Escape room gaming trend comes to mall area

Escape room

Imagine being in a locked room and having a limited amount of time to find clues and solve a series of problems in order to find the code that will unlock the door.

That’s the setup behind a real-life gaming phenomenon sweeping the country.

Known as escape rooms, these events first started becoming popular in Asia in the early 2000s with Takao Kato opening the earliest known real escape room in Japan in 2007.

Now that trend has come to Maine. A company called Maine Escape Games is setting up a series of escape rooms near The Maine Mall in South Portland this summer. The company hopes to be open for business sometime this month and is now taking reservations for dates in August.

Rene Letourneau, co-founder and chief operating officer for Maine Escape Games, said this week that the company’s first room would have a coastal theme.

“The idea is that the (players) are in a lighthouse and the keeper has mysteriously gone missing,” Letourneau said. The players then have an hour to figure out the various clues and other puzzles located throughout the room in order keep the harbor safe.

He and his business partners Alan and Scott Baldwin and Pam Kinney decided to locate their escape room company on John Roberts Road in South Portland because of its proximity to The Maine Mall and the highway.

“We selected our location near The Maine Mall because it is easy to access from I-95 and I-295 and offers free on-site parking. It is also conveniently located near plenty of restaurants and shops,” Letourneau said.

He added, “We have tried several escape rooms in other cities and thought Mainers would really love it. In addition, we hope to appeal to tourists, as well.”

Letourneau said the four owners of Maine Escape Games have “professional backgrounds and personal hobbies” that give them “substantial experience” in the fields of computer programming, home renovation and remodeling as well as journalism and marketing.

In terms of what players can expect, he said, they can expect to “have a fun, challenging, engaging hour as they work through the puzzles and games in the room.”

Letourneau also said the escape room experience is “a terrific team-building opportunity for corporate groups, sports teams and others who want an exercise to encourage collaboration, cooperation and teamwork.”

Maine Escape Games is the second escape room company to open in southern Maine this summer, with The Escape Room currently operating in downtown Portland. Owned and operated by Stephen Knight, The Escape Room is located at 496 Congress St., next to Port City Music Hall.

After taking off in Asia, Europe and the West Coast, these attractions are now popping up nationwide, according to an article earlier this year in the Washington Post.

The newspaper described the escape room experience as: “A group ranging from two to 12 people is briefed with the story line by the game master. The timer is set, the rules are recited, the door is shut, then it’s go time.”

The article said that part of the fun of an escape room is that anything could be a clue, including paintings, sticky notes, lamps or playing cards. “Escape rooms provide intellectual stimulation and a bit of a thrill,” the paper added.

The goal of an escape room designer is to provide a substantial challenge, so not every group will be able to figure out the necessary clues before time is up. Overall, Letourneau said, a success rate of 35 to 40 percent would be expected.

On its website, Maine Escape Games said the escape room experience requires “teamwork, wit, logic, keen powers of observation and problem-solving,” in order to find all the clues that will open the door.

The Maine Escape Games website said that players can request up to three hints throughout the course of the game. In addition, the game monitor may also choose to offer hints that could help solve the puzzle.

To keep players honest, the company does not permit them to take cell phones or other electronic devices into the room. In addition, no photos are allowed.

And, the website said, “because we do not want to diminish the experience for other guests, we ask that you do not reveal any details about the rooms, puzzles or codes on your social media accounts.”


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