By Robert Saxton
If one were to categorize potential life experiences as either desirable or undesirable, it seems likely, if not patently obvious, that incarceration would fall into the latter of the two.
The idea of detainment, confinement or restriction strikes a cord with all of us. It calls into question our definition of what it means to be human, and is the antithesis to our nation’s Glorious and Free sentiment.
So why would anyone want to spend even an hour locked up, frantically scouring for clues in an effort to achieve liberation? Well, mainly because it can be a lot of fun.
In October 2014, local sisters Selina and Marcy Moormann, returned from vacation, determined to share with residents of Niagara an experience they had encountered while away. They established St. Catharines’ first live escape room, which incorporates elements of mystery, intrigue and problem solving in a here-and-now experience unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Up to seven participants are briefed on a cryptic narrative, given a time limit and locked in a room, with only pertinent items and their wits to aid in their escape before the clock runs out. There are no cell phones, no tablets and no Google queries.
While speaking with Selina, she described the reaction of her clients as overwhelmingly positive with an emphasis on nearly unavoidable teambuilding and the obvious departure from just another evening out. Instead of merely going to see a movie as a passive observer, the by appointment only Queen St. venue allows participants to become the heroes of their own suspense filled thriller.
Of course, once you get out, so does word of your escape, with teams keeping track of their standing on social media sites – another touch from the sisters behind The Hour.
On the May 26 episode of Q with Shad, guest and Canadian Journalist Jeet Heer, described for listeners what he called the paradox of safety. He remarked that the safer a community feels, the more it desires thrills.
On the other hand, the safer a community is, the more the threat of real danger can be damaging. To his credit, it seems Mr. Heer may be onto something. It’s possible that while fewer and fewer events in our daily lives threaten to harm us, fewer and fewer things ever deliver the exhilaration that we crave.
As it turns out, extricating oneself from a padlocked room can be surprisingly rewarding. Rollercoasters and scary films are only so practical or so appealing, and neither option demands the kind of focus required to solve the wonderfully elegant puzzles laid out by the Moormann sisters.
The Hour scratches the universal itch for adventure in a controlled environment, allowing thrill seekers an opportunity to be engaged and entertained in a comfortable and well-managed setting. Asking its guests to employ equal parts Nancy Drew and John McLean, The Hour’s live escape room game packs excitement, adrenaline and the potential for a genuine sense of accomplishment into a 60 minute saga just a few steps from some of the area’s most inviting pubs and restaurants.
Gaining in popularity since they first appeared in Canada a few years ago, live escape rooms depend on innovation and ingenuity to remain a relevant entertainment choice.
By definition, completing a scenario means you’ve escaped, and once that’s happened, only a new and different room will do. That’s something of which the sisters are very much aware.
Drawing on her experience in the guest services field, Selina places a premium on the customer experience and fans of the game will be happy to know that The Hour has continued to grow since it opened eight months ago. Having started with two live escape room scenarios (one based on crime scene investigation, the other on a prison break), Selina and Marcy have already added a very successful pirate-themed third room, with plans to continue expansion as the number of return customers and escape room devotees steadily increases.