More people enjoy being trapped in 'secret chambers'

Updated: 2013-03-12 05:41

By Zhang Zixuan (China Daily)

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More people enjoy being trapped in 'secret chambers' 

A group of people team up to solve the puzzle to "escape" from a room in The Lost Ghost Ship. Provided to China Daily

The flickering light and mysterious music create a tense atmosphere. Each cryptic clue - including a steering wheel, a fishing net and every little detail in the room - appears to indicate a way out of the sealed chamber.

This is not a bad dream but a new craze in town, a role-playing game in a room set up to look like a scene from a computer game. Participants are locked in the room and they have to solve puzzles using the clues provided within a specified time frame.

Zheng Rui and his team members are "trapped" in a locked room in The Lost Ghost Ship that opened last September in Beijing.

One of their tasks is to assemble an old-school candlestick with pieces collected from undetectable corners. To do that, they have to decode a password hidden in a fragment of music score, to open a case. Hints are delivered into the room through a drawer.

They are given only one hour to solve the puzzle and only when they have completed the task, can they "escape" from the room.

Zheng's team was trying to crack the last clue when the door suddenly opened and someone announced that they have failed in their mission.

"Although we failed, it is the best room game I've ever played," says Zheng, 26, face flushed with excitement.

Zheng had tried almost all the best-rated room game studios in his hometown in Chengdu, Sichuan province, before traveling to Beijing to try out new secret chamber outlets.

"Such games feel real as if you are really trapped and they require a lot of brainwork. They also provide great pleasure working as a team, unlike computer games which involve single players," he says.

The Lost Ghost Ship is owned by Tang Yuhong and An Yanpeng, a young couple who designed the room theme and all the clues themselves.

They have invested more than 100,000 yuan ($15,900) into the project.

"The steering wheel, for example, is the real thing, which we managed to detach from a ship," says 30-year-old Tang.

She says the clues are meticulously designed and require knowledge of various fields such as foreign language, geography and mathematics.

The entire game process is monitored by a surveillance camera and controlled by a game guide.

"I give clues through a specially made drawer attached to the wall when I notice the players are stuck," says Cheng Yingying, game guide of The Lost Ghost Ship. She is also responsible for controlling the lights and audio effects.

Even with hints, the game proves challenging for most players. Among 590 teams that have played in the center, Cheng says, only three teams have successfully "escaped" from the room within one hour.

One of the centers known for its high degree of difficulties is Omega Room Escape.

All the rooms are designed with strict logical reasoning and comprehensive research, and are more suitable for larger groups of players.

"It's more interesting than just clicking the mouse," says university student Pan Mengying. She says some of the fun puzzles involve body movements that can only be realized in life-world games.

Cai Nizhe, chief operating officer of Omega Room Escape, says players are attracted to the reality games because they long for what they cannot find virtually.

"It's like, you still want to go for coffee with your friends even if you can talk with them online," she says.

The number of newcomers is mushrooming.

Bai Ge, 26, has done market research of more than 20 such centers in Beijing. His first self-designed room will open by May.

But he believes the market will be saturated soon. "Only the best will survive," he says.

Some center operators concern that the craze will die soon.

Omega Room Escape, for example, believes that re-inventing the themes is the way out.

For its third outlet, the staff is designing simpler rooms for smaller groups of customers, and they are cooperating with a team from Tsinghua University to add hi-tech elements to all the rooms.

To target foreigners, the company is also designing rooms for English-speaking customers.

But Tang of The Lost Ghost Ship believes a classic room is worth retaining, as there will always be new customers.

She says she will keep her rooms as they are, while looking for new venues to open new outlets.

(China Daily 03/12/2013 page20)