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The History & Evolution of Escape Rooms

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Escape rooms have become commonplace in many cities and towns across North America. But do you know the full history of escape rooms?

It seems like the popularity of escape rooms has exploded in North America over the last 5 years. But did you know that escape rooms have actually been around for well over a decade? In fact, the premise of escape room games has been around for 3 decades in virtual versions.

There’s no doubt that the escape room hype lives up. People all over the world continue to support local businesses and enjoy this style of experiential entertainment.

Do you know where the original inspiration for escape rooms came from? Let’s review the history of escape rooms and the escape room evolution.

The History of Escape Rooms

Most credit the origin of escape rooms to early video game versions and technological advancements. The idea behind current escape room models is to physically put the players together with the clues and puzzles - and have them solve the room together. This model takes the single-player virtual versions to a multiplayer 3-D experience with friends, family, or coworkers.

Early (Virtual) Escape Room Games

The earliest video games relied on text-based commands from the user. As technology improved, so did the ability to provide graphic interfaces and visual cues for players instead. In the 1970s, engineers began considering methods for players to better interact with virtual games (and with each other during those games).

Point-and-click adventure games were the next development in this virtual landscape which would become the ultimate inspiration for escape rooms. Many cite “Planet Mephius” as the earliest game example where players could use the cursor to interact with in-game objects. This game was only available in Japan. In 1998, “Behind Closed Doors” was developed with the idea that a player was trapped within a room and must solve puzzles or find clues to escape. As a result, video games where players had to escape the room rose in popularity over the next couple of decades. Finally, “Crimson Room” was released online which became a sensation due to its accessibility to users on the worldwide web.

The original video game genre (escape the room) was also known as Takagism, which was named after the creator of the “Crimson Room” game.

Escape Room Evolution

This “escape the room” concept evolved to become 3-D when Takao Kato (Kyoto, Japan) created the first real-life escape room in 2007. Guests originally played in-person games in Japanese bars and clubs but as the idea gained popularity, companies began constructing permanent locations in Asia and across Europe. Escape games finally hit North America in about 2012 with several larger brands garnering cult followings in San Francisco, New York City, Nashville, and Seattle.

The Next Levels of Escape Room Evolution

As companies began to roll out new ideas and innovative room designs, different generations of escape rooms were born.

  1. First Generation: This style of the escape room was built around the basic concept of “the box”. You’re in a box and now you must get out of the box. The creativity in this room was through the puzzles, clues, and games that you encountered in the room. Players will often encounter padlocks, basic puzzles, and other low-tech items in the room that will help them escape.

  2. Second Generation: The technological abilities began ramping up here as room designers incorporated new and exciting things into room designs. Electronic puzzles and locks are introduced, more in-game communications happen with staff, and mission-based games become the greater focus. By the time second-gen escape rooms roll around, it’s not just about the linear set of puzzles that you must solve to escape, it’s about the immersive experience as a whole.

  3. Third Generation: This evolution saw the story and setting of the room(s) becoming even more dynamic and interactive. This generation strives to find a new level of entertainment through high-tech puzzles, special effects, pneumatics, and other sensory experiences (sound, touch, smell). Third-generation rooms may also include secret passages, multiple rooms, or be set outdoors.

  4. Fourth Generation: Here we see the escape room evolution break free from the idea of “escape the box” narrative entirely. In this generation of escape rooms, the room may not even fully exist in reality. For example, fourth-generation escape rooms could incorporate virtual reality and other technology to challenge the way that we think about escape rooms entirely. The rooms can reset themselves, are dynamic, and require intense design work to create.

A Legendary Experience is Born

Escape room diehards can now seek out immersive and unique rooms all over the world. One big theory around the rise in popularity of escape rooms is that it’s the ultimate form of “experiential entertainment”. Other in-demand experiential entertainment includes music festivals, theme parks, conventions, and arcades. Each builds and creates unique experiences targeted to specific audiences.

The inclusive thing about escape rooms is that every player becomes the main character. Each controls their own destiny of a story that they choose!

What is the Inspiration for our Lock Lift Escape Rooms?

Escape room locations across the world take inspiration for escape rooms from local history, superhero stories, zombies, apocalyptic scenarios, wars, books, science, and pretty much anything else that you can think of.

Lift Lock Escape rooms are all designed in the GEN3 escape room category and include multiple rooms, secret packages, extensive use of electronics and technology, and immersive narratives that put you center stage as the main character!

Here are the current rooms offered at Lift Lock Escape:

  • Back to the Past (historic outdoor walking adventure)

  • Enter the Batcave (superhero themed)

  • Super Jail Escape Room (break out of prison)

  • The Final Crusade (holy grail hunt)

  • The Secrets of Edison’s Office (history and science)

COVID-19 & The Future of Escape Rooms

COVID-19 has affected every industry across the globe, and escape rooms were no different. Many escape room businesses have started to offer outdoor adventures that abide by pandemic restrictions. Some escape rooms are also offering digital escape rooms designed to be played by multiple players. The pandemic has been yet another step in the overall escape room evolution story.

Escape rooms remain resilient in the face of COVID-19 and, as restrictions ease, will become destinations for safe experiential entertainment in 2022 and beyond.

Now that you know more about the history of the escape rooms, are you excited to book your appointment with us?

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