The Great Escape


As I noted in my previous post, social isolation is very possible in a busy, vibrant city like London, strange as that may sound to some. When you’re new here and you don’t know anybody, all you see is people going about their everyday business, and it’s easy to just get lost in the crowd and do your own thing. And it is indeed wonderful to do things by yourself sometimes, especially when there are so many places to visit and explore in this wonderful city. But I certainly don’t want to be on my own all the time. And on top of that, being a homeworker, I don’t get to experience the social interaction that I used to in the office. Plus I’m visually impaired, which doesn’t necessarily help matters either.

So I knew I needed to avoid that trap, and not become isolated with just myself for company. This is a fresh start for me in many ways, and making new friends and having new experiences is the most important part of that, as far as I’m concerned. I’m escaping the old routines and starting afresh, so I want to make the most of it as best I can.

Blogging and posting on Youtube, and interacting with others who do likewise, has been a step in that direction over the past year. As well as generally Googling for London-based information and guides, I also started exploring social media and the world of blogging in advance of my move. This has basically served two purposes – firstly to help me find a wider variety of information about London and make some useful online connections in the city, and secondly to share my experiences with my disability for anyone interested in reading about them. And laying that groundwork seems to have paid off more than I’d expected, because my online efforts have led to a couple of people arranging to meet up with me as a direct result. So that’s been wonderful.

On top of that, however, I’ve also signed up to a couple of social clubs. One I’ve only reached out to this week, having been pointed to it by our local social services team very recently, now that I’ve registered my visual impairment with them. So I haven’t even met them yet. But I have been meeting other people through another club I signed up to over Christmas, as I’ve been attending a number of events with them over the past month. I’ll do a more thorough post about them at a later date if things continue to go well, but so far it’s been a great way to make some new acquaintances. And nobody’s had any issues with my visual impairment so far, everyone’s been fine with it – indeed, I’m not the only one with slightly dodgy eyes there, I’ve already met a few others with small issues of their own – including one person with the same conditions as me, which is impressive given how rare it is.

So I’ve got involved in a fun selection of activities already, including a walk in one of London’s parks, coming third (out of 10 teams) on a quiz night, played Cards Against Humanity for the first time in my life (and thoroughly enjoyed it, it suits my warped sense of humour), got some tips on how to do cryptic crosswords, been to a jazz gig (again for the first time in my life) and had plenty of nice food and drink. And I’ve got a variety of things lined up during February as well.

But perhaps the most unusual experience for me so far has been visiting a couple of escape rooms. I had never been to anything like that before, and as a fan of puzzles I liked the idea of it. However, I wasn’t sure if I could see well enough to do them, and whether I would be relying too heavily on other people as a result. But as my sight is reasonable, I figured it was worth taking a chance on it, to satisfy my curiosity. You don’t know unless you try these things, and I’m in a very exploratory mood at the moment.

An escape room is basically a room you have to escape from, as the name suggests. To put it more precisely, though, it can be a single room, or a connected series of rooms, where you’re locked in with a team of friends, and have a time limit (often an hour) to solve various puzzles and get out. There’s usually an over-arching story or mission to it, along with background music, sound effects, props, etc, in order to make it a cohesive experience. Solving the various puzzles and finding items that are hidden in the room may allow you to unlock doors and boxes, give you information that you’ll need later, or present you with further puzzles to solve. Some rooms are quite hi-tech and elaborate in nature, using technology to automatically move things along. And the game controller watching from the outside can give you clues if you need it. It’s a good way to get you thinking, that’s for sure.

So, without giving any spoilers away in the process, I thought I’d do a quick review of both of the games I’ve attended.

3D computer-animated image of a head, with the top lifted off so that nerves, lights, and scientific notation flow out of it.My first game was ClueTrace: Mind Crime, and I went in with 2 other people who I’d never met before (as is the norm for this social club, that’s the whole point of it!). And we did get on well. Unlike me, they had both done escape rooms before, one of them in particular being very experienced. They’ve also both done the Crystal Maze experience as well apparently, which they enjoyed and I’d also really love to do one day. Though, again, whether my vision would be a preventative factor, I’m not entirely sure. Based on the TV show, I reckon I could be ok, but who knows? I’d be up for trying it though, once I have a group of friends to go with, who are all prepared to spend the money, as it’s quite a lot. So if I do get around to it, it won’t be for a while yet. But it’s definitely on my to-do wishlist.

Anyway, the Mind Crime room was made up of multiple areas. The main room is very well lit, while another is virtually pitch black (on purpose because of the task it contains, so I was fine with it), and another contains quite colourful lighting. Other than that, in terms of the visual aspects, some of it was impossible for me to see, which I’d expected would be the case to some extent. In this case, there was a computer screen I couldn’t see, and another image I couldn’t see the markings on as it was at a distance, but I could still see enough to know what it was about.

None of that mattered though, as the vision of the other 2 players made up for what I lacked. And in other aspects of the game, I could see well enough, and was therefore able to find some of the hidden objects and read a number of things by holding them close up. The lady in charge had also showed us a couple of things we would encounter before entering the room, so we knew how they worked, and that helped too. She also gave us a few clues during the game as and when we needed them, which was good. It’s wonderful when you can solve things by yourself, of course, but it is important to get the balance right between it being challenging and being fun. You don’t want get too frustrated, and take so long that you never get to see the whole game. So we were happy and grateful for the little nuggets of assistance they provided, as they always came at the right moments.

I had wondered if I would end up being little more than an observer by watching the other two players solve the game, especially as I was new to it all, and to some degree that was true. However, there were plenty of occasions when I was able to point out things I’d found, offer up ideas and help the other players to solve puzzles. So I did feel included and invested in the experience, because I’d been able to contribute to it. And so I really enjoyed it and found it rewarding. The room is really nicely put together, something you appreciate more and more as you unlock further aspects of it. The puzzles are very good and get you thinking without being too tough. And the lady in charge was really friendly and helpful. And if you’re wondering, we got out with just under 16 minutes to spare (the time limit was an hour), so we were pleased with that.

A lighthouse surrounded by lots of flying birds flying in a gloomy sky, above a rough sea.My second game, which I did this week, was Archimedes Inspiration: Leo’s Path. And finding it was the first challenge. I gather this is the case for many escape rooms – ClueTrace is very easy to walk past if you’re not careful – but Archimedes Inspiration is particularly well tucked away, so you have to do a bit of research first. Finding the site on which it’s located isn’t too bad, just down the road from Bermondsey tube station. But there are loads of buildings on the site, and you’re looking for a basement door at the bottom of one of the tower blocks.

Thankfully, in their online FAQ, under Accessibility & Special Requirements, I found a link to their Access Statement, which includes a map of the site and photos of the building and door you’re looking for (along with other useful information). So that was a massive help – though you wouldn’t know it was there on the website if you didn’t look in the right place! And even then I was hindered by the fact that, when I got there this week, a huge part of the site was blocked off by a wall, presumably for building work. So the direct route I was planning to take didn’t exist, and I had to find my way around it. I managed it after a few minutes of trial and error, but it wasn’t pleasant in the rain!

Once you get there, though, the hosts are really lovely, friendly and welcoming. And the game itself is also really nicely put together. It’s completely different to the Mind Crime game – the two more experienced players I was with noted how original it was compared to others they had played before. So here you have a lovely story, with a good variety of interesting and clever puzzles. And there are no padlocks involved, it’s all very nicely automated. And if you get stuck, the hosts are very helpful – again giving you time to do things by yourself, but they will send you a message if you ask for assistance, or if it’s clear to them that you’re really struggling (which we needed a few times!).

However, I personally struggled with the game in general because of the lighting, as it was just too dim for me to be of much use. They do give you torches, but they’re only small things and not very powerful, so while they help a little bit, they didn’t make a big difference for me personally. It’s important to say that, In the context of the narrative and the puzzles to be solved, there was good reason for the lighting to be done that way, so I’m fine with that. It just wasn’t suited to my eyes, that’s all, and I probably would have avoided it if I’d known ahead of time. Sure, I could have rung or emailed ahead to check stuff like that, but i didn’t think of it to be honest, as I simply had no idea what to expect. And besides, I just wanted to give it a go while the opportunity was available, to satisfy my curiosity, so I didn’t mind if it didn’t quite work out.

And in fairness, I was able to make an important contribution to the first puzzle, even with the light as it was, and I was able to chip in occasionally as we were going along. So I wasn’t dormant during the game. But even so, for a large part of it I was basically just observing what they were doing – much more than had been the case with Mind Crime the week before – because they could see crucial things that I couldn’t and act on them quickly. So I felt very limited as to what I could do and the help I could give them. Had I been able to see things better, I may have been able to offer more useful assistance, and so I like to think we could have finished quicker (we got out with just over 4 minutes to spare). Then again, I might have been none the wiser! It’s impossible to know for sure.

My playmates were really lovely as well, it must be said, so I have no problems with them whatsoever. One of them in particular was very chatty (unsurprising given what she does as a career), and was describing everything she was looking at – partly because she knew I couldn’t see well, having slipped that into conversation earlier on, and partly to communicate to the group in general anyway, as that’s what you’re supposed to do with these games. So I was able to follow along with what they were doing and understand what was going on for the most part. There were one or two bits I didn’t quite fully understand or see in the end, but nothing that stopped me following things as a whole.

So I enjoyed the story and felt the puzzles were cleverly done, and the hosts were really nice too. They even did a little walkthrough with us afterwards, which was very nice of them, and further clarified one or two things for me. It’s just a pity I couldn’t contribute to the puzzle-solving as much as I’d have liked. But I am still glad I went regardless. Indeed, I’m glad I went to both escape rooms – I was hoping they would be different to give me a good sense of how varied escape games can be, and I certainly got that! At this early stage in my London adventures, it is all very much a learning experience for me, so things like this were always a gamble, and I knew that when I signed up.

So, even though it didn’t always feel as accessible and rewarding as I would have liked, it was worth trying those rooms to see what all the fuss was about. They are both very impressive, and if your sight is good enough, I highly recommend going to both of them. They’re well worth the trip if you like puzzle-solving games. If you’re visually impaired, however, you need to think a little bit carefully. If you have enough eyesight to be able to read some regular size text, even if it has to be held close up or read through a magnifier, and if you’re able to navigate an unfamiliar space comfortably and deal with potentially variable light levels, then you should be ok. But if your vision is more severe, you’re likely to struggle. It’ll be a very individual thing though.

Ultimately, if you’re in doubt, contact the venue first – that might be what I’ll have to do if I visit more escape rooms in the future, which is still a possibility, unless I meet people who have done them already and can advise accordingly. I would like to do more, if I can find the more accessible ones. Doing these two has given me a really good sense of what I might need to ask about.

And once you’re in there, make sure you check everything – having more than one person looking in the same area is always wise, as it’s easy to miss things. Try not to over-complicate the solutions to the puzzles either, as it can be simple and staring you in the face sometimes. And above all, communicate clearly with your team-mates, about everything you’re finding and thinking. That’s vital to your team’s success, believe me.

So that’s been my initial experience of escape rooms. A slightly mixed bag in terms of how accessible they are when you can’t see perfectly – which I’d expected, so thatt’s not a surprise or a disappointment. But there’s no denying that the rooms are very impressive and well made, and the hosts are very welcoming. So I’ve learnt a lot by going to a couple, and have had fun doing so. As I’ve said, it’s been well worth a go, and hopefully they won’t be the last ones I do. 🙂

Author: Glen

Vsually impaired, with Aniridia & Nystagmus. I'm a fan of Doctor Who, classic sitcoms, Queen and 60s-80s rock & pop. I like to blog about my experiences as a disabled person, and about the things I enjoy in general.

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