I landed in Narita airport on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. The relative calm of the airplane cabin soon gave way to a flurry of people in every direction.
It was an eye-buffet, from colorful groups in “Kigurumis” (head-to-toe animal onesies) exchanging digital coup-de-graces with their handheld gaming devices, to flocks of families scurrying about with their duty-free shopping bags of souvenirs.
The blast of color and flare however was against a backdrop of minimalist, white-spaced interiors and straight edges, providing a zen balance. It looked more like an art gallery than an airport waiting area (even the very weird but cool Gallery Toto which showed off various models of high-tech toilets seemed refined).
All around me was the chatter of a language I didn’t quite understand but that my ears couldn’t turn away from, accompanied by aesthetically distinct symbols I couldn’t read but that my eyes wanted so much to take in. As I collected my baggage and made my way to the ‘Skyliner’ train terminal which would be my portal from the airport to Tokyo city, I passed a doorman who eagerly greeted me with words I didn’t comprehend, but with gestures and body movements that were universally welcoming.
The blue streak that is the Skyliner suddenly pulled up at lightning speed, looking more like a speeding bullet than locomotive.
The doors slid open as I approached them in a sleek automatic movement (in fact, most doors here did). The flashing video screens up above looped advertisements, puzzles and trivia questions. The passengers (those that weren’t passed out salarymen anyway) were affixed to those screens, talking busily among each other. I couldn’t understand them, but their body movements and excitement were telling in a way that the language wasn’t. They were most likely sharing answers to the questions flashing on the screens above.
Later I’d discover that in downtown Tokyo Akihabara, a red tower loomed above the skyline with an 8-Bit space invader perched at the top. This is the Taito Station ‘Game Center,’ a Tower of Babel-like arcade where hundreds upon hundreds of gamers trade pocket change for their newest digital challenges.
Games and puzzles seemed to be imbedded in the cultural fabric here. This is why it makes a lot of sense that Japan was the birthplace of live escape games when SCRAP Entertainment launched the first one in 2007.
I talked a lot during my stay with SCRAP about the cultural differences of Eastern and Western escape game players, of how different cultural influences create different play-styles, but also, much more of players’ commonalities: universals among puzzle solvers world-round. Above all else, whether in Japan or in Canada, we’re humans, curious and fun-seeking and challenge driven, whatever language we speak.
And maybe that’s what’s needed, a going back to the essence. Before the special effects, or weighty story, or cool tech, or even any words themselves: what’s the ‘core’ of the thing? Well, the simple act of puzzle-solving, the joy of the “aha!” moment, and the challenge of the game. And that is what ‘Escape form the Red Room,’ our newest Toronto project, is all about. 4 red walls. Locked doors. No objects or puzzles or clues in sight. Not even words. Designed to be independent of language or even cultural context – a universal puzzle for anyone to solve.
But would people in Toronto take that challenge and escape from a room with no words to guide them?
“Of course!” Yokoyama-San, one of the leads on the Japan team excitedly says.
“That’s when they have to rely on each other the most. To follow their gut instincts and logic when they have no words of instruction to rely on. Take out all the distractions, even words, and you’re left with only what makes most sense.”
It’s like an escape game Occam’s Razor. I smirk, unable to resist. “I think they’ll be speechless.”
Konichiwa from Japan! I’ll be back in Toronto soon.
Michaelangelo Yambao, Game Producer