There’s a History Mystery in Norwich

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I had a great chat earlier today with old colleague and friend Richard, part of Corvidae, who is also involved in a new venture in Norwich. History Mystery is a real-life room escape game, in which between two and six players have just an hour to explore the room, discover clues, solve puzzles and find the solution to escape. (Don’t worry, they do get let out if they can’t escape within the hour – after all another party will be waiting their turn.)

“Escape the room” games are a sub-genre of computer adventure games. Very often the first challenge in the old text based adventure games was to get out of the room where the adventure starts. With the development of point-and click graphic adventures (like my old favourite, the Monkey Island series) and especially the creation of what we now call Adobe Flash, the idea of making a mini-adventure that was ALL about getting out of a richly detailed room, took flight.

It didn’t take long for people to cotton on the the idea that while the fantastic, huge, worlds of most adventure games couldn’t be re-created in real life, re-creating a single room was a possibility, and could even make a pretty good business case.

So in the last few years, a nascent Escape Room industry has grown rapidly, from Japan initially, to locations all over the world. You can escape from Magic Shows, Baseball Parks, Time Travel labs, Bank Heists, Prohibition speakeasies, and even, in London, “Lady Chastity’s Reserve” (didn’t ask, didn’t look).

But all these a made-up stories about imaginary places. I’m sure the set design looks lovely, but players might as well be playing in an industrial estate.

What History Mystery brings to the table, are real, exciting places, with the patina of real history*, and stories researched from and interpreting the history of that place. The first game on offer involves rescuing a Norwich archivist, trapped his own vault. History Mystery launched at the end of January in Norwich, and the company hopes to expand across the country, as they strike deals with suitable historic locations. I haven’t had a chance to play in a game yet, but it looks fantastic I hope to take a trip up there as soon as I can. Have any of my East Anglian chums heard about it, or given it a go?

I wish these guys every success – I’d love to see real history turned into adventure games all over the country.

*The blurb for a forthcoming game warns: “This game takes place in real gaol cells that held real prisoners who left behind graffiti using explicit and violent language that is not for the easily offended.”

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