By Leah Jones, Features Editor
Escape the Room PC games took off in the 1990s. More recently, the games have been extracted into offline spaces, and real-world escape the room experiences have appeared all over the country, including in St. Louis. Now, the escape the room experience has come to the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
The University Program Board (UPB) held an escape room to challenge UMSL students to use their critical thinking skills and to build teamwork on March 7 at 4 p.m. in the Century Rooms of the MSC. Kaitlin Henning, senior, psychology, serves as the executive chair of the UPB. She said that first and foremost, she hoped that the students would have fun while completing the event but that there is a lot of teamwork exercises that students complete while escaping from the room. The event also encouraged students to stay on campus after class time.
“We picked the time because it’s before night classes but kind of as evening and afternoon classes are wrapping up. So, [it] keeps [students] engaged on campus, doing something that they can connect back to UMSL, back to UPB, and then also getting that teamwork component too,” Henning said.
Samantha Sansom, sophomore, business, and Shanna Cistrump, sophomore, psychology, came with a group from their sorority, Alpha Xi Delta.
Cistrump expressed her excitement before she and her sisters went into the room. “I can’t wait. It looks like a lot of fun. I’m pretty happy that our sister Madison invited us up here. Otherwise, I would probably be sitting at home and not doing anything. So it’s pretty fantastic.” she said. “We are going to be locked in a room, and we are going to try to work together to get out of it. We love each other, and we are not trying to die in there.”
Sansom explained, “As a sisterhood, we have to work together, and this is a great example of working on teamwork. … We have to work as a team to solve puzzles and clues and all of these things to get out of the room. It is building on leadership.”
Cistrump spoke about how all of the skills which they group hoped to hone in the escape room connected back to Alpha Xi Delta. “We do bonding, leadership—basically [Alpha Xi Delta] is just there to help us realize our potential in our next expedition in life,” she said. “So when we go to be adults, we at least have adulting skills.”
While the Alpha Xi Delta sisters built on existing friendships and relationships, Henning said that the event also helped people to forge new connections as well. “Our first group that just finished were mostly strangers, I think. A couple of them were friends, but they all just showed up at the same time and ended up going and being a team together,” she said. “[So, they were] building teamwork, building friendship, and just having fun here on campus.”
Henning said the members of UPB could have set up the escape room themselves, but they instead chose to have a group called Campus Escapes set up the room. “They have their own plot and story and lots of items in the room already,” Henning explained.
Campus Escapes, which operates as a part of a larger group called Kirkland Productions, offers two storylines for their room escapes. The one which UPB held on Tuesday was called, “The Mystery on Mount Olympus,” and casts participantd as descendants of Greek gods who attempt to usurp power on Mount Olympus by taking Zeus’ lightning bolt while he is away at a festival. Players must bribe Charon, the mythical Greek ferryman, with a gold coin within the allotted 25 minutes.
According to Campus Escapes’ website, the other Escape the Room theme is called “The Philosopher.” Like Sansom, Cistrump, and Henning, the website also cites the potential for building skills crucial to students’ success later in life. “This activity, besides being great entertainment, is designed to get a group focused on leadership and team building as they work together using the available tools combined with logic to escape the room in a set period of time,” the website states.
Henning said that UPB got into contact with Campus Escapes at a conference. “We were already kind of looking for an escape room. So, once we met this group, it just kind of seemed like a perfect match,” she said.
Henning continued to explain how events like the Escape the Room are a part of UPB’s larger mission on campus. “Our purpose as an organization is to provide events on campus that meet all of the needs of the students. We want to have fun events like this, but we want to have educational events. … We want to have supportive events, so things like the spirituality program that we are having next week,” she said. “Basically [we are] trying to plan a lot of events for students on campus, so that they have something to do here and then generally to have some kind of purpose to the event as well, to help them grow in their college experience.”
Before the Alpha Xi Delta tribe entered the room, Cistrump reflected on what would happen if they were unable to escape the room. “I’m assuming, I’m hoping, that they will let us out. … I’m pretty sure it would cost a lot of money to keep us in there as long as it might take to get us out,” she laughed.
According to Campus Escapes’ website, teams who do not complete the challenge still get group pictures, as well as a post-game talk about how they could have accomplished their task. Teams that do complete the task also get a picture, though their picture comes with bragging rights.
The UPB will host many other fun and educational events on campus during the rest of the semester, including hosting Trevor Noah with special guest Hasan Minhaj in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on April 29. While there are currently four board members, Henning said that next year, they will expand to seven board members. To find out about these events and if you are interested in finding out more about the UPB, check out their Triton Sync page at https://orgsync.com/59711/chapter. You can also find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/umslUPB?ref=hl.