Picture yourself locked in a room… the clock is ticking… you have 60 minutes to follow clues, solve puzzles and find the key to escape.

Welcome to the new world of ‘live action escape rooms’ – part of a growing trend towards ‘real-life’ games. Each room poses a number of challenges and teams of two to six people must decipher messages to solve lingual, visual, mathematical, spatial and physical brainteasers.

Escape rooms first appeared in Japan in 2007 and an increasing popularity has seen them pop up across the world. Originally based on ‘Escape the Room’ video games, the concept has been adopted widely across North America, Europe, New Zealand, South America and Australia. This year, two escape rooms have opened in Canberra, with the most recent on 1 September.

Director of Escape Rooms Canberra, Michael Wilkinson, says that escape rooms are hugely popular as they offer a new experience and way of thinking. Each room poses different challenges and the storylines take you and your friends on a live-action adventure.

“It’s hard to explain but it’s a unique experience and if you have a good, well thought out product to offer then people are going to take a lot out of it,” he says.

Wilkinson proposed the idea to his co-director, Mitch Young, a year ago. Their dreams turned into reality when they landed a workspace and began building earlier this year.

“We built most of the rooms ourselves, which was a steep learning curve. Every plan we had changed in one way or another. You don’t know what will go wrong until it does,” he adds.

The start-up features two themed rooms: Mr Keller’s Magic Emporium and House on the Hill. The first follows the storyline that a mysterious Mr Keller has lured you in to his antique toyshop from which you must escape. The second, spookier room traps you in a mansion, and challenges you to evade the Salem witch trials.

Wilkinson says the opening of the other escape room in Canberra, Riddle Room, earlier this year did not produce competition; rather, it encouraged more people to become aware of escape rooms and try both products.

“Since you can only try a room once there’s no such thing as competition. As long as we both have high quality rooms, people are going to want to try more. Even if someone likes Riddle Room they’ll try us, and vice-versa,” he says.

This begs the question – if there is no repeat business, what does the future hold? Wilkinson and Young are already designing a third, heist-themed room to be opened towards the end of this year.

“We’re trying to shake the game up a little bit with that one so we’ll see how it goes. After that, there are a few spaces near us that we could move into and build a few new rooms. Canberra is a city of early-adopters, so there’s always the imperative to stay fresh,” Wilkinson says.