Room Escape Games Hit Mississauga

One criticism that's often levied against any suburb -- and it's a valid one -- is that each house-heavy subdivision is overflowing with people who have few entertainment options beyond big box chain restaurants and malls. For that reason, anything new -- particularly something that's creative and interactive -- is a pretty big deal.

Enter Pani.Q, Mississauga's newest room escape facility, located at 1065 Canadian Place (near Tomkin and Eglinton). For those who don't know (as I didn't before finding out about this freshly opened destination), room escapes have been growing in popularity since a room escape iPhone app inspired enthusiasts in Asia to create actual brick and mortar escape facilities. A room escape basically requires a group of friends or random players to escape a locked (either literally or figuratively) room by solving puzzles, finding objects and locating keys.

It's a thinking person's interactive game that is generally fit for all ages -- and it's a trend that's taking off, with 30 locations having popped up in the GTA in the last six months alone. Pani.Q. is the latest location to hit Sauga, but fans of the trend might have already gotten their fix at De Code Adventures, which opened in March. De Code, located on Kitimat Road off of Argentia, offers five rooms (the De Scientific Code room, the De Code the Child's Play room, the De Triad Code room, the De Code the Ancient Mystery room and the Board Game Adventure room), some of which can handle up to 12 players.

So, what's this new room escape trend all about?

"It's like a game," explains Pani.Q. co-founder Jon Rojas, who opened Pani.Q. with his wife, Karen Mangahas, in October. "We have three rooms with a series of puzzles, riddles and clues that lead to each other or are organized in a series or scavenger-type fashion. Each room has an objective that varies according to each theme. Most room escapes lock you in, but we use objective-based games instead of actually locking you in. It's safer that way."

Other room escape enthusiasts, such as De Code's co-owner Leanne Chan, also emphasize the mental aspect.

"In terms of the rooms itself, our goal is to make the whole game flow from the beginning to the end, from storyline to the puzzles, down to the decorations and atmosphere all fit together with the theme to provide the best De Code experience," she explains.

Pani.Q., a 1,250 sq. ft. facility, offers gamers three rooms to play in, each with its own theme. The first room is known as the Quarantine room. In that room, the players are members of the World Health Organization who have to escape the room before it's incinerated for being contaminated with airborne toxins.

The second room, known as The Ward, requires players experiencing a disturbing, demonic out-of-body experience (or terrifying mental health breakdown) to locate a pill that will allow them to regain control of their minds.

The third room, called the Dark Room, requires players, who are acting as members of CSIS, to prevent World War III by finding a roll of film that shows shady members of the Canadian government making illicit deals with well-known terrorist groups.

The first room escape to make a splash in the GTA was ESC-IT, located in Markham. When Rojas and his wife decided to check it out, they knew they had to try to push the trend westward.

"It [room escapes] is popular in the Asian community, so we knew that bringing it to the west would broaden the spectrum," Rojas says. "More people are checking it out. It's good for couples and groups of friends. We fell in love with the concept at ESC-IT and we saw potential in this business."

De Code's Chan also thinks the game's popularity is on the rise.

"First of all, this is a brand new concept here and it’s something new for people to try out," Chan says. "Also, there are a lot of existing activities that are more physical in nature, but not much with the mental aspect other than being in front of a computer. The puzzles within each room will have different challenges and method of solving which will help the group think outside of the box. Room escapes are usually recommended in a group setting, which would require team work, communication and also an element of competition."

While the concept is certainly gaining traction, Chan says growth has been steady rather than dramatic.

"It was a slow response for sure in the beginning, as the concept was very new. When you try to explain it to people, a lot of people do not know what it is and some might think that you are in the locked room on the computer playing these games and puzzles, while others will automatically jump to the conclusion that it's scary (like the SAW series). Once the concept is more known, we get a lot of returning customers and some have even played all of our rooms, waiting for more to open. We would like to give them the best available room escape, so our staff will try to make everyone get into the mood and step right into the story. What we try to do here is a family and fun oriented setting, with a variety of story lines and themes suitable for all ages."

As for whether or not he's confident that the concept will grow on Sauga locals, Rojas says he's happy to report steady growth since Pani.Q. launched on Oct. 25.

"Our first week, we had 20 people. Our second week, we had 50 and last week we had 84. We're steadily growing," he says. "I was confident and nervous [about bringing this to Mississauga]. This is my biggest business, scale-wise, to date. I know the concept will catch people's attention."

Pani.Q. has also received visits from a few local celebrities, including Canadian Idol alum Mikey Bustos and YTV host Carlos Bustamante.

As for pricing, the base price is $25 a person, but there are some package deals. People who "like" Pani.Q. on Facebook can get $5 off, while groups of four, eight and more are eligible for discounts of up to $10 off. Twosomes can also play for $25 total.

"We want you to come and have fun and enjoy great customer service, "Rojas says.

Room Escapes in Mississauga:
De Code - Real-LIfe Room Escape
Pani.Q. Room Escapes

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