Escape The Room Thriving In NYC

Escape the RoomThere are always new attractions to learn about and enjoy in New York City, but when it comes to spooky and scary activities, most of us feel as if we know the drill: a few haunted houses open up in the fall, and the Jekyll and Hyde Club is there year-round if you feel like having a drink under a robotic skeleton. But over the past year or two, another creepy and unsettling attraction has become wildly popular in the city. Before we get into that, let’s briefly consider the popular rise of scare-based entertainment in general…

It’s probably been clearest in the ways people entertain themselves at home, where video games have grown simultaneously more realistic and more frightening. Any game involving danger and adventure with the beautiful capabilities of modern consoles has the potential to scare. However, we’ve also seen a distinct movement toward scarier concepts at the core of these games as well. Recent titles (Bloodborne and Until Dawn, for example) are as creepy as they are exciting. And that’s not even touching on the potential for the coming wave in virtual reality games to scare the daylights out of us. We’ll soon be playing video games in a more immersive manner than ever before, and if Kotaku’s recent take on a horror title for Samsung VR is any indication, this could lead to some genuinely terrifying fun. Just think of the scariest video game you’ve ever played, and then imagine you’re in the game instead of looking at it on a screen!

Games like that haven’t really been rolled out to the public just yet, but we’ve also seen a rise in scary gaming more akin to “escape the room” concepts in some simpler corners of gaming, such as online and through mobile apps. Point-and-click escape games are made for flash arcade platforms, but even find their way into generally harmless, more light-hearted environments like the online casino industry. There’s a Haunted House slot machine hosted at Betfair’s casino page that essentially mimics a pretty conventional haunted house setting. It’s sort of like a combination between playing at a casino and walking through your state fair’s spookiest fun house. Meanwhile, the idea of haunted rooms and escape plots has been running wild on mobile platforms with titles ranging from Year Walk to DOOORS taking advantage of the concept in different ways. The developers at Fireproof have delivered the sensational series The Room, which simulates first-person turning of knobs and cranks as a means of solving puzzles and moving through locked obstacles. And it’s presented with all the right creaking and air currents in the background to keep you on edge.

Going with the “escape the room” concept as its own branch of haunted house or horror-based entertainment, the idea has even popped up in recent literature! David Mitchell, the renowned British author of books like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks recently released a new book called Slade House that’s built on the concept of a mysterious home that features a new resident each year—and they’re never allowed to leave. The book was a quirky and mildly haunting departure from Mitchell’s typical sweeping and complex literary style, and it’s another example of how haunted house concepts still fascinate the public.

But most importantly with regard to what we’re getting at in New York City, we’ve also seen in recent years that the real life experience of working through a haunted venue hasn’t lost its spooky charm. The most significant example for New Yorkers was the rise of the “New York Haunted Hayride” by Ten Thirty One Productions, who famously secured a deal on ABC’s Shark Tank for the creation of a variety of in-person horror experiences. Basically, it’s a tractor-pulled hayride that drags passengers through an intricately designed haunted forest. It’s not an original concept, but it’s an attraction that’s done with more care and professionalism than any annual pop-up that already existed in the city.

For pure scares, the Haunted Hayride is certainly an attraction to keep in mind for your city entertainment come fall. But if you look at this whole conversation as a broader category of attractions that are interesting because they’re unsettling, then the growing “Escape The Room” phenomenon may be for you. And even more importantly, it’s year-round (unlike the average pop-up haunted house or similar venue).

That’s not to say this attraction is always particularly scary. Really, it depends on who you’re with, what room you’re attempting to solve, and how well you can pull it off. But the overall concept is to be trapped in a room (with different rooms designed with different themes) for a set amount of time, with only your own wits and a bunch of hidden clues around to help you escape. It’s like a slightly amusing, slightly scary puzzle app brought to life, and it now exists in multiple locations in New York (a Downtown spot on Suffolk Street and a Midtown venue at West 31st).

Escape The Room has become one of the highest rated attractions in the city and has already expanded to include various new rooms since opening. Downtown, the “Apartment” and “Theater” rooms are available (though Apartment is closing in February to make way for a new one called the “Rec Room”); and in Midtown, participants can enjoy three selections called “Home,” “Agency,” and “Office.”

Do yourself a favor and try to check out at least one or two of these rooms the next time you have a group of friends getting together and no specific plans. Although it’s sometimes viewed as old fashioned or even childish, scare-based entertainment is alive and well across all different forms of entertainment. But it’s never better than when you can engage in a real life experience, and that’s just what Escape The Room allows you to do.

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