People to meet, places to be

Meetup logoAs the previous post was about an exciting Meetup group in Manchester, it doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination to try to find out what other exciting Meetup groups there might be out there. There are a couple of other interesting links at the end as well.

I mentioned the Escape Rooms and Puzzle Rooms in and around London meetup in a post about a year and a half ago, but it doesn’t seem to have been the most active group, having organised two escapes in the middle of last year and one in February. There’s more activity in the Escape Roomers London meetup group, whose members went to The Crystal Maze earlier in the month and have two escape rooms planned for May. London’s Secrets Society meetup takes a slightly wider purview, including escape rooms but also treasure hunts, “theme parks, pop-ups and the occasional unusual bar“.

We’ve covered the activities of the Treasure Hunts in London group quite a few times and probably the best way to keep up with them is to join their Meetup group; as well as the titular treasure hunts, they have a plan to play The Million Pound Heist at Enigma Quests on Saturday. However, they aren’t the only treasure hunt group in London; the Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup of London has events every two or three months. The group has an impressive 800+ members so the hunts may well be popular. They’re free to play, though donations to the museums in which they take place are welcome. The group begat a sister group based around Cambridge.

Indeed, there’s no reason why London should have all the fun. As well as the Manchester group mentioned last time, Bristol is in on it; it has its own local escape room addicts group, which does not yet seem to have attracted a critical mass despite the efforts of the organiser, and also an exciting-sounding Rare Duck Club whose focus is more generally on live games – often of considerable, impressive scope.

A couple of other links unrelated to the Meetup site: Dean from Escape Review mentions Secret London Runs in passing; they have a variety of running tours, many of which involve several legs of running to interesting locations punctuated by encounters that go together to create a puzzle to solve. Many of their events are centred around 10 km runs, including breaks, so you’ll know whether that’s a surmountable barrier to entry or not. Lastly, Play Exit Games is currently running a giveaway competition with the prize being free tickets to Modern Fables.

News round-up

News round-up1) Exciting news from Can You Escape? of Edinburgh; they’ll be launching their first outdoor game in time for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “…we need agents to defeat the evil Nick Knock, after a disastrous appearance at the Fringe last year that saw him heckled off stage, he is back to seek his revenge and ensure no one else gets the limelight. How you may ask? Well Mr Knock has planted an Electro Magnetic Pulse device somewhere in Edinburgh which will cut the power to the city and prevent all future performances. #WTFringe?” The location originally planned to open in time for last year’s Edinburgh Fringe; hopefully the Fringe will boost all four thriving locations in the city.

2) Also delighted to see Time Run of London Tweet that Jonathan Ross, no less, played their game recently. The lad Ross is known as a board gamer and a video gamer (remember his references to Sonic the Hedgehog on They Think It’s All Over years ago? …Just this site?) so it’s logical that he’d be interested in playing live action games as well. Looking forward, hopefully, to a photo being posted. Best celeb spot yet… unless you know otherwise?

3) This site started to discuss a potential industry meetup at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze Live attraction in a recent post, and perhaps there’s the interest. So far, nine sites and six individual players have expressed interest. This is probably only worth doing if we can get to 32 definite takers, not just people who have expressed an interest, so there is more room. All welcome. If you’re interested in starting your own room and want to pick lots of brains at once then this would be a particularly good opportunity.

4) Bother’s Bar are tracking the crowdfunding for The Crystal Maze Live and recently had an amusing twist on a poll about whether it would meet its £500,000 funding target or not. Poll responses were 79% yes and 21% no. It’s already reached about 75% of the target, courtesy of very strong days two, three and four, and – perhaps due to the sums involved? – has been a slightly slower burner of a crowdfunding campaign than most. £500,000 is a target, not a limit; how far can they go? Will there be stretch goals?

5) In more general puzzle news, some links that this site enjoyed:

  • this BBC report upon a marriage proposal hidden within The Times cryptic crossword;
  • the latest monthly Puzzlebomb (.pdf) features a mashup of the two most recent mainstream maths puzzle sensations – Cheryl’s birthday and Hannah’s sweets – and offers quite a challenge; and
  • a review of DASH 7 as it was played in Denver, from a team with a fantastic name that this site called out at the time.

6) Great to see another blogger still from the greater Toronto area, now making six; when an area gets up to forty-plus-to-sixtyish different sites, perhaps six blogs is about right. When there are so many reviewers out there, perhaps the logical next step would be a review aggregator – a sort of metacritic for exit games? TripAdvisor performs this to some extent, but a review aggregator which compares opinions of not just many players but of many players all of whom have broad experiences in the field would be a powerful tool – and one, perhaps, that need not be restricted to one area.

Personality types and exit games

Myers-Briggs types. Adapted from, released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Click for larger version.

Some people put a lot of stock in the Myers-Briggs personality types. Other people compare it to a modern-day form of astrology, with all sixteen types being desirable in their own way and people choosing to self-identify with the commentary from their specific type through a process of self-directed cold reading. I tend to be somewhat more towards the latter end of the spectrum – but then, as an INTP, I would say that.

That said, I did enjoy the summary of the INTP type. It’s quite possible that if you’re a MB person, you might have been able to see it coming through in this blog; “They love patterns ((…)) people with the INTP personality type tend to share thoughts that are not fully developed, using others as a sounding board for ideas and theories in a debate against themselves rather than as actual conversation partners“. Guilty as charged.

I also enjoyed the graphic at the top of the Prelude Character Analysis page for the personality type, being a certain sort of logic puzzle. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that I thought “I recognise that puzzle – and I like it”! It might also explain why this blog keeps a diffuse focus in puzzle adventures and tries to interest people in logic puzzle competitions.

So this post is principally directed towards those who do tend to give credence to personality typing, specifically the MB types; if this isn’t for you, there’ll be another post along tomorrow.

Do exit games tend to attract certain sorts of personality types? Do certain sorts of puzzles in exit games tend to attract certain sorts of personality types? Is there any social science, pseudoscience or just plain tried-and-tested anecdotal received wisdom over why certain sorts of puzzles – irrespective of the quality and originality with which that puzzle is implemented – tend to play well with the sorts of people who would pay money to play an exit game? Could sites do more to help people find which of the several games they offer they would most enjoy based on players’ personality types? (Right, that’s almost enough underdeveloped theories for one post, you lovely sounding-board.)

I also enjoyed reading this recent Escape Games Review post, hinting at an exit game, themed around the Seven Deadly Sins, where every team member started off in a sin-themed mini-room of their own which they had to escape solo before they could work together towards a group victory. Could there some day be an exit game where players had individual puzzles to solve that were tailored towards their personality types – either to play to their strengths, or to force them to overcome their weaknesses?

A random thought about how friendly things are

animal-friendsGratuitous cute shot? There’s a little more to it than that, even if only a little.

Apropos of not much, one pleasing observation relating to the exit game hobby is how little disagreement and rivalry it has seen. It’s not as if – at least so far – there has been a tendency for people to swear allegiance to one brand of exit game and disdain the others, or those who are fans of others. When so many hobbies tend towards the tribal, it’s a pleasure that there has not been a sense of trying to establish commonality through a shared enemy. It’s fine to play some games from one company and have a great time, then play games from another company and enjoy them as well, and nobody makes accusations of a lack of loyalty.

Even the companies’ owners are on good terms with each other, as far as this site has been able to tell. (Some countries have seen occasional malign practices, but no authenticated evidence of them having spread to the UK yet.) This site tends to believe that competition isn’t a zero-sum game and a rising tide lifts all ships. It’s also true that different businesses’ games aim to do slightly different things; it’s cool that different sites emphasise subtly different emotional experiences.

At a guess, there are two reasons for the lack of development of brand… loyalty isn’t the right word, jingoism may come closer. The first is that, broadly, people will only play each game once and develop their skill at exit games in general rather than one exit game in particular, so people don’t need to feel the need to validate themselves by promoting the skill they have developed at their specific game through promoting that game at the expense of others. The second is that exit games tend to attract those with a taste for the thoughtful, possibly at the expense of the self-aggrandising.

The hobby is all the better as a result of it!

An academic approach to exit games

scholarshipOne of the most interesting developments in the world of exit games over the last few months has been the scholarly investigation undertaken, as discussed, by Dr. Scott Nicholson, a Professor at Syracuse University in New York state. Dr. Nicholson has a long history in research with a focus (among others!) into different forms of play in the context of informal learning spaces such as libraries.

Late last year he launched a survey of exit game facilities, discussing the thinking behind his survey at his site Escape Enthusiasts. This has developed into a Google Group for discussion of the genre, with a counterpart Facebook group as well. The highlight has been publication of (at least an early version of) the white paper arising from the survey, which gets this site’s highest recommendation as a must-read for business owners and players who want to see behind the scenes.

One particular highlight of the white paper is the very neat way that it handles the claim that exit games date back to Silicon Valley in 2006. Additionally, it presents remarkably comparable prior art dating back at least a decade further to (as discussed) a series of games run at the LARP-themed International Fantasy Gaming Society’s “Once Upon A Con” events, which created a series of temporary rooms through hanging up tarpaulins and challenged teams to make their way through within time limits. It’s always an exciting possibility that there are other, similar games from decades ago that time has forgotten and that might present themselves again some day.

The demographic information that the white paper presents is fascinating, with the most robust attempt yet to compare self-reported practices in exit games around the world, with the best corpus of data yet collected from English-speaking Asia, as well as Australia, Europe and the Americas. This will inspire and inform those looking to set up their own new business, as well as those looking to develop their existing one. There’s plenty of information collected, too, about what might be found inside these rooms as well as who might be playing them, and about what just might be possible and practicable inside a room.

This site has always deliberately erred on the side of being relatively liberal in its focus with discussion of near-topic games such as True Dungeon, but did so on a vague sense of it being hand-wavily interesting. The white paper takes the scholarly approach that these things are not just interesting, but they are relevant because they have identifiable influence, even if at a remove or two, on the way in which the world knows exit games today and how it might know exit games in the years to come. Six different influences are identified and it takes a real breadth of ludic knowledge to pull them all together.

Jumping from the start to the end, the notion in the white paper that most excited this site is the counterpart way that exit games are put in context as a subset of live-action adventures. Look at it another way: if you look up an exit game on TripAdvisor, it’ll be ranked in the context of “Fun Activities and Games”, and it’ll compete against – for instance – paintball, go-karting, casinos, laser tag and soft play. Is this a rag-bag assortment or are there lessons to be learned for exit games from some of them? Not so much from casinos and probably only tangentially (in the briefing-with-instructions, activity, debriefing schedule) from go-karting – but, as for the others, maybe there’s more in common than you think. If people like laser tag because they want to be inside a video game like Halo, perhaps they like exit games because they want to be inside a video game like Myst.

This site enjoys reading about live-action adventures, though sometimes hiding behind the sofa. This site isn’t going to become a live-action adventure blog, though. (Laser tag, although it will always be cool, is moving in a direction that this site does not appreciate so much; it’s becoming much less Half-Life and much more Call of Duty. No thanks.) Additionally, this site has always considered interactive theatre to be on the border of its remit, with playable theatre (if that’s a term anybody else uses, noting the many meanings of the word “play”…) definitely on-topic.

Putting it all together, this site loves puzzle adventures; they might involve being in a room, they might involve being in a puzzle hunt (whether online or in person), they might involve being part of a competition. However, it’s much easier for a puzzle competition to feel like an adventure in your head if there is some structure, context and persistence to them, rather than just being one-off tests – for instance, the adventure of being part of a team and helping your team advance through your progress. If this breadth of approach isn’t to your taste, other blogs are available. You should start your own; this site would link to it!

Looking forwards, Dr. Nicholson will be the keynote speaker at an upcoming “escape room Game Jam” held at MIT in greater Boston. Teams will have (nearly) 48 hours to “create puzzles and games to be played within a pop-up escape room (…) based around a moment in an upcoming film“. (It’s not clear which film; a film will be screened at the start of the event, so that would seem likely to be the inspiration.) Intriguingly, this is being held in association with Red Bull and winning participants get an expenses-paid trip to Comic-Con 2016. Not bad! The event has sold out, but will be filmed and the material generated will be made available under a Creative Commons licence.

Perhaps, in time, the world at large might get to play the winning, or a composite, pop-up exit game when the film gets a wider release; it wouldn’t be the first film to have a pop-up exit game associated with it – the one associated with The Purge: Breakout showed what might be possible. It’ll be extremely interesting to see if anything ever develops as a consequence of this Game Jam and to follow additional developments as they arise.

Exit games have taken off so rapidly that the world can hope to attract attention from all sorts of different sources and to be intepreted in all sorts of different ways. The exit game world should be very grateful to have someone who has professional academic expertise casting an eye over it, as well as us amateurs; that might sound dismissive, but it’s intended as a compliment – remember, an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it.

(Unrelatedly, if you haven’t done so already, please would you consider filling out this site’s survey? Thank you!)