Prison break

Handcuffed Hong Kongers play out escapist fantasies as a real escape game, minus gruesome death, is all the rage

AFP | FEBRUARY 16, 2013, 08:44 PM IST

Being blindfolded, handcuffed and locked in a dark roomunder the gaze of a surveillance camera is not everybody's idea of fun. But anew game in high-pressure Hong Kong is playing on people's escapist fantasies.Freeing HK is a "real escape game" in which players are pittedagainst a ticking clock as they desperately try to work their way out of theroom by finding clues, cracking codes, and solving puzzles. The phenomenonoriginated in Japan, and has spread to China, Taiwan, Singapore and the UnitedStates.

But the creators of the Hong Kong version say it has strucka nerve in the ultra-crowded city of seven million, as highly stressed studentsand over-worked young business people look for a literal -- and metaphorical --way out. "I think Hong Kong is the most stressed city in Asia," saidFreeing HK creator Instant Wan. "There are long working hours, everybodyis always talking about money, and there is little entertainment -- we onlyhave films and karaoke. "People want to find something new and escape fromtheir stress in the money-hungry city. Here, they come from reality into thegame."

Wan, 27, a member of the high IQ society Mensa, author, andpart-time lecturer on love and relationships, opened the game centre inNovember along with three young business partners. Wearing an open-necked whiteshirt and black blazer with a silk handkerchief tucked into his top pocket, hefits the role of charismatic games master. The centre is on the fourth floor ofan anonymous tower block in the heart of Mongkok, one of the most populatedareas on earth, an appropriate location for people looking for a portal out ofthe city's frenetic hustle-bustle.

For HK$128 (US$16.5) each, players in small teams can takeon one of three rooms -- "Prison Break", "Lost", or"Dr Alpha" -- where they face scenarios that include being handcuffedto your teammate, or having to negotiate a Mission Impossible-style laser maze.Only about one in five successfully find their way out within the 45-minutecountdown, pressured by the ticking of the clock and looping piano musicdrifting through the speakers.

Asked about what she was trying to escape, Amy Chow, 21, auniversity student, sighed. "Oh, study, work, Hong Kong's stressful life.We need to spend a lot of time studying and working, so today is a very happychance to do something different, something challenging and exciting."High-school student Michael Wong, 17, came straight from his end-of-term examswith a group of friends. "Hong Kong is a very busy city and we all have torush our lives," he said. "We just didn't have the time to rest, butcoming here to live a life we may never know, being trapped in a small room,it's an extraordinary experience."

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