Since 2012, Escape Rooms have been taking the United States by storm and becoming one of the most popular activities for groups and team-building. It’s hard to visit a city and not find an escape room (or two or three) to enjoy. But why did this phenomenon start? When did being locked in a room with your friends or co-workers and solving puzzles to find your way out become a wildly popular activity?

Believe it or not, it all started with a simple video game.

417 Escape Artist is proud to contribute to the rich and creative history of escape rooms. Keep reading to learn more about how escape rooms came to be.

Escape Room Video Game Origins

Our story starts in Japan, with one man and a popular video game. In 2004, Toshimitsu Takagi created an escape room video game called Crimson Room. In this game, the user would click on various objects and interact with them in order to find clues and escape the crimson room. (Sound familiar?). While other escape themed video and computer games had certainly existed before it, Crimson Room is widely acknowledged as the game that started it all.

One individual who was particularly enthusiastic about escape games was Takao Kati who founded the Japanese company SCRAP. He envisioned bringing an escape game to life, where people could immerse themselves in a real-life version of a video game. This experience was called Real Escape Game.

Real Escape Game became crazy popular in Japan. The first rooms were pop-up style, located at clubs and bars. The spaces would be filled with clues and other interactive elements. Tickets would consistently sell out to these events.

Real Escape Game decided it would be best to try their luck and test out a market outside of Japan. Their first destination was Singapore in 2011, and then across the Pacific in San Francisco in 2012. It was quickly determined that the popularity of escape rooms in Japan was not an isolated event. Soon, there were escape rooms all over Asia, Europe and North America.

The first American owned escape room, Puzzle Break, was founded in Seattle in August of 2013 and was quickly followed by Escape the Room in New York City in October 2013. By the time 2014 rolled around there were only 22 escape rooms in the United States.

Escape Room Boom

At present day, there are 2,300+ escape rooms in the U.S. A giant jump in only 5 short years. It almost seems hard to go to any midsize city, and not be able to find an escape room to enjoy. What caused the escape room boom?

Human instinct. A lot of what draws people to the idea of an escape room can be traced to the roots of ancient Greece. When we look back, it seems like humans just really enjoy creating puzzles and trying to find our way out of them. From the labyrinths in early greek mythology, to the English garden hedge mazes popular in the 16th century, to the corn mazes of today, we can’t get enough of getting lost, finding a way out, and getting lost again.

An escape from reality. A huge contributing factor to the overwhelming success of escape rooms is the ability to escape your reality and fully immerse yourself into a scenario or character, similar to Live Action Role Play, a popular activity for gamers. There is also a theory that the digital overload in society causes us to want to retreat away from digital experience for entertainment. Why experience something as a video game character, when you could experience it in real life?

Team building. In the United States, team building plays a big role in the success of escape rooms. Businesses started to realize that their employees having to work through an escape room together, provided applicable real-life scenarios similar to problem-solving on the job. Escape rooms emphasize collaboration, effective communication, task delegation and quick creative thinking.

Unlimited options. Like we mentioned, there are thousands of escape rooms across the U.S. While this makes for some healthy competition, no two escape rooms are the same. Even if there were two escape rooms on the same block, visitors could go to both of them and have completely different experiences. This encourages escape rooms to get creative and constantly innovate new environments for escapees.

Are you ready to try your hand at an escape room? 417 Escape Artist has two locations in Springfield and Branson, and 5 different escape room scenarios. Choose your experience, today!

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