This is a personal story of how I have been able to find hope in the shape of an empty suitcase.
Several years ago, while browsing through an online message board, I happened upon an inspiring post: A retired psychiatrist by the internet handle of “DrHelen” described her method for dealing with the melancholy she felt after she had finished working.
She identified something that brought her joy and excitement and figured out a way to get herself a steady supply of it. She had always enjoyed traveling. The anticipation of a trip was almost as wonderful as the trip itself. She loved planning and thinking about where she was going and what she was going to do.
She decided she would take one trip each month. Some months it could be a trip to the Florida beaches. Some months it would have to be a simple weekend at a B&B out in the suburbs. It could be just a Saturday night at the fancy hotel downtown or two weeks in Southeast Asia. The anticipation and planning for each trip would be just what she needed to lift her spirits.
Her Suitcase Was the Key
Her post explained another important component of her plan: since she would be using her suitcase each month, it didn’t make sense to store it away in the closet after each trip. She placed it in plain view just inside her bedroom door. That made all the difference. It energized her to see that suitcase each night as she went to bed and each morning as she awoke. The suitcase kick-started that feeling of excitement and anticipation each day.
A couple of years ago, I tried out DrHelen’s trick. Although I didn’t take a trip each month, I placed my suitcase next to my bedroom door. I decided to consider many different kinds of outings as my “trips.” These included weekends out of town, dinner dates, and, of course, escape room outings.
It worked. Seeing that suitcase every night and every morning reminded me of the fun things I had coming up. It made a difference in my outlook on the daily grind. Just reminding myself that we had an escape room booked for next Saturday and that we had 6 escape games booked in Chicago for a weekend next month….thoughts like that would help me start each day with a smile.
During the month of March 2020, as COVID-19 forced me to cancel multiple trips and many escape rooms bookings, I grew resentful of my suitcase. It was sitting there reminding me of where I wouldn’t be going and of escape games that I wouldn’t be playing. My suitcase tormented and mocked me.
Hope in the Time of Corona
Then I realized that DrHelen’s trick could still work, even in the face of a pandemic and quarantine. I now see that suitcase as a sign of hope that someday this will all be over. That suitcase reminds me of the trips that I will take and the escape rooms that I will play.
The suitcase teases me to anticipate that feeling of walking into the lobby of an escape room company knowing that there is an award-winning or world-renowned game in the building. I anticipate sitting through escape game introductions again. I think about that feeling right after the door closes when my 60 minutes begin. I imagine chatting with the owners after playing a room and then reliving it with my friends over dinner. It’s all there in that empty suitcase.
If this idea sounds like it is something you’d enjoy, give it a try. Place your suitcase by your bedroom door. Look at it every night and every morning and think about what represents for you for when the world starts turning again. Think about the places you will go and the escape rooms you will play. And give a thought to DrHelen, whoever she is, and the fact that her idea is helping people get through something she never imagined all those years ago.
I’ve never been to Paris, but I have visited the much smaller and far more anal-retentively designed Capuchin Crypt in Rome. I’ll tell you: that place left an impression on me.
Sadly the Capuchin Crypt doesn’t have a virtual tour, but it’s worth checking out some photos. While I was there, I bought a postcard and sent it to my old friend Pete writing nothing on it except for the words, “Wish you were here.” Memories.
More Virtual Tours
I’ll continue to comb the internet for unusual places that are offering virtual tours in lieu of normal operations. I find them inspiring.
If you happen upon anything weird, fun, and escape room-y, please send it my way. This is an amusing way to see little bits of the world while remaining immobile.
Something that struck me recently is how I have evolved as an escape room player and how that path, and where it took me, has been different than I would have expected.
My journey began like so many others.
“We should try one of those escape rooms.”
“What is an escape room?”
I became an escape room enthusiast after playing my very first game several years ago. I was blown away by the idea. I was captivated by the challenge, the immersion, and the feeling of competing against the clock and winning. We booked another room for the next evening, after which I was even more convinced. I said to my wife, “There is something to this. This is a new medium, a new business model, a new industry.” All I wanted to do was play more games, play every game, introduce these games to my friends, and try to set new record times.
A More Discerning Palate
Something changed, however, as I played more and more escape games. I discovered the wide range in quality of the escape room universe. Some of these companies and the rooms they had created were really good! I started to care more about things like set design and construction, lighting and sound, characters and story, and puzzle design. I found that some companies were just better at their craft.
I decided to shift my focus to finding more of these great rooms. I began online searching and reading escape room reviews, Facebook groups, and regional spreadsheets. I was taking it all in.
One day I read a review of a new escape room that just opened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of all places. It was called Cutthroat Cavern at 13th Gate Escape. I was awestruck by the reviewer’s description of the scale. I couldn’t fathom sets like he’d described and the size and complexity of the space. This sounded like a fully constructed world… and the recipe for that true immersion I craved.
A few months later, I was able to convince some friends to travel with me from Wisconsin to a city in the South that none of us had ever thought we would visit, just to play all the games at 13th Gate.
I was hooked on searching out and playing only the escape games that I thought could deliver this feeling.
As I researched, looking for more truly special escape room experiences, I compiled lists of the most popular recommendations. I was communicating with more and more experienced players. I was telling them about my discovery about that feeling of forgetting I was in an escape room. I would ask them for their favorite games and explain that I was only interested in this type of experience. I searched for rooms that were bigger, longer,and more challenging. I wanted rooms that looked great and played great, with cool tech, clever puzzles, and surprise twists. I longed to feel the extra effort that the creators had put in to craft something special. I told other players that I had no desire to play poor quality rooms. I felt ripped off when paying the same price for those lesser experiences.
More than once I was told by these people that I looked up to that this was a phase that would pass. I would learn again to value lower quality games and just enjoy those experiences for what they were.
A Maturation Of Expectations
Over time, I did find myself having the urge to book escape games I had previously ignored. My addiction needed to be fed and these were games left unplayed. So I rationalized, since there was less travel involved, and they might be fun… why not? After doing this a few times I realized the prediction from those experienced players had indeed come true. I was having a good time, a much better time than I had imagined playing any average escape room.
The joy of just playing escape games was still there.
I enjoyed utilizing my skills. In easier rooms, my teammates and I could be sillier and less stressed, knowing we had plenty of time. I could still discover even one new puzzle or new prop. I would find a great interaction in a place I never would have expected it, and that alone often made the experience worth it. I could quest for and love some of the most immersive and epic escape games in the world and at the same time, I could appreciate almost any escape game for what it was.
The Universe Is Expanding
As my own experience level grew, I developed more of an interest in the industry of escape rooms.
I became curious about the owners, the creators… the people with ideas. I became especially curious about ideas that pushed the boundaries of what escape rooms could be.
For example, I playedPopstar’s Room Of Doomat SCRAP in San Francisco, California. In this actor-driven escape game, we entered a time-loop that reset each time we made a mistake. Although it was rough around the edges, it left me thinking for hours about how the concept could be repurposed for different settings, or become its own genre of escape room.
The escape room community also introduced me to some escape room adjacent activities. I learned about puzzle hunts, the haunted house industry, and escape room enthusiast meetups and tours. I never would have tried immersive theater if it weren’t for conversations with escape room players who assured me I would like it. I went to The Speakeasy in San Francisco and Sleep No More in New York. These helped strengthen my appreciation for immersion and led to even more questions about what future escape rooms can become.
When I played the spectacular The Man From Beyond at Strange Bird Immersive in Houston, Texas, it blew me away with its style, depth, intimacy and commitment. It wasn’t one of those experiences where we could scan the room, trying to get a jump start on solving things by looking for puzzles and locks while some briefing video played on a screen. An event happened, and we were witnessing it and contributing to it. We were so involved that the game clock didn’t matter. In fact, we were fully enveloped into the world before we started any gaming. We were engaged in a cohesive experience from the opening moments through our exit.
This gave me hope and excitement that there are creators out there building something new that will captivate me. How many creative directions can escape rooms go?
A New Phase
My current obsessive focus is on finding companies that are doing something special. They are creating escape room experiences that are beyond the norm: something different, something bigger… something I didn’t see coming.
But I didn’t see any of this coming. This is just one person’s journey through the world of escape rooms. It is hard to believe what that journey has provided me: travel, new experiences, community, and excitement for what is coming. It all came from that suggestion, “We should try one of those escape rooms.”