Playing Hong Kong's dangerous game

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 9:15am

Would you pay to be handcuffed and locked in a dark room? Or blindfolded with four of your friends and shut in a prison cell?

Thousands in Hong Kong have answered yes to those questions, taking part in a new game that challenges teams to break free from sticky situations by solving puzzles, sussing-out clues and breaking codes.

Participants say the attraction lies in seeing your video-game or movie fantasies come to life.

"It's not any normal kind of entertainment," said student Kelly Tsang, after she and four friends failed to break free from Dr. Alpha's Laboratory, which featured a "Mission Impossible" style laser maze. "We normally go shopping or to a movie."

"Freeing HK" charges players around $16 each to take part in one of the games, with names like "Prison Break" and "The Lost Chamber." Each challenge lasts 45 minutes and only about a quarter of participants manage to escape, owners said.

Despite the spooky music and claustrophobic surroundings, the atmosphere here is more Sherlock Holmes than horror movie. Teams can have one clue from the organizers if they get stuck. The hallway is plastered with signs from players holding signs that read either "We're Free" or "We Failed."

Allan Lam, a hotel clerk who came to play with a group of his colleagues, believes the real escapades were a lot harder than the virtual ones. To pick a lock in video games, "you just click," he said, but in real life it's a much tougher task.

But people seem to like the challenge. More than 7,000 people have played since the doors opened in November. Two new locations are expected to open by the end of May. They'll offer new games with names like "Vampire Castle" and "Around the World." The owners say it can take about 20 staffers up to a month to design a single game.

Instant Wan and Raymond Sze, two of Freeing HK's founders, said the idea came from popular video games.

"So many people are sitting in front of a computer in a virtual world. We want to bring them into the real world," Wan said.

And if Wan and Sze have their way, that world will be home to many more locations of "Freeing HK."

"We plan to expand to Mainland China, Macau and other places in Asia first. And we think if there are any chances, we will expand to other countries as well," Wan said.

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