Escape the room in Acre Lane

A new and curious shop has appeared on Brixton’s Acre Lane which doesn’t seem to sell much at all. Instead of a swanky boutique enjoying the old home of the Unison offices, SW2 is now the proud host of a pop up room escape game, Enter the Oubliette. Arts co-editor, Ruth Waters, reports.

Dave Aldhouse and Mink Ette - founders of Brixton's first room escape game
Dave Aldhouse and Mink Ette – founders of Brixton’s first room escape game

Once the playground of members of gaming subcultures in the US, room escape games have risen to mainstream popularity in cities around the world as teams test their puzzle-solving skills against the clock, interacting with props, prompts, locks, riddles, actors and more to escape a room and win the game.

Enter the Oubliette was set up by South London couple and business partners, Mink Ette and Dave Aldhouse. Having both worked for a number of years in the games and performance industries, the pair decided to focus their efforts and, working with other adventuring friends, created a room escape game.

After running a prototype in Portland, Oregon, Mink and Dave decided to crowdfund to open a new space in Brixton and opened earlier this year. “Brixton is full of adventurous spirits, and a lot of our adventuring friends were based here,” Mink tells me, “We didn’t have to think twice about setting up our pop up here.”

Their game takes players into a dystopian near-past, where typewriters and filing cabinets loom large with state secrets, codes to crack and puzzles to untangle. “The puzzles only make sense within their own world – it’s like buying a train ticket in another country, you’re the alien and you have to work out the new systems,” 

Dave, who usually remains secreted backstage, watching and prompting players, explains a bit more about the experience they’ve created: “We’ve tried to create something very atmospheric. Once people go into the room [after a short ‘decompression period] they’re very curious, and it’s natural to want to find the clues and win the games. It’s great watching people take on roles within their group.” (I image the two are becoming experts in group behaviour psychology!)

Although the game’s concept has and will remain fixed, Dave tells me that they’ve found themselves in a constant state of improvement, as their players test their puzzles: “sometimes people come up with an idea which is brilliant and we think ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ It’s a delight to watch people trying to crack the puzzles – we want everyone to win and escape the room!”

“There’s a thrill in working in a physical space. Playing a room escape game, or any kind of pervasive game, grants adults permission to play,” says Mink, when I ask what she thinks brings players into the Oubliette. The experience – “halfway between being in a film and watching a film” – runs in strange dischord with our desire for increasingly virtual entertainment, living life through the screen of an iPhone.

Players have to be totally in the moment, working together and only thinking about what’s in front of them to escape the room.“It’s something completely different which feels like an adventure. Your experience will also be completely unique to your group and there’ll be so many stories you can tell afterwards.”

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