A fine bit of escapism

A fine bit of escapism

Four Hongkongers have turned a popular phone game into a real-life challenge for spirited souls

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Instant Wan (left) and Raymond Sze, founders of Freeing HK.
Instant Wan (left) and Raymond Sze, founders of Freeing HK.
Photo: May Tse/SCMP
The concept originated on smartphone games. You need nimble fingers to tap, swipe and slide on a screen to help characters escape from sticky situations.

Now a group of four young Hongkongers has decided to turn the game into reality. In Freeing HK, the city's first escape room game, you turn into a real-life character stuck in a real-life bind.

"The lives of Hongkongers are quite boring. There isn't that much to do except shopping, going to movies, and dinning out," says Raymond Sze Wai-hang, one of the founders of the game-turned-reality chamber.

"We want to create a getaway for Hongkongers."

Sze is a business student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. There, he met lecturer and author Instant Wan Sze-tang, a kindred spirit.

They bonded quickly. Both of them are huge fans of detective fiction and comics like Kindaichi Case Files and Meitantei Conan.

The next thing they knew, they were coming up with puzzles and outfitting a commercial apartment with them on the fourth floor of Pakpolee Commercial Centre in Mong Kok. Joined by two others, they set out to bring some brain-teasing fun to city dwellers.

Freeing HK offers three chambers with adventurous challenges. Participants are locked in riddle-laden chambers. To increase the level of a challenge, sometimes they are blindfolded; other times, they are handcuffed.

Participants' task is to collaborate on solving the mysteries as they seek to break out of a room within 45 minutes.

To make it a tailored-made experience for Hongkongers, all the riddles are based on knowledge of the city. They range from the city's geography to street names and iconic architectural sights.

Freeing HK has been open to the public for almost a month.

"Initially, we thought it'd be more popular among young people," Sze says. "But we have a lot of office workers, probably in their late 30s to early 40s as well."

Still, 80 per cent of customers fall into the 15-to-25 age group. Sometimes students come straight from school, still wearing their uniforms. Then they set about trying to unpick locks for some fun with friends.

But make no mistake: the challenges are no child's play. Wan says that only around 20 to 30 per cent of participants have been able to escape within the allotted time.

"Many players come close with only one or two more mysteries to solve before they could make an escape," Wan says.

But this game is a make-or-break: if you fail, you won't get another shot in the same chamber. The answers will be revealed, and the next time you come, you'll be assigned to another chamber.

"There are some connections among the three chambers," Wan says. "We want people to try them all."

Wan and Sze say one group of people ended up getting out of a chamber still in handcuffs.

"They missed the first step to find the key to unlock their handcuffs. Yet they still got out," Sze says with a laugh.

The incident shows that you should not get bogged down in details. Collaboration is also crucial. Instead of having everyone in a chamber work on the same task, they should delegate duties effectively.

To make it a bit easier, participants can ring a bell for a clue to be given from the outside.

Sometimes, that can mean the difference between getting stuck and getting out.

For more details, visit www.freeinghk.com

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