Reading, Aug 2018
There are all sorts of potential pitfalls involved in attempting to build an escape room that addresses serious social issues – in this case inequality and homelessness. Being designed as entertainment, a game could easily come across as mocking, patronising, dull and worthy, or simply ill-judged. It is to TimeTrap’s credit that they’ve managed to avoid all these and build an excellent escape room that conveys a serious message without lecturing or undermining players’ enjoyment.
The Divide is a pop-up game a few minutes’ walk from TimeTrap’s normal location. Based around the concept of social inequality, 10% of each booking goes to local homelessness charity Launchpad; although as the briefing tells you, the aim is not just to raise money but also awareness.
The game’s theme is graphically illustrated by the layout of the room and by a great many details throughout, both large and small. Your task is to ‘bridge the divide’ by completing a set of tasks. Some of these are linked to the theme very clearly, others more subtly, and many are simply puzzles, though ones that use the setting in imaginative and creative ways.
TimeTrap’s design style is a little more muted here than in their permanent games, but shows through in meticulously hand-crafted game components and in the energetic invention of their puzzle ideas. These take very mundane objects and find cunning ways to recast them as parts of an escape room, comfortably using both high tech and zero tech mechanisms as needed.
We of course happily dived head-first into the game without hesitation, and could easily have instantly forgotten all about the inequality theme while we concentrated on completing the room. To some extent that’s what happened, but multiple small reminders, some quite poignant, keep it in your mind. Most obviously, at the outset you’re told you need to find six specific words, each the culmination of one of the main strands of the game. This structure both gives a clear marker for your team’s progress and helps achieve The Divide’s stated aim of building awareness. I initially feared these six target words would be guessable. Perhaps one or two might be, but most are not, and in any case the game was far too enjoyable to tempt us to try to short-cut any section of it.
At time of writing, there are only a handful of days left in which you can play The Divide before it closes. If you have the chance, I highly recommend catching it while you still can. It’s a lovely demonstration of how an entertainment art form such as escape rooms can address a serious issue with sensitivity, and a worthy venture that thoroughly deserves support; but also it’s a clever, consistently entertaining game that I have no qualms about recommending in its own right.