Escaping the Racist Escape Room Paradigm

it’s just a religion, I told him, and it’s only frightening to white people. Secondly, did you know the French colonized Haiti to enslave the people and take their resources? No wonder Voodoo gained popularity as a tool to cope with and ward off colonizers. 

Oh, dear

Later this summer we did another escape room, The Lost Jewel of Zanzibar. In this one, you are an archeologist in the 1930s working for the British Museum. An “African warlord” has stolen a jewel and you need to crack the code to find it and bring it back to the museum where it apparently belongs.  Same as the first time, we had a blast doing it but again on the way home I said it kind of bothers me. The one African character is a warlord and once again the good guy you’re playing is strongly implied (see image above) to be a white colonizer.

(I did some checking. The Lost Jewel of Zanzibar is made by Canadian company Escape Hour. Rescue From Voodoo Island is made by Locksmith Escape Games in Florida. )

I should have kept my mouth shut because my son came back at me with, “Why don’t you make an escape room, Pop?”  So I rose to the challenge and put a lot of work into it. I don’t want to ruin it completely but let’s just say I flipped the script on those other narratives, and it contains a history lesson (Why is that so hard? You don’t even have to describe it as something boring-sounding like “educational.”)  I tried to make it as close to the professional escape rooms as possible in terms of props and difficulty level, or as close as possible given that it’s in our dining room. I even made an intro video like in the real escape rooms that you need to watch before you start.  Now that he’s done it once and we worked out a few kinks it’s ready for primetime.

It takes about 60 minutes max and you’re allowed to ask for 3 hints.  We recommend working in teams. A parent and child or two make a great team, as do one or two grownups. It’s a little challenging for sure.

It’s not a spooky Halloween thing in and of itself but it is a mystery. We’ll have plenty of Halloween snacks on hand, our house will be decked out for Halloween.

Here’s the intro video I made for it. Normally you wouldn’t watch this until right before you started.   (Yes, that’s the theme song to the Netflix India series Sacred Games, yes that’s Bollywood star Nawaz Siddiqui, and yes his character name, Khudiram Chaki, is a blend of 1908 Bengali revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki).

And now please enjoy the intro to… The Great Kohinoor Diamond Heist.

Happy October.

PS – A big part of my inspiration was this amazing book and the article about it in Smithsonian magazine.