On a superficial level, paying forty-five quid to smash an obsolete printer with an aluminium baseball bat might seem like it has very little to do with escape rooms or puzzle solving. And that’s basically true, but bear with me. Ever since I first read about Rage Rooms I’ve automatically slotted them neatly into the same bracket as escape games, despite the fact that two are based on entirely different premises. There are, however, good reasons why the two should be shelved together.
Both, for example, are usually situated within a single room in a multi-purpose building. They’re small businesses with relatively low start-up costs, and they both involve guests interacting with the room and its fixtures in some way in order to complete a pre-set task.
There the similarities end, however. In an escape room you’re aiming to solve puzzles, work out riddles, resolve a story and escape before time runs out. In a rage room, you’re just aiming to smash stuff up. I know which I’d prefer (clue: it’s the one that I run a blog about), but given the destructive potential of some escape room players, perhaps rage rooms do have a place in the small-venue immersive experience market.
In case you haven’t visited one (let’s be honest, you haven’t; there are about four in the whole world, and one of them is in Birmingham) rage rooms are usually mid-size featureless rooms, quite often with some kind of soundproofing installed. Many come with a podium of sandbags or other cushiony but durable materials so that you can smash something to pieces without popping your shoulder out of joint.
On arriving you’ll hand over your cash, suit up in a whole bunch of protective gear, and choose your weapon. The baseball bat is a staple, but you can usually also pick from several more esoteric options: crowbar, hammer, loaf of British bread, etc. In some cases you can also select the things you wish to destroy. The Rage Room at Grange Live Gaming offers a standard starter pack of items, with the option of adding in extras if you’re feeling unusually smashy. Got a particular grudge against telephone handsets? No problem – that’ll be five pounds, please.
If that all sounds pretty fun… well, that’s probably because it is. Smashing complicated things has long since been one of the great joys of living in a society of hedonism and excess. And very satisfying it is too. If you’ve ever so much as crushed up some hazelnuts for a salad you know what I’m talking about. But… I’m not unequivocally in favour of rage rooms.
My reticence here doesn’t come from the same place as any of the hand-wringing, overly-moralising complaints that various papers have levelled against rage rooms. Perennial waste-of-wood-pulp Metro published an article which practically wailed in distress at the ill-formed idea that allowing people to smash up porcelain frogs might lead to violence on the streets (well, more violence anyway). This is nonsense of the most hysterical calibre, but at least it’s laughably amusing.
My complaint is a little more down to earth. It’s this: at twenty pounds plus per half-hour pop, rage rooms are crazy expensive. And, unlike escape rooms (where surprise and delight and mystery are part of the package), in this case you can totally do it yourself. Seriously. If you want to have this experience go buy a keyboard and a baseball bat. You don’t need a licence for either. Oh, but do pick up some goggles and gloves as well. Safety first, children.
Conclusion: I’m basically not sold on rage rooms, but they’re an interesting addition to the genre, and certainly worth a cursory glance. Immersive theatre takes a variety of forms, and as far as I’m concerned screaming incoherently while you mash up an xBox can be one of them. It’s not Shakespeare, exactly, but it’s something.