Posted by: Qiao LAB on Jul 14, 2012
YOUNG people tired of online role-playing and video games turn to live puzzle and rescue games testing wits, nerve and physical agility as they rescue maidens and escape from time tunnels and boxes. Xu Wei gets a shot of adrenalin.
Racing around a converted warehouse or an air-conditioned mall, reality game players look for clues, obscure meanings and hidden objects to unlock puzzles. They nimbly weave their way through a web of laser beams, testing their knowledge and thinking outside the box.
Reality games featuring rescues, spy missions and escapes are all the rage among young people, mostly university students and professionals with high IQs.
Some of them are members of Mensa, the international high IQ society, according to one game organizer.
Adrenalin, exhilaration and a sense of achievement are the main rewards.
Tired of computer role-playing computer games in which they are warriors or gangsters, they find a fresh appeal in games that try their physical reflexes, speed and agility as well as the mental skills. They usually race against the clock to achieve their mission. The fastest team (it's usually a team) wins.
"It's an exciting experience for all of us since the game tests both intelligence and physical ability," says Edward Dai, a 27-year-old logistics company professional who has been playing "Tears of the Mermaid" at Shanghai Joy City shopping mall in Zhabei District.
They play knights on a 60-minute mission to save the life of a mermaid imprisoned by a spell. An actress plays the mermaid.
Rescuers need to solve puzzles to find a magic chalice that will free the mermaid. In mythology mermaid's tears are potent, and in this case, she must weep into the chalice to be liberated.
Teams race around each floor of the mall to find clues and hidden objects that could lead them to the chalice. At one point they spot confusing numbers on a ceiling; some players think they're a code or address for a particular store, so they race to the store, search for the chalice but find nothing. Then one player realizes that the numbers represent a sentence that hints at the location of the chalice.
"When we were running against the clock, people looked at us as though we were weird," Dai recalls. "But we didn't have time to explain. We really enjoyed the sweat and passion."
In the end, they found the chalice and freed the mermaid.
They were rewarded with a special badge.
According to organizers from Joy City, "Tears of the Mermaid" has attracted around 5,000 players since June 1 when it opened in Shanghai. Some players are members of Mensa, the organizers say.
Part of the appeal is challenging players to see situations and objects from a different perspective.
Takao Kato, creator of "Tears of the Mermaid," once told media, "As a boy, I always wanted to 'live in the story,' survive the adventure, solve the mystery, and be a hero like the characters in books I loved. This kind of game is an opportunity to make these dreams come true."
"Mermaid" is only one of a number of reality games underway in the city. All are Japanese creations, some inspired by computer and smart phone adventure games. Organizers buy the rights to stage them. While such games are very popular in Japan and South Korea, they are just catching on in China.
In addition to rescue games, room escape games are also popular, especially among people who enjoy detective fiction and thrillers.
Player Edward Dai says he and his friends also like basketball and live laser gun battles, "but scorching temperatures kept most female friends away."
Dai's girlfriend Jo Li says reality puzzle games are gaining popularity because of their interactivity, fantasy atmosphere and feeling of participation and teamwork.
"Now there are more choices for energetic young people, especially those who are confident in their intelligence," Li says.
Compared with other kinds of entertainment, these games don't require a big investment or budget, since they can be staged in shopping malls, theaters or even empty warehouses.
Players bring business and interest to malls.
Escape games typically contain a number of rooms, each with mysterious numbers, symbols and words on the walls and ceiling. Players try to figure out their meaning and use the clues to find hidden keys and escape - again racing against the clock.
X-Room, one of the most popular real escape games, attracts several hundred players every day.
In collaboration with a professional Japanese game design team, it is now in its second season of the adventure, with new settings, props and clues.
"This game lets people express their true feelings when they are stuck somewhere," player Eric Liu says. "It can improve the ability to communicate and build mutual trust, even among strangers."
However, reality games, like other intellectual property, are faced by problems of piracy and too much copying of a successful idea.
Some games are clearly knock-offs without any original thinking.
"Young people usually have short attention spans," Dai says. "This kind of game will lose its appeal unless it is constantly refreshed by creative ideas."
Zhou Hanyuan, an investor and founder of "X-Room," says the aim is to improve R&D and the creativity of the Chinese game staff so that one day new seasons of the game will be totally developed by Chinese professionals.
Zhou is also considering development of game byproducts, such as music video, a theme park and television show.
He hopes it will become a popular entertainment and cultural brand.
So far there are no comparable Chinese games.
Games observers expect that in the future reality games will become more diverse and feature more compelling settings and props.
They are expected to be linked with the story lines of popular novels and movies.
Tears of the Mermaidó
The story of the puzzle-rescue game "Tears of the Mermaid" is inspired by a story (not "The Little Mermaid") in which a mermaid is imprisoned by a black-cloaked and masked wizard. Only her tears can activate a magical chalice, defeat the villain. Actors play mermaid and villain.
When it was presented in Japan and elsewhere in China (Taiwan), the game attracted tens of thousands of players.
Staged in a shopping mall, the game has intricate sets on each floor. Teams are recommended since there's only 60 minutes to rescue the mermaid.