Over the last five years, Takao Kato has locked over 100,000 people in bars, clubs, cathedrals, and baseball stadiums with a deceptively simple challenge: solve the puzzles within the time limit, and escape. And between March 23rd and March 25th, Kato is taking his narrative puzzle experience, Real Escape Game: The Escape from the Werewolf Village to San Francisco’s Japantown for a locked room mystery that is quickly selling out.
The premise, inspired by the popular social game Werewolf, is simple. There are sixteen villagers, three of whom are werewolves. Players have 90 minutes to work together in groups to navigate a series of increasingly difficult puzzles that will help them identify the werewolves, save the villagers, and escape. The game is designed to provide a challenge, and Kato explains that players have direct control over the unfolding narrative, noting
[t]he story unravels with each mystery completed by the players and their teammates. If you do nothing, nothing moves forward. And there are no guarantees that you’re even going to finish everything. So you’re going to have to give it your all if you want to put all the pieces together and finish the final puzzle in time.
Past iterations of Real Escape Game prove that Kato is true to his word: as the Real Escape Game‘s explanatory video states, only 9.6% of participants completed The Escape from the Werewolf Village when it was first conducted at Tokyo Culture Culture, with similar success rates for the game when it played out in Taiwan. After failing to complete a Real Escape Game murder mystery in Tokyo, Japan Times writer Edan Corkill explains “the most difficult part of a Real Escape Game is not answering questions — but identifying them in the first place.”
Kato came up with the concept for Real Escape Game after founding SCRAP Magazine, a free paper magazine based out of Kyoto. The magazine’s focus was on making people go out on the town, leading the organization to create a number of events to encourage people to hang out. Real Escape Game was born out of a conversation with a girl who was hooked on online “Escape the Room” games. Kato added on a strong narrative element to the challenges, explaining that “as a kid, I always wanted to ‘live in the story,’ and survive the adventure, solve the mystery, and be a hero like the characters in books I loved as a child…Real Escape Game is an opportunity to make these dreams come true.”
If you’re one of the lucky few to snag a ticket for Real Escape Game‘s American debut, Kato suggests taking a stab at the following puzzle from Real Escape Game: Escape from the Mysterious Cathedral, as well as taking some time to sift through some online escape games. SCRAP also collaborated with Google Japan to produce The Google Puzzle, an HTML5-based puzzle trail that showcases the format’s capabilities in a manner similar to Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown interactive film. While players are allowed to take on the Real Escape Game challenge as a team, Kato notes that teams can just as easily be set up on the spot, as “one of the most exciting moments of the game is when people who don’t know each other work together to solve the mystery.”