The Real Escape Game in Singapore

Anti-video game advocates often lament the amount of time gamers spend sitting in front of screens. Time, they believe, would be better spent outside participating in physical activities. Well if the latest game craze from Japan takes off in Singapore, we may see more gamers and non-gamers participating in an activity that can only be played in real physical space. Last weekend, Singapore became the latest city to participate in The Real Escape Game or REG, the first installment known as “Volume 1: Escape from the Mysterious Cathedral.” As an “offline” game, it is not played on a computer, console or mobile device. Participants must arrive and play the game in a predetermined location and that’s the whole point, because to win this game you have to escape from that location.

I cobbled a team of friends together to play the game on Sunday afternoon at Chijmes on Victoria Street. Our group of five was rounded out to six with the inclusion of another player, who would later become a new friend (our friendship forged in the heat of intense puzzle solving). The objective was simple: escape from the (very large) room. But the “how” was a little more tricky, in that participants must solve a number of puzzles using cryptic clues scattered throughout the venue. Added to the mix was the further complication that it was not always clear what exactly WAS a puzzle or clue. After playing the game for only a few minutes one could definitely develop an acute sense of paranoia. Is that a clue or just a random poster placed on the wall? Should I count the number of tiles on the floor? Is the instruction itself a clue? Maddening but truly thrilling stuff. And if that wasn’t enough, the mystery of how to escape must be solved within a time constraint. Cue a countdown and ticking clock as the deadline approaches and participants’ hearts really began to race.

Real Escape Game at Chijmes, Singapore (photo credit vanGrafique, Ivan Lee)

The Real Escape Game was the brainchild of Takao Kato, founder of SCRAP a Kyoto based publishing company. When asked how he came up with the idea for the game Kato replied, “The game is actually based off a small game that I used to play with my family. To have that small idea that I had come up with be spread all over the world just feels great. One of the reasons why I keep making REGs is because I want to see how far this small idea of mine can go. Looking at adults going crazy over the game itself is always an awesome experience.”

The game was first played in Tokyo back in 2007. Since then it has has been played in major cities throughout Japan with its popularity marked by a recent installment “Escape from the Dome” played at the massive Tokyo Dome.

The success of the game has created a demand overseas and for the first time, the Real Escape Game hosted events in Beijing and Shanghai last year. To date over 2,300 sessions have been played with more than 10,000 players taking part. The game is usually staged in an unusual setting, from theatres and deserted buildings to sporting arenas and cathedrals. The experience is deliberately theatrical with the use of actors, music, sound effects and lighting elements adding to the physical and immersive experience.

The Real Escape Game was co-produced by event company Vivid Creations which promotes Japanese culture and trends in Singapore. Haruyuki Ono, Operation Manager, said that “People have curiosity and like to play games. But they [games] are mainly in 2D. But we can make a 3D game in the real world. We can capture a story and create an atmosphere. We try to get participants involved in the story and physically involved in the experience, collaborating with team members.”

Therein lies the central attraction of the Real Escape Game. This game must be played within a defined space. When we play games online or on our phones we are constrained within the electronic boundaries of a virtual world. Even when we play board games at home with family or friends the game is rooted to the physical pieces and table. But a game that fills a whole cathedral or an entire stadium with complete strangers playing with and against you? That’s awesome.

When asked where the design team finds inspiration for puzzles and clues Kato said, “Our inspiration comes from many places. Books like Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin that I read as a child are a source of inspiration.” But make no mistake, these puzzles are hard and you won’t find any answers by googling. The proportion of teams who actually escape from the venue is quite low, less than ten percent.

An epic win! (photo credit vanGrafique, Ivan Lee)

Mentioning that kind of statistic to a room full of gamers is like waving a red flag to a bull but despite our best efforts, our team did not escape. We were not the only ones to fail. Only one team during our session managed to escape and claim bragging rights. But in a corny way we still felt like winners. We had all experienced our own individual “wins” when we solved a puzzle or figured out a clue. We even had several epic team wins when our combined efforts and encouragement finally resulted in a correct answer. There were high fives and smiles all round.

But after the game I really had cause to reflect on the experience. Even though I play the occasional multi-player game online there were some things that I couldn’t experience without being in the same physical space. I couldn’t read my team mates’ body language and facial expressions, those all important non-verbal cues that let me know how they are feeling and whether they need some encouragement or just to be left alone. The process of puzzle solving was definitely easier in person, partly due to the nature and placement of the puzzles but also in being able to communicate ideas quickly, given the time constraint. But I think the thing I liked most was being able to high five in person. That was really cool.

The second installment of the Real Escape Game is expected to be held in Singapore during May while the first San Francisco game will be held in March. You can check out their Facebook page here.

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5 thoughts on “The Real Escape Game in Singapore

  1. Great write up, Natalie :). Guess the best way to understand the thrill is to experience it first hand . On a juicer side of things, have you noticed any very evident gamer behavior during that event or any noob bashing moment? Lol, will be funny if somebody were to post a video of it though .

  2. Thanks Minghui :)

    A lot of people came to the event with their friends so I doubt there was any noob bashing within teams. Also there was a lot of variety in puzzles (words, numbers, logic and spatial reasoning) so everyone had a chance to work on something that catered to their skill or preference. There were definitely moments of awesome teamwork.

    A funny part was at the beginning the game master instructed participants not to run during the game for safety reasons. I thought to myself, “whose going to run? we’re just solving puzzles.” But when our team got close to the end and thought we had cracked the answer, I was the one who was practically running across the room!

    In terms of any “typical” gamer behaviour, what I saw was more akin to general problem solving behaviour: confusion over trying to understand what exactly the problem was, the frustration of not getting an answer, explaining to team members and brainstorming ideas together. But the yelps of joy, high fives and cries of “we totally rock!” were probably the most vocal signs of gamers in the room :)

  3. Lol , come on , how can they expect nobody to run when everybody was already in that competitive state of mind. Just glad nobody got hurt!

    Anyway, ur articles are really great! Don’t have to thank me personally, just keep writing! ;)

  4. Thanks for reading Taufiq! I try to post upcoming events on my blog but if anyone knows of anything coming up do let me know!
    In the meanwhile if you’re keen to attend The Real Escape Game in the future, just keep an eye out on their FB page you’ll get details about the next event held in Singapore. Might see you there ;)

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