by Anne Flanagan
Locked in the small, dark space dubbed “Moriarty’s Game Room,” my seven colleagues and I had exactly 60 minutes to find clues, solve puzzles, and free ourselves before time ran out.
We had willingly signed up to be locked up in Pittsburgh’s “The Great Escape Room” at 428 Forbes Avenue for some Thursday night fun and team-building. It did not disappoint.
First, a little history about the escape room phenomenon.
The escape room idea began in the 80s with online point-and-click adventures. In 2008, Live Escape Games in Japan brought the concept to life. This live, immersive form of entertainment quickly became the new frontier of gaming.
“There is a growing consumer demand for social play experiences that are live and unique and can’t be repeated,” says Sam Roberts, assistant director of the Interactive Media and Games division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
In “Moriarty’s Game Room,” there was plenty of play—a Scrabble board, poker table, jigsaw puzzle, “Toy Story” action figures, and croquet mallets were just a few of the props/clues—while the eight of us sharpened our critical thinking, communication, and team-building skills.
The takeaways for our team were many.
“What was so cool was that each person did something really unique and important in putting the clues together to help get us out,” observed Bill.
Many times, it was that second, third, or fourth effort from different people that did the trick. In one corner of the room, Karl began assembling tile clues on the Scrabble board before turning it over to Olga and me; we puzzled over it for some time without success.
Enter Kristin and Tracy with fresh eyes. In a few more minutes they figured out the solution, allowing them to unlock a box containing yet another clue to the next riddle. Meanwhile, I moved to the poker table and was joined by Tracy, Bill, and John to solve yet another riddle while time ticked down.
“We work every day in a high-stress environment, so we already know how to function well under these conditions. As a team in the escape room, we knew how to focus, to multi-task, to step away and move on if we got stuck,” Robin later commented.
Playing in this game meant playing to one’s strengths.
Said Bill, “We naturally gravitated to things we knew we would be good at figuring out. It’s the same way at work. Our different strengths bring synergy to the team.”
So did we get out in time?
We were focused on the very last clue when time ran out. Alas, just another minute or two would have saved us from capture in Moriarty’s lair. But even in defeat, we learned yet another great lesson.
Our “host,” a Great Escape employee who stayed in the room with us the whole time, kept us updated on our progress and gave an occasional, earned “hint” to help us along.
“By giving us some helpful hints, he fueled our momentum and made us feel we were successful, even through our struggles,” said Bill.
Now that’s teamwork!