You and eight friends walk into a dark room. The door slams shut behind you and you hear the click of the lock turning in the door. A countdown timer illuminates: 60 minutes remaining.
No, you’re not in gore-horror-hit Saw–you’re playing “Spark of Resistance“, a real-life escape the room game in Portland, Oregon, designed and built by W+K interactive strategist Laura E. Hall and her creative compatriots, 60 Minutes to Escape.
Escape room games are puzzle events played in real-life environments. Much like a strategic briefing meeting, participants are locked in a room together and must solve puzzles and use their skills to escape in the allotted time frame.
“Escape the room games have been popular around the world for a while, but they’re really exploding in American cities right now,” Laura said. “These rooms require teamwork and cooperation. There are many types of puzzles, so everyone can use their individual strengths to contribute. It’s a fun way to spend time with your friends in person, and it’s exciting to see what surprises are in store inside these rooms.”
Her group 60 Minutes to Escape is a group of Portland-based artists, tinkerers, writers, game makers and theater designers. They began working on “Spark of Resistance” in January of this year, and opened it to the public in September.
“A lot of these rooms are all about the puzzles, which can be a lot of fun,” Laura said. “We wanted to put our skill sets to good use, and because we’ve been approaching the project from different perspectives and different backgrounds, the result is very rich.”
As an example, she notes that many of these types of rooms have a very low success rate–hardly anyone actually gets out in time.
“One thing we knew wanted was to have a narrative in the room,” she said. “That means we want people to see as much of it as possible, so the flow of the puzzles and tasks is structured around that. And all of the objects in the room are diegetic–they may contain puzzles, but their presence in the room makes sense, within that fictional world.”
“Spark of Resistance” is set in a 1984-like, Berlin Wall-era dystopian fictional country known as Argovia. Laura described the process of trying to tell stories set within the fictional construct, without being too distracting to players.
“The world-building was very important to us,” Laura said. “If you put in too many details or too much written stuff, people will think it’s a part of a puzzle, and will spend their time trying to solve that instead of moving forward. We’ve done a lot of work to make you feel immersed in the world and aware of what it’s all about, and the type of people that live there, without ever explicitly stating any of it.”
There are shows available every weekend, with more showing times to come in the near future.
“People are really enjoying it so far,” Laura said. “It’s very satisfying when people cheer after solving a puzzle you’ve designed. And we’ve had some exciting moments: one team escaped with only two seconds left on the clock, which was just as thrilling for us watching behind the scenes as it was for the people playing it.”