Locked in for an interactive crash course in teamwork

Me and my team of fellow escapees
Me and my team of fellow escapees
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The handcuffs are slapped around my wrist and I smile and nod awkwardly at the man I’ve just been shackled to.

No I’m not the victim of hen weekend shenanigans gone awry; nor have I been arrested - I’m one of the first people in the city to try the new escExit experience.

Some of the clues we uncovered along the way...

Some of the clues we uncovered along the way...

The hour-long interactive game places a group of people together in a locked room, sets the timer and challenges them to, quite simply, escape.

Intrigued? So was I as I signed up for a preview of the game - which is being unveiled at the World of Superheroes Comic Convention next month, at Sheffield Students’ Union.

And straight off the bat, it doesn’t disappoint. The room is filled with shelves and drawers, cupboards, books and locked boxes - a veritable trove of riddles, clues and puzzles just waiting for me to dive in. But it’s not that simple. I glance down the line at my three comrades, all of us joined at the wrists like a band of convicts being led out out on community service and try to figure out where to begin. After meeting just minutes earlier, we must quickly pull together to plot our escape, and of course everyone has their own ideas of where best to start. This is no time to sit on the sidelines; the clock is ticking and wallflowers just don’t win. What amazes me is how the game brings out aspects of yourself you weren’t expecting it to, it’s incredibly revealing. Are you a leader? A thinker? Are you good at problem solving? Or are you the peacemeaker who’ll end up trying to calm everyone down when they’re all shouting over the top of one another? Once the clock is ticking, there’s nowhere to hide.

“That’s one of the most interesting things about the game - what it reveals about you,” smiles the game’s creator, Graham Glossop.

Digging for clues

Digging for clues

“I’ve seen people come in, all quiet and shy, and ten minutes in they’re shouting orders out and taking charge - it’s fantastic to watch. People playing this game go through a rollercoaster of emotions, yelling at their friends one minute and celebrating ecstatically the next.”

It was while backpacking in the Far East a few years ago that Graham first came up with the concept of escExit, after he played a similar game in Hong Kong.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” explains the 28-year-old, of Woodhouse.

“My friend and I played the game together and failed miserably, but I was hooked. I knew I wanted to bring the idea back to the UK and things really took off after I reached out to the Prince’s Trust recently for assistance in starting up my own business. I did a Dragon’s Den-type pitch for their panel - I even got them in handcuffs - and they loved the concept. They taught me the ropes of working for myself, provided support and mentorship and now I’m excited to be taking the game out and letting the people of Sheffield try it for the first time.”

And for WOSCON, which opens on August 1 in the city, Graham has been given the opportunity to get even more creative with the game’s themes.

He says: “It’s going to be an even darker, scarier version of the game. Without giving too much away, I can tell you there will be live zombies in the room, which will introduce a whole other element as people try to escape.”

In a zombie-free environment, in the room above Bloo 88 Bar on West Street - my newly-bonded team-mates and I escape the room in 44 minutes and I have to say, it’s a rush. In a world where technlology rules, mindless TV is spoon-fed to us 24-hours-a-day on more channels than anybody needs and mental evaluation has been replaced by apps and calculators, it feels great to be using your brain so thoroughly for something so fun. I shrug out of my handcuffs feeling like Miss Marple and leave with a new-found swagger in my walk.

“I agree, it was a blast,” says Adam Farah, a 33-year-old developer from Barnsley.

“Nothing is quite as it seems, there are red herrings and I spent quite a bit of time seeing links where there were none, at least not intentional ones, so it’s easy to waste time on things that don’t matter.

“The handcuffs added an interesting twist as it was important to negotiate who was allowed to move and have use of which of their hands whenever we approached a puzzle or began to search something.”

Darren Booth, director of The Brand New Idea marketing agency, which is bringing WOSCON to the city for the first time, says: “It’s highly enjoyable and something I’ll be encouraging people to sign up for quickly on the weekend of WOSCON so they’re not disappointed. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and this game really highlights who you are as the game becomes more important than any barriers or self-consciousness you may have.

“We were thrilled to make our way out in the allotted time, but we did struggle at times,” adds Darren, 33 “It’s important to take heed and look at things pragmatically.”

And the final player, designer and developer Tom Smedley, of Parsons Cross, says he was pleased to discover his analtyical brain kicks in under pressure.

“I had no idea I was good at problem solving and recognising patterns, so I surprised myself a bit which was good,” says Tom, 22.

“For people who are going to give this a go, I would say don’t overthink, but look at everything carefully and be thorough.”

As Graham surveys the room we’ve spent the last 44 minutes ransacking, he nods approvingly.

“It’s exciting to see it come to life and that people are enjoying it,” he says.

“I’ve been focusing on escExit as a corporate team-building exercise, but preparing to take it to WOSCON has proven it works so well in so many settings. I can’t wait for people to come and give this a go next month. The future is looking bright for escExit.”

WOSCON will run on August 1 and 2, at Sheffield Students’ Union and Octagon Centre.

Visit Solve Escape for more details.