Harrison Cheung/Mustang News

Lindsy Mobley
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To all the gamers and adventurists out there who have dreamed of jumping into the screen and solving the murder mystery, saving the city or cracking the puzzle in an “Indiana Jones” movie — your time has come.

And it’s all thanks to something called an escape room.

Escape rooms immerse participants in a time pressure story that combines theatrics with gaming. But instead of virtual immersion, participants are physically locked in a room where they must solve the puzzles and find their way out.

The liberal arts and engineering studies (LAES) department at Cal Poly is currently working on an escape room for campus.

Escape rooms began popping up about two years ago, mostly in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. They have now spread to the United States in big cities such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, LAES co-director David Gillette said.

It’s theatrical in that the room is based around a type of story that would be found in a game or adventure movie. It’s a game because the goal is to get out of the room.

The only way to get out is by solving the puzzles and clues embedded in the story of the room. There’s no script, no actors, just the participants and the puzzles, Gillette said. 

“So the idea is, you’re put in a room for a certain period of time, you have a number of puzzles that you have to solve, and if you solve the puzzles successfully, you get out of the room. If you are unsuccessful, you either lose the game or something tragic happens to the characters that you’re dealing with,” Gillette said.

The content of the escape room’s story is kept under wraps due to the fact that it would ruin the game for future participants.

Students in LAES 301 and 302 (the introductory project-based LAES courses) are designing and building the rooms. They have been working on it for about six weeks now, Gillette said.

“Our vision for the escape room is to develop something that hasn’t really been done before. And we wanted to do something that’s international,” LAES junior Kevin Gong said.

The group created space in its story to collaborate with the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. This means this Australian university will also be creating an escape room to coexist with the one on Cal Poly’s campus, and participants would have international interactions during the game.

According to Gong, they have created a very elaborate backstory that is designed to incorporate the two rooms so they actually connect. They are trying to establish visual footage between the two rooms via gopros. So the clues will overlap between the Cal Poly escape room and the Australian escape room.

“Either they succeed together or they fail together. So you actually have to work together with the (international) students,” Gong said.

Winter quarter is designated to figuring out story development, props, space usage, organizational logistics and testing, Gillette said.

“The whole point of the escape room is the immersive experience, and if they don’t buy into the story, then everything is lost — it’s just a room of clues and puzzles. The story is really what builds layers that put people in the room. So we’ve been working very hard to build the story,” Gong said.

This week and next week, they are running tests to see how the puzzles work and what needs to be changed.

“We really have to build it kind of like software. We have to test it with people and refine it to see how it goes before we really release it,” Gillette said. “And then the spring is when we’re planning on running it as an actual theatrical gaming experience that people can sign up for and come and experience.”

The game will run for about an hour with eight or nine participants. The design team hopes to have the escape room ready by May or June for the San Luis Obispo community to participate in, Gillette said.

“We’re definitely building a world. We’re putting stuff in to make it an authentic part of the story instead of just being a room with clues in it,” English senior Emma Jaffe said.

Jaffe said she enjoys the Learn By Doing aspect of the project because she doesn’t get that a lot as an English major, a sentiment shared by others students, including Gong.

“I just think the program is awesome, and it has given me the opportunity to do things like this that most classes like studying dynamics or studying statistics — it doesn’t allow for this kind of creativity,” Gong said.

Whether as a creator or participant of the escape rooms, people now have the opportunity to step out of their everyday lives and play pretend in another “world.”

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