out about its existence from Lockme. The educational aspect was strong, in particular, the Silesian Uprisings with the pressure on the participation of women in the Silesian Uprisings. This is an ultra-narrow topic that we had to highlight. The museum used this room primarily for lessons, so a lot of young people passed through the room - it is quite an interesting case. We also know that a few tourists also visited this room. They were fans of escape rooms, but they knew from the very beginning that this room was supposed to be slightly different from other, commercial rooms. At some point in our activity, we also built a room for the museum in Sosnowiec, which still exists. It is not officially available - it’s used only to conduct interactive lessons with young people about the history of Sosnowiec and they are its target group. The leitmotif is a collector from Sosnowiec, who collected items and souvenirs related to the history of the city. At that time, we had access to super-old pharmacy furniture - it was great to use it to build such a room.
Due to the pandemic, the escape room market could observe a new trend related to the realization of services - some companies began to introduce live cam solutions to their offer, which not only facilitated corporate integration during the period of the fastest increase in COVID-19 incidence but also transferred escape room tourism to a whole new level, thus allowing you to visit places in remote parts of the world.
What is a live cam anyway? It is a game that takes place in a real escape room, but via broadcast (most often Zoom or Telescape), in which members connect via videoconference with a game master on the spot. Only he is there - each user sits comfortably at home or in his place of residence. An employee, also known as an avatar, carries out the commands of the players - he is guided by them. This way of playing the game also opens up new possibilities for plot management or providing hints - to be able to transfer at least a bit of emotion through kilometers of cables.
Thanks to this solution, it has become possible to integrate teams that are scattered all over the world. Live cam services are mainly used by corporations with their employees in different countries, but during the pandemic, many games were also conducted for groups of friends who, due to restrictions, could not meet in a real escape room. Although at the moment the escape room movement has returned to its original form, many companies use this service even today, precisely because of its unlimited range.
Are live cam games the future of escape room tourism? In a way, yes - new technologies now allow us to visit escape rooms in countries where traveling is difficult for financial or organizational reasons. Thanks to live cams, we can visit them without leaving home - often in a country that we will probably never visit in our lives. This is huge progress, unthinkable just a few years ago.
But the live cam experience from the customer’s perspective is much different. We will not experience 100% of what is in a physical room - we will not open the padlock, we will not search the room with our own hands or solve fragrance puzzles. Nevertheless, live cam rooms have already passed through the gate to the future and will stay in it for longer, remaining a great alternative to standard visits in escape rooms.
Escape room tourism has many faces. You can travel to check the next escape rooms not only within your own country, but also abroad, and not necessarily physically because new technologies today enable us to play in escape rooms without leaving home. There are many ways, but they have one thing in common - on both sides, there are enthusiasts constantly pushing their limits. Also in terms of location.
It turns out that the use of escape rooms for promotional purposes is becoming more and more common. Museums use their resources, in combination with this relatively young form of entertainment, in an interesting way to smuggle knowledge on historical and cultural issues - and not only to the youngest. Although education is the most frequent goal in this type of case, it is not crucial - many commercial escape rooms more and more often use the values of the surroundings to create something unusual, i.e. an escape room - in a cinema, theater, or an old shelter.
Is this the direction the escape rooms will go? It's hard to say “yes”, but it's just as hard to deny it - the use of escape rooms for educational purposes has been around for a long time in the industry. We can bet that as long as the resources of the creators' creativity are not out, we will experience new things. And this is not likely to happen.
Heiner Stepen, escape room enthusiast from Germany, author of a blog about escape rooms and their reviews “Escape Roomers DE”: Besides Germany (426) I've been in Andorra (2), Austria (60), Belgium (20), Bulgaria (23), Czech Republic (46), France (50), Greece (158), Hungary (21), Italy (25), Netherlands (69), Poland (51), Romania (19), Slovakia (11), Spain (149), Switzerland (58) and UK (24).
Justyna Śnieżek, member of the escape group “Zagadkowcy”, author of the blog “zagadkowcy.wordpress.com”: So far, I have personally visited 268 escape rooms in three countries: Poland, Greece, and Switzerland. Thanks to live cam technology, I was also able to play over the Internet physical games located in the USA, UK, Ukraine and Lithuania.
Wojciech Nadara, member of the group “EWarsaw Eagles”, triple finalist of ER Champ, ambassador of TERPECA: I have played escape rooms in such countries as Germany, Austria, Ireland, England, Czechia, Russia, the USA, Canada, Greece, and obviously Poland.
Dominika Gładysz, an enthusiast from Poland: I have played 361 ERs in 28 cities in Poland (...) and 49 abroad. I have traveled to Berlin, Nurnberg, Prague, Helsinki, Tallin, Kiev, and Athens.
Ewa Gutowicz, an enthusiast from Poland: I have already visited over 400 Escape Rooms. Most of them are in Poland (...) I also have visited rooms in Prague (Czech Republic), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), Kiev (Ukraine), and Athens (Greece).
Lock.me team member. Germanist and scholar of German literature - German language is also her superpower. Besides escape rooms and board games, she loves Dragon Ball, Star Wars and cynology. After work she likes learning foreign languages, writing texts and planning her next trip to escape room, probably with rap music in the background. Totally extrovert.
Greetings from St. Augustine, FL! After eight months on the road, 46 states and 282 escape rooms, we have made it back to the Sunshine State!
Greetings from St. Augustine, FL! After eight months on the road, 46 states and 282 escape rooms, we have made it back to the Sunshine State!