The escape room we know and love today is a physical adventure game in which a group of 2-8 players are locked in a themed room and must find clues and solve puzzles to escape the room before time runs out. While escape rooms are very popular nowadays, the first real-life escape game was created a little over 15 years ago. In this blog post, we will trace the origins and popularity of the escape room.

Real Escape Game

In 2007, Takao Kato created a game called “Real Escape Game” in Japan. In the Real Escape Game, participants worked together to solve a series of puzzles and riddles to escape a room within a set time limit. The Real Escape Game was partially inspired by point-and-click adventure games, which were popular at the time. In these virtual point-and-click adventure games, players would have to search through a room by moving the mouse around and clicking various objects. Through interactions with non-player characters and game items, players can navigate through the room and, if they are successful, eventually escape through a door.

Moving this experience to the physical realm, Real Escape Games were often set in real-world locations, such as large event spaces, stadiums, or outdoor areas, where numerous participants could partake. Each version of the game had its own theme and storyline, such as a mystery to solve, disaster to avert, or an adventure to undertake, which influenced types of challenges and puzzles participants would face. Participants were organized in teams, who needed to complete the challenges and solve the puzzles within the allotted time. Escape rooms, as we know them today, can be traced back to this game.

The Rise in Popularity

In the early 2010s, the Real Escape Games became vastly popular in Japan and in surrounding regions. In 2012, SCRAP Entertainment brought the Real Escape Game concept to San Francisco. “Escape from the Mysterious Room” was the first escape room in North America.

Unlike the original Real Escape Games, “Escape from the Mysterious Room” took place in a controlled indoor environment, which the organizers tailored to a specific theme. The newer version had a more linear gameplay, meaning that the puzzles had a specific sequence, compared to the Real Escape Game, which had a non-linear structure. The experience was very immersive, to the point that players of “Escape from the Mysterious Room” took apart furniture for clues to solve the puzzles.

Escape rooms became a global phenomenon. The game rose in popularity in major cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, London, Singapore, and Sydney. Early escape room enthusiasts were often travelers who experienced escape rooms while traveling through different cities. The first escape rooms in Canada opened in Toronto and Ottawa in 2014, paving the way for the growth of the escape room industry in the country.

Modern Escape Rooms

Although escape rooms have evolved since 2007, modern escape rooms still have many similarities to the original Real Escape Game. Today’s escape rooms are still focused on challenges and teamwork, with participants working in teams to uncover clues, manipulate objects, and solves puzzles to progress in the game. In both games, participants must escape the room within a set time frame, which is usually set to 60 minutes. This time limit contributes to the challenging environment as well as the sense of achievement participants get when they finally escape the room.

From the original large settings of Real Escape Games, today’s escape rooms are now set in controlled indoor environments, with themed rooms designed for groups of 2-8 participants. While today’s escape rooms no longer involve taking furniture apart to solve puzzles, modern escape rooms focus on elaborate storytelling and immersive experiences. These allow escape room organizers to create more complex puzzles and challenges than before. The escape room industry quickly evolved to offer a wide range of themes and experiences, from horror and mystery to adventure and science fiction, which appealed to a broad spectrum of players.

Escape rooms provide engaging and interactive group activities that can create memorable experiences and foster bonds among participants. The variety of themes and immersive storytelling adds excitement and depth to the activity, making the escape room experience more than a simple series of puzzle-solving exercises. Escape rooms promote communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. With their focus on collaboration and teamwork, escape rooms are popular team-building activities not only for families and friends but also for businesses and organizations.