First, we were let into a small room.
The complete darkness had us quickly sniffing for clues and feeling around the room for hints. In an attempt to heighten our other senses, we carefully groped through every inch of the place until, lantern in hand and some clues ascertained, we managed to promptly solve the first mystery.
The door to the second part of our adventure was opened, and we entered the Victorian style room which would grow to become so familiar over the course of the hour we were given to solve the mystery held within those four walls. Many were the hints that were scattered across the room, and the tools at our disposal were equal parts confusing and stimulating. Everything around us looked interesting, simply because every single object in the room was, potentially, the clue that would get us out of there. Our task was straightforward, but challenging: find the incriminating evidence that would put the serial killer behind bars before he got back home and found us going through his belongings. As the time on the clock got dangerously low, our adrenaline went sky high. If we didn’t hurry, if we didn’t find all the clues in time, the killer would come home and add us to his ever-growing list of victims.
But this was, of course, just a game. Escape Rooms are an option for entertainment that have gained immense popularity in the past few years in Buenos Aires and around the world. Born in Japan in 2007, Escape Rooms have since blown up all over the world – starting in Asia and then making their way to Europe and the Americas. The experience was originally inspired by video games also known as “escape rooms,” where the player is required to interact with people around them to escape from a room they are trapped in. A Japanese company known as ‘SCRAP’ took this same concept and translated it into a real live group experience steeped in intrigue, suspense and, at times, intellectual gymnastics. Now, Escape Rooms are huge in countries like France and Spain, or cities like Moscow, where there are more than 400 rooms to choose from. Out of all the cities in Latin America, Buenos Aires is leading the pack with the greatest number of Escape Room options.
The particular room where my friends and I found ourselves was called “Fog over London” – one of the rooms that Escape Buenos Aires has in stock for you, should you dare. “The building we are in is old, and we thought it wasn’t worth destroying the spirit of this apartment to make it into a game,” Adrián Estoup, founder of Escape Buenos Aires, told The Bubble. “We didn’t want to miss out on the architecture of the place, so that’s how we got the idea for the Victorian style room where ‘Fog in London’ takes place.” Fear not, if you feel that the Sherlock schtick is overrated and are sick of the classic detective drill, you can always go for “Embassy of Cracovia,” another one of Escape Buenos Aires’ rooms. Set during the Cold War era, you and your friends are sure to feel like fifties’ spies as you’re tasked to steal missile blueprints from the Embassy of this mysterious nation.
“We did everything ourselves,” Estoup said. “Both me and Alejandro Raggio, the co-founder of Escape Buenos Aires, come from the world of entertainment because we are judges in Magic cards tournaments. I knew I would find it easy to program whatever was necessary for the games, but nobody told us we also had to be carpenters, electricians, carpet installers.” Slowly but surely, however, Estoup and Raggio built Escape Buenos Aires into a steadfast and expanding enterprise. Their plans include launching two new rooms: “Necronomicon” – a race against time to find and capture a rogue beast, and “Pandemia” – an escape experience to be set in a hospital during the throes of an infectious disease outbreak.
Whatever type of room you might fancy, one thing is certain: there’s something about the tangible, very physical experience of escape games that will quickly have you hooked. What’s interesting is that this experience is the perfect opposite of what we consider entertainment today. Our daily lives are inundated with technology. We spend each work day immersed in a computer screen, only to seek respite in different content on different screens. With Escape Rooms, we’re given an opportunity to completely remove ourselves from the universe of ones and zeroes, oftentimes even being required to leave our phones at the door upon entering the game. The reason is simple: Sherlock didn’t have Google, so neither can you.
“Fog over London”, the most popular room in Escape Buenos Aires, is set during the Victorian period.
The result is a riveting group experience that is sure to give way to a much different type of collaborative bond than what we gain through interaction on social media – arguably today’s most common, expedient way to get our daily dose of humanity. While computers and smartphones help us imagine unknown worlds and speak to people far away, experiences such as Escape Rooms force us to be in the moment, to pay close attention to our physical surroundings and to make sense of our situation through thoughtful engagement, negotiating and problem solving. Additionally, the clues in these rooms are all designed to require different kinds of logic and intellectual strengths in order to be solved. In this way, it is likely that everyone in your group will play a part in solving the mystery because the problems demand comprehensive, evolving trains of thought.
“Looking at the behavior of people inside the room is fascinating,” Estoup told The Bubble. “We’ve had couples go inside, yell at each other bloody murder and come out looking very happy, saying they’ve loved it. We’ve also seen parents try to take over everything their young children try to do, or younger ones not knowing what to do when they have to look up a word without Google: it doesn’t occur to them to use a dictionary they have very much at hand (this sentence is a little awkward but I’m not sure what to do since it is a direct quote). If there was a psychologist in the group, he’d have a blast.”