This weekend I did an escape room in Parramatta.
I live in Parramatta and I was as shocked as you. I thought a regular night out in Parra involved going to watch the Eels and getting paraletic in the RSL up the road.
(I kid, I love Parramatta. It has some absolutely bitching restuarants)
But I don't think it's a stretch: when you think 'night out with friends in Parramatta' you're not thinking 'nerd pursuits', you're not thinking 'escape rooms'. The fact there's now an escape room is Parramatta, it's confirmed something I've been thinking for a long time: escape rooms have gone mainstream. They've gone mainstream in a really big way.
My wife is a decent canary in the coal mine for this stuff. A few months ago she asked me about escape rooms. "This sounds fun," she had said. "We should do one together."
My wife is not a 'nerd'. My wife watches The Block. She barely plays video games and when she does it's mostly a result of brute force on my part. Her asking about escape rooms. That's a big deal.
Then, a month ago, we had a bunch of friends over. Another couple: "we really want to try one of those escape rooms".
Again: not a nerdy couple. Not the type of friends you might associate with that type of pursuit. Something is going on here and I have no idea what.
So, this Friday I decided to book a room for myself and that couple — at the Labyrinth Escape Room in Parramatta. Then, for some reason, the news got out among some common friends. Within an hour I had gotten so many messages from those friends that I had to literally book out both rooms. I then had turn some of my friends away because too many people wanted to come along.
I had a blast, predictably. Escape rooms are an incredible amount of fun, and of the three I've done, Labyrinth was up there with the best. Both teams completed their respective room, both teams were chattering like hyped up buzzards, all of us wanted to come back. We talked about booking out the rooms the very next week (to try other room).
But I was curious. What were some of the other escape rooms like? Should I give them a try? I'd done a couple in Sydney — the Enigma Room and Mission — as team building exercise alongside the Gizmodo and Lifehacker teams. But after a quick google search I was blown away by just how many escape rooms had popped up in Sydney over the last couple of years.
There's The Mystery Puzzle, Room Escape, Escape Hunt, Strike Escape Rooms, Break The Code, CT Adventure alongside Labyrinth, The Enigma Room and Mission. One quick Google, minimal effort. No asking around, no shout out on social media, nothing. A Google search.
These things are everywhere.
I wonder why. Why now? Is it a result of the tightened lock out laws in Sydney? Is it a sign of geek culture going mainstream? Was it that one Big Bang Theory episode where Leonard and the gang solved the puzzles way too fast? It's hard to tell. Either way, everyone seems to be talking about escape rooms.
It feels like a good thing. Well designed escape rooms are marvelous, they bring people together, allow them to share a night out of the ordinary. It's not going out for dinner, it's not going to the cinema, or heading to the pub to get blitzed. It's not even a board game night — it's a night that requires zero prior knowledge or expertise. No need to understand a complicated set of rules. Escape rooms are a lot of things rolled into one: game mechanics, set design, and drama combine to create a unique experience that you'll never forget — particularly if you do it with the right group of people.
I just hope it's not some sort of weird fad. I remember walking down Church Street on a busy Saturday night two or three years ago. I spotted a Frozen Yoghurt bar, then another, then another. I distinctly remember saying to myself, "Frozen Yoghurt... in Parramatta?"
All those places are closed down now. Most of them are fancy burger joints.
Hopefully escape rooms have a longer shelf life.