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Room escape game trend sweeping across Canada

SmartyPantz co-owner Chris Ricard stands inside one of the company's specially-designed theme rooms at their office in Vancouver, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Countless Canadians are shelling out cash to get locked up. Escape rooms have sprung up by the dozens in Toronto and have also opened in a number of other cities across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
April 22, 2015 - 1:25 PM

For Errol Elumir and Matt Silver, time spent locked indoors is their idea of a great night out.

The Toronto residents are big fans of room escape games, which have sprung up by the dozens in the city and in communities across Canada.

The concept involves individuals partnering with friends or teaming up with strangers to solve a series of puzzles to facilitate their "escape" from a confined space — and under a tight deadline.

And there's no reaching for a smartphone to key in the answers: players only have their wits, problem-solving skills and their teammates to rely on for a shot at success.

Elumir and Silver are such fans of the games that they've partnered with Manda Whitney to write reviews of spaces they've visited for their Escape Room Addict blog.

"It's like solving a puzzle but in a much bigger and grander way than you thought before," Silver said of the experience.

"You're in a room and everything you need to get out of that room is all contained in there."

Added Elmuir: "For me, it's just like playing those adventure games or point-and-click games on the computer — but it's all in real life. And so that aspect I really enjoyed."

Vancouver-based SmartyPantz operates escape rooms with such varied themes as postwar spy caper and paranormal probe. Chris Ricard said they also use actors who are in character and costumes to provide clues and direction — but not the answers.

Corporate clients are among their main target markets, accounting for more than half of their current sales, he added.

"This is teambuilding any way you slice it — even if it's a group of people that's just a social gathering," Ricard said.

"I've done a lot of training in my past and there's a different element when a group of people get together in a small space and they have a defined task.... Some groups are very successful at working together and other groups they fail miserably — but they all have fun."

Since it was designed and developed in Japan in 2007, more than 10 million participants are said to have played the Real Escape Game — and only three per cent have made their way out. Scrap Entertainment teamed with Company & Company to bring the game to Canada.

Real Escape Game's origins stem from the digital world after creator Takao Kato was intrigued by a point-and-click PC game genre known as Room Escape and brought it to real life.

Scott McInnes, manager of Escape From the Time Travel Lab in Toronto, said the key skills for participants to have are thoroughness, communication and time management.

"People are occasionally concerned that their experience in an escape game might be really stressful or claustrophobic; but usually when people get inside they find that they're quickly distracted by all of the tasks they have to accomplish," said McInnes.

"There's always something they have to be working on to keep you engaged and keep you thinking about what the next clue might be."

Given the wealth of entertainment options now widely available, what is the appeal of this traditional, no-tech experience?

Silver said he thinks escape rooms feed into the basic need for teamwork and connection.

"With all of the online gaming, it's still very much a solitary confinement activity. But when you go to an escape room together, you really are physically and intellectually relying upon each other."

Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.



News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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