How Escape Rooms Work

The History of Escape Rooms

Kevin Cheng, one of the founders of Mystery Room in New York, prepares the venue for clue-solvers.
Kevin Cheng, one of the founders of Mystery Room in New York, prepares the venue for clue-solvers.

Escape rooms seem to be one of those rare instances where a video game morphed into real life — instead of the other way around. The idea probably came from a genre of video games called escape the room, which is exactly what it sounds like: Players interact with a virtual room by clicking on different objects in an effort to escape. Perhaps the best known example of this genre is "Crimson Room," created by Toshimitsu Takagi in 2004 [source: Ouzounian]. Players are trapped in — you guessed it — a crimson-colored bedroom and have to search the place for items that will help them get out. In all, there are 23 steps that ultimately lead players to a screwdriver they can use to open the door.

The leap from virtual world to real world is a little fuzzy. Some sources point to a live-action version that popped up in Silicon Valley, California, in 2006 called "Original Piece"; however, it was a Japanese student who really popularized the concept [sources: Ouzounian, Zorilla]. SCRAP Entertainment's Takao Kato created that country's first escape room in 2007 after watching a classmate playing an escape-the-room game on her computer [source: SCRAP]. These early events were temporary, popping up in clubs and bars where organizers hid objects, codes and clues, and tickets quickly sold out [sources: Corkill, Kato].

Eventually, foresighted entrepreneurs all over the world began opening permanent escape room businesses to take advantage of the game's growing popularity. One of the first to do so, at least in Europe, was Attila Guyrkovics, who founded ParaPark in Hungary in 2011 [source: Escape Games Convention]. Permanent escape game venues then made their way to the United States in 2012, when SCRAP opened room in San Francisco [source: French and Shaw].

Since then, escape rooms have spread across the globe. As of March 2016, the Escape Room Directory lists 3,406 rooms at 1,485 sites in 670 cities across 64 countries. A whopping 1,102 of those rooms are located in the United States, and there's even one aboard Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas cruise ship!