Visitors and conventions mean money for Fort Wayne, so the Fort Wayne Convention & Visitors Bureau spends its time trying to drum up interest in the city, whether you’re interested in a meal, the zoo, a play or a baseball game.
In another couple of weeks, the bureau will get a neighbor in its building at 927 S. Harrison St.
It will be called Escape Fort Wayne.
That sounds kind of incongruous, having one outfit trying to attract people and another seemingly talking about how to get out.
The two might actually be a good fit, though.
Escape Fort Wayne is just the latest version of an activity that started as a video game in China, turned into a live exercise with real people and spread across the world.
The idea is to lock several people in a room, clutter it with locks and clues – some legitimate and some meant to waste your time – and give the team an hour to escape.
The Science Channel was promoting a televised version of this game as part of a short series that appeared over the summer.
But it’s in a lot more places than on television. It’s all over China and Europe, and there are hundreds of examples of the game, operating under hundreds of different names, around the U.S., said Bill Collins, who is starting the venture with Cara Bouchard.
The TV show gave Collins and Bouchard the idea to open a local version.
The idea is that businesses could use it as a team-building exercise, minus the walls that must be climbed, the zip lines and the mud pits that must be hurdled. "You can see who works well with who and who falls back and lets others do the work," Bouchard says. "It’s a more fun way to learn to work together."
It’s not just for team building, though. Any group can get together and try their hand at escaping from a room that’s full of locks keeping them in. It might even make a good date – or a way to figure out very quickly whether someone you just met is right, or wrong, for you.
"It’s a perfect storm," Collins says. "In the off-peak hours, you can use it for team building. In the evening, it’s more of a form of entertainment," discovering whether you’re slick enough to decipher your way out. "It’s meant to be a good time."
There’s nothing dangerous. People won’t risk getting hurt. They won’t be tied up or blindfolded, he says.
There’s nothing to win if you manage to escape, and you lose nothing if time runs out and you’re still locked in the room.
It’s designed for adults, though people younger than 16 can use it if they’re accompanied by an adult, Collins says. But then he acknowledges, "Kids can be smarter than us."
Collins isn’t sure what will come of the craze. Look at the movie rental business and the phases it went through, he said, with local businesses getting gobbled up by chains that were then gobbled up by others businesses with a different plan.
"Disney could come in and take over all of them," he said.
For now, he’s dreaming of the day when there are bumper stickers and T-shirts all over the city that say "I escaped Fort Wayne."
He has one hint, though. Once the place opens (scheduled for Oct. 1) and you pay your $30 a head to take part, be sure to go the bathroom before the game starts. If the door has to be opened for any reason, everyone loses.
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.