Why I Love Escape Games (Even in VR)

My friend Michiru was very excited about a new thing that some of her Japanese friends had brought to San Francisco. It was called a “puzzle break room” and her description of it made absolutely no sense to me. She kept insisting that I would love it and that I absolutely had to go, but I only reluctantly agreed to go when she wrangled a free ticket for me.

She was right. The hour where I tried and failed to solve the puzzles went by in a flash and I was left wishing there was another one that I could do immediately.

Fast forward five or so years and I’ve probably done at least one hundred puzzle games. I’ve done over fifty in Budapest alone. When I’m with my other escape game friends we set fastest time records a good 20% of the time or so.

Escape games are absolutely one of my top few favorite forms of entertainment, and the problem I now have is that it’s hard to find good ones that I haven’t done in the cities that I visit. You would think that after doing so many I would have seen everything, but the truth is that almost every game I do has some element that I haven’t seen before, often many of them.

There are many great things about escape games, but maybe my favorite is that it’s a way to tax the mind that is really fun. I’m always wracking my brain and trying to push myself, but it doesn’t feel like I’m doing math homework. It reminds me of rock climbing, which is a fun way to tax the body.

I’ve learned a lot about how I solve problems, how I work with others, and my deficiencies in both areas. I assume that those deficiencies extend past the walls of an escape game, so I try to work on them in real life.

Specifically I’ve learned that when I think I know the right way to do something, I keep trying variations of that way and sometimes develop tunnel vision and don’t consider other ways to do it. When I’m working with other people in a stressful situation I have a tendency to think that my way is correct with more confidence than is warranted. Truthfully I think I do usually end up being right, but there have been a great number of times where I was totally convinced I was right, was dismissive of other people’s ideas, and they were correct.

Similar to many VR games, I like how Escape Games feel real. The pressure feels real and the way I interact with the space is real. Video games are fun, of course, but reducing actions to clicking and button pressing removes an element from the game.

I also love that Escape games are a good bonding experience for any group size. I’ve done at least half of the games with one person, and the rest have varied from small groups to ten or twelve people. You learn about your friends, you get to work together, and if you succeed you get to share a feeling of victory.

The best escape games I’ve ever done at the Palace Games in San Francisco. They’re all great, but the Edison game in particular is incredible. Budapest is the city which has the most games. All of the ones from Locked.hu are really great, but I also love Portal from MindQuest. If you want to beat my time at a hard one, try beating 53:09 at Enigma (90 minute game, we played as a group of 3 and set the all time record).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged someone to do an escape game kicking and screaming, and then immediately after, with a huge grin on their face, they ask if there are any more we can do. Even if it doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, give it a try. At worst you lose an hour, at best you gain a really positive new hobby that will teach you about yourself.

Obviously during Covid you can’t just walk down to your local escape game and play, but the good news is that there are amazing escape games in VR. Recently my friends and I have been playing them and it feels surprisingly similar to hanging out and doing an escape game in real life. Download Rec Room (free) and search for ^Griplet. I think his games have the best puzzles.

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Picture are the attendees from Superhuman 4: Lake Edition. Because we had such a small group we had Day 1 on the boat in the lake. Amazing group of guys and a really interesting event. I really can’t wait to do more events, but I’ll wait until after covid is over. I’ve thought about doing an online version but worry that a lot of the magic wouldn’t be there. If you think it’s a good idea, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

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