This is one history lesson that you won’t fall asleep in!
Escape rooms are everywhere today – from physical locations around the world, to virtual games online, and in movies and TV shows.
Amazingly, just a decade earlier, the vast majority of people around the world would not have heard of escape rooms.
Have you ever wondered about the history of escape rooms?
- Which was the very first escape room in the world?
- When and where was India’s first escape room set up?
- How did online escape rooms become so popular?
Questions like these, and more, are answered in this blog post.
A brief history of escape rooms (as in 2022)
- Text-based escape games.
- Click-and-point video games.
- Interactive role-playing entertainment.
- Real Escape Game in Japan.
- Parapark in Hungary and HintHunt in the UK.
- Real Escape Game (San Francisco) and Puzzle Break in the USA.
- Clue Hunt in India.
- Online/virtual escape rooms take off during the 2020 COVID shutdown.
What is an escape room?
Yes, you have a very good idea of how an escape room works, and why they’re such an awesome thing to do with family and friends.
There are other kinds of games, like mazes, haunted houses, scavenger hunts, ‘interactive entertainment’, which resemble the escape room experience.
Here are the features that make the escape room game completely unique…
- It takes place in one or two spaces; you don’t have to waste time walking from point to point.
- There’s a time limit, usually 60 minutes.
- It places the players in a dramatic storyline, like a haunted house.
- Players have to effect some kind of a ‘solution’ or a ‘resolution’, like finding out the reason behind the house being haunted (continuing the above example).
- Players have to actively take part – finding clues, solving puzzles, and accomplishing tasks.
- The design of the puzzles and the tasks, combined with the time limit, makes it critical for players to communicate among themselves.
- They don’t require specialized knowledge or skills.
- They aren’t physically challenging or demanding.
Now you know, for example, why the history of escape rooms doesn’t stretch back to ancient Greece, when the world’s first labyrinth (a very complex and large maze) is said to have been built.
Precursors to escape rooms – live-action entertainment and ‘point and click’ video games
The closest precursors to escape games as we know them would be a kind of click-and-point video games and various live-action, interactive entertainment forms that were born in the early 2000’s.
Text escape games
In 1988, software programmer John Wilson created a game called Behind Closed Doors. I’ll let you guess what the game was about.
This was a text game, that is, it consisted entirely of text, instead of graphics.
Players would have to input text commands, such as run game (to start the game), open chest, get object, and so on to control the game…
And the program would respond with output text, telling the players the result of their commands.
As ancient as this sounds, you can guess this built interaction into the gameplay – that is, the player can interact with the game environment and decide how to proceed.
Click-and-point ‘escape the room’ games
During the 1990’s, several click-and-point escape the room type video games, like
- Planet Mephius
- Myst, and
- Crimson Room (the most successful game of this kind)…
These involved players trying to escape from a room or a location, using the pointer to find and uncover clues and perform actions.
Apart from the obvious (visuals and graphics always score over text), this was a step up from the text escape game.
It didn’t require the game to spell out the options available to the player in the form of output text. The player had to see and interact with the game environment and find out what options they had.
In-person, live-action, interactive entertainment
During the early 2000’s, theater performers and game developers tried to innovate ways of scaling up their offerings, and turning the audience into active participants in the performance.
This resulted in the creation of in-person, live-action interactive entertainment.
In-person – as they required participants to be present in person at the game site.
Live-action – as they took place in real life, not on a computer screen or a gameboard.
Interactive – as participants could actively engage with the proceedings, instead of passively following them.
The best-known of these are:
- True Dungeon – inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, this pits players against a series of challenges, finding weapons, earning XP, and so on. First hosted in 2003.
- Sleep No More – a performance based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It allowed participants to move through the arena and interact with various characters and elements at their own pace. First performed in 2003.
- 5 Wits – a real-life adventure that includes a storyline, tasks and puzzles, but may not have a clear and satisfying endgame. Set up in 2004.
While we’re getting closer and closer to the escape room, the gameplay clearly differs from the typical escape room scenario…as I’m sure you can see.
The very first live escape room game – Real Escape Game
The very first live escape room game in the world was Real Escape Game, set up in 2007 in Japan by an entrepreneur by the name of Takao Kato.
He wanted to create a new form of entertainment, and got the inspiration for an escape room from a girl who was hooked on the online escape-the-room type games.
Takao had created his new game as an event instead of the permanent escape rooms we have today. Even with minimal advertising, tickets got sold out quickly.
The first one was in Kyoto, where a hundred and fifty people took part but only six managed to escape.
Takao then set up a new and larger game…this time in Osaka. This too proved wildly popular.
The sustained popularity of these temporary events persuaded Takao and other enthusiasts and entrepreneurs to design permanent location escape rooms…
And it wasn’t long before escape rooms started opening up all over Japan, China and other Asian countries.
Escape rooms take off in Europe – Parapark and HintHunt
In 2010-2011, a Hungarian social worker by the name of Attila Gyurkovics got inspired by online find the object and escape the location type games.
He wanted to create something similar in real life.
And the first escape room in Europe – Parapark in Budapest, Hungary – was born.
In 2012, Attila Nagy and Csaba Vinkler set up HintHunt, the UK’s very first escape room, in London.
Escape rooms reach the United States – Real Escape Game in San Francisco
Remember Takao Kato from earlier?
His friend Kazuya Iwata opened a Real Escape Game franchise in San Francisco in 2012. This was the first escape room in the United States.
Next year (2013), Microsoft and EA alum Nate Martin set up Puzzle Break in Seattle – the first American escape room company.
That same year (2013), India too got its very first escape room – Clue Hunt, in Bandra.
And there’s been no looking back.
The 2020 pandemic and online escape rooms
Like most physical businesses, the 2020 pandemic and shutdowns across the globe hit the industry hard.
But rather than accept defeat, the industry innovated.
Some got their game masters to strap on cameras to their heads, with the idea of offering a streamed adventure online.
Others licensed virtual escape games, and offered those as an alternative to physical escape rooms.
On the other hand, the people that were stuck at home really enjoyed the chance to have a thrilling experience with their loved ones online.
And online escape rooms have become a part of the industry ever since – a wholesome complement to physical escape rooms.
The escape room industry, post-2020
Despite challenges such as growing input costs, the brutal shutdown of 2020 and lingering after-effects of the COVID pandemic,
The escape room industry has grown in strength across the globe.
We’ve spawned legions of ordinary fans, movie franchises (Adam Robitel’s Escape Room), TV programs like Celebrity Escape Room, and on and on.
We are an intrinsic part of modern entertainment culture.
Searching for an escape room near you?
Google ‘escape room near me’.
Provided you don’t live in a completely offbeat location, you’re sure to get multiple search results.
Go through the escape games they have, and book one that appeals to you!
Oh, and if you liked this blog post, make sure to bookmark our blog as we’ll be publishing content on escape rooms, Hyderabad, and other cool topics regularly!
Featured image by Mark Rasmuson on Unsplash.