Rooms with a different kind of view

Updated: 2013-09-21 08:20

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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New, challenging escape mania sweeps capital. Zheng Xin reports

Trapped in a dark and locked room with no recourse to anything but some seemingly irrelevant objects - a broken chair, some torn concert tickets and cryptic music - you can either wait for the call of death or crack the clues and get out of this hell. It's a new mania in town, a role-playing game that takes place in a sealed chamber and requires participants to solve every puzzle and clue within a period of time to escape. It is obsessing many young people with its thrills and excitement.

Room Escape evolved from a classic mystery-solving online game that requires players trapped in a sealed room to find clues and get out.

Soon aficionados started longing for more thrills and were no longer satisfied with clicking a mouse, so a real-world version developed and mushroomed.

Rooms with a different kind of view

 Rooms with a different kind of view

A player searching for clues he hopes will lead him out of a sealed chamber in Wuhan, Hubei province. Miao Jian / For China Daily

According to Cai Nizhe, media officer of Omega Room Escape, one of the major room escapes based in the Chinese capital, the company has invested some 500,000 yuan ($81,700) as upfront investment, mostly covering the site use fees around bustling downtown areas including Chongwenmen, Zhongguancun and Taiyanggong and game research and development.

"The designing of the rooms seems simple to some, but it requires knowledge from all walks of life: geography, engineering, mathematics and many others," she said. "This is key to whether a room can survive in the market."

According to Cai, the major customers Omega welcomes are college students and white collar workers, who come to the rooms mainly for the thrill of the challenge or to relax from work pressure.

"You have to get out of the room within the allotted time. The sense of urgency forces you to forget about all the annoyance and trouble at work, and the sense of excitement and joy after you escape from the room brings you more confidence than anything," said Wang Zhuangyi, a bank clerk in Beijing.

"This is a great channel to relieve pressure and stress built up from everyday work," she said.

However, sometimes the pressure was so great and mental stress so intense that some customers even tear down the equipment and decorations in the rooms, said Zhu Yumeng, chief operating officer of Taoquan, another room escape operator in Beijing.

"There have been occasions when customers vent their anger, despite the presence of a surveillance camera," he said. "The game is challenging for most customers and some are too impatient to crack the clues in a legitimate way."

Zhu said they set up the surveillance cameras not only to provide guidance and give clues to customers when they are deeply trapped and to ensure customers' security, but also to monitor whether anyone damages the facilities in the room.

In addition to the accumulated fun and reduced pressure thanks to the game, many company managers are also considering the challenge to boost teamwork and collaboration among company staff.

Yang Xueli, a 27-year-old accountant from a foreign company based in Beijing, who participated in the room escape for the first time last month together with her co-workers, said the escape works as a great way to promote mutual communication and enhance mutual trust.

"The escape requires a high degree of logical reasoning and teamwork, which could help promote group spirit and the relationships between colleagues," said Yang.

"You have more topics to talk about afterward, during lunch and leisure time as well," she said.

Despite the boom in room escapes in recent years, Zhu said the market has become a little saturated and a batch of room escapes might fall by the wayside soon.

"The room escape requires the operators and designers to have a high degree of meticulous arrangements, strategic thinking and planning," said Zhu. "It's like an intelligence competition between you and the customers. No customer would be willing to pay for poor designs."

The craze will lose its attraction to many customers if the operators slow down in coming up with distinctive designs and projects or simply copy the ideas of others, he said.

Some competitors even intentionally inflict damage upon the rooms of others or imitate others' designs. Such improper competition would only lead the market downhill, he said.

Zhu's words are echoed by Cai.

"You have to update the themes and designs of the rooms every month to cater for the increasingly picky and particular tastes and demands of the customers or get weeded out of the market," she said.

In addition to the rent for site use at these very bustling and prosperous downtown districts, the research, development and testing of newly-invented rooms take up a lot of investment and expense, said Cai.

Omega is now cooperating with a team from Tsinghua University to provide more high-tech designs to the game to attract more customers.

All rooms are based on logical reasoning and comprehensive research by the designers from Tsinghua University, who are mostly majoring in engineering sciences and therefore are more suited for the challenge.

"In addition to some classic rooms we would love to retain, we are also constantly coming up with fresh new designs to meet the demands of our challenging customers," she said.

In addition, Omega is considering coming up with specifically designed rooms for English-speaking customers, and has plans to open new outlets soon.

"We have received many English-speaking customers who have shown great interest in the game," she said.

Cai said she believed as more talented people joined the business and brainstormed more ideas and designs for the sealed rooms, more people from all walks of life will be attracted to the intelligence challenge.

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Rooms with a different kind of view

(China Daily 09/21/2013 page8)