Real life escape game drawing fans

Justin Tang is the man behind EXIT, a new local business he calls the
Justin Tang is the man behind EXIT, a new local business he calls the 'ultimate real life escape game.'
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra

It's been the talk of Richmond—a new business offering a novel form of entertainment where participants voluntarily enter eery rooms they must escape.

"I was really surprised actually," said owner and creator Justin Tang of the attention. "It was a big risk beginning this kind of business since there is no reference in Canada at all."

EXIT, as the Garden City Road business is known, has drawn participants as young as nine (with parents) and as old as 70, along with corporate groups and birthday parties.

Even a speed-dating group recently tried its luck.

"It's actually very good for speed dating, because three pairs of guys and girls are locked in a room for 45 minutes. They have to work together," he said. "This is the sort of game that you learn about what your friend's real personality is."

It goes like this. Four to six participants pay $23 each and enter one of four themed rooms of varying degrees of difficulty—the Lost Ship, Ancient Egypt, Prison Escape and Laboratory Escape. They have 45 minutes in the dark to find clues and solve puzzles that will lead them out of the locked room. Most fail, and are rescued by staff.

It's the ultimate real life escape game, said Tang.

"We are bringing an online game idea into real life," he said. "There are too many young adults who stay at home a lot in front of the computer. We want to bring them out somehow."

The concept is all the rage in Asia—and its popularity is ballooning here. Just west of EXIT, at 7800 Alderbridge Way, is Xcape Vancouver, a similar business that's been open for three weeks.

Xcape owner Jaclyn Wu said she plays escape games frequently while travelling in Hong Kong.

"It's super popular," she said. "My friends are crazy about it—we play like four times a week when I go back for vacation for two weeks."

Xcape, she said, offers an entertainment alternative to paint ball and laser tag—like a real-life board game.

"It's training for your brain," said Wu. "It's very popular right now."

Another escape business opened near Ironwood earlier this month. Freeing Canada, on Hammersmith Way, also has affiliated locations in Hong Kong, China and Singapore, according to Andrew Lau.

Lau said his games challenge participants to not only escape, but also investigate. In one room—a fictional murder scene—players must solve puzzles while also solving the crime.

"Also, we don't rank our group by failure or success. We have four levels of ranking depending on how many tasks they had completed in the game."

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