‘Real-life’ puzzle escape games catching on

by Asako Takaguchi

Kyodo

“Real-life” puzzle games are booming, prompting even big companies to let employees play to improve their communications and problem-solving capacities.

Some 100 men and women gathered in the basement of a building in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on a recent Friday evening to play an escape game organized by SCRAP Co., a Kyoto-based firm that creates role-playing puzzle games.

The participants were divided into groups of around six and had to solve puzzles to escape a village under attack by a werewolf within a limited time. Players searched the basement for clues and worked together to solve puzzles. About half managed to escape.

Taku Konoike, 29, who participated in the game with company colleagues and superiors, said real-life puzzle games are useful as work training because they “enable us to utilize special abilities we each have and reinforce our teamwork.”

SCRAP currently has five regular venues for games, in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Fukuoka, and holds large-scale events from time to time in theaters and theme parks, including overseas.

Games are held in a variety of settings, with players acting as bank robbers, for example, or seeking to escape from a locked room.

Real-life, actual games are attractive because “players can become lead characters in a story anytime and anywhere,” said Takao Kato, chief executive of SCRAP.

Namco Ltd. temporarily opened the Nazo Tomo Cafe on a fashionable street in the Daikanyama district in Tokyo this summer where customers worked to solve puzzles, each taking nearly 20 minutes. The cafe attracted attention as it also held a puzzle-solving event jointly with a dating agency to help men and women find marriage partners.

Reopened in November, the cafe will be in operation until late January.

Namco also provides information on upcoming puzzle-solving events across the country through its Nazo Tomo website. More people are visiting regional cities to participate in games, said Yumi Arikawa, a Namco official.

Companies are starting to use puzzle games in programs to develop human resources as they help reveal participants’ communications and crisis-management capacities.

Yahoo Japan Corp. has adopted SCRAP’s puzzle-solving games in its entrepreneurial training program.

Puzzle games are “effective in finding out the leadership quality of people such as energizing teams they belong to,” said an official in Yahoo Japan’s personnel department.

In the city of Akita, the chamber of commerce and industry and other parties held a puzzle-solving event in summer 2012 to spur the local economy.

Participants acted as detectives to solve puzzles by finding clues hidden in main shopping districts and sightseeing spots. During the month-and-a-half event, around 4,000 people took part.

The game offered “good opportunities for people to visit local shops they are unfamiliar with,” said a chamber official who helped run the event.