Escape the Room, Escape the World – The New York Times

While I could and did get a similar inkling of escape by reading a great book, puzzling held a particular draw. When I was solving complicated puzzles, I was the star. I was the protagonist. I wasnt losing myself in other peoples stories I was knee-deep in the story, and each story depended on me, on my own solver skills, to reach completion.

This sense of escape intensified when I discovered Zork one of the earliest video games, which ironically had neither videos nor images. Zork was a text-based game that featured a generic adventurer (in my mind, this was me, of course) who navigated a complex underground empire filled with treasures and rivers and caves and secret passages and bits of Greek mythology. I no longer recall the ultimate goal of the game, but I remember having to solve increasingly ambitious challenges to make progress. And I remember completely immersing myself for the first time in my life in a world of puzzles.

I had not yet been diagnosed with Tourettes syndrome, but I acutely sensed my otherness compared with other children, both in my strengths and my struggles. And though I had a generally happy childhood and good, close friends, the chance to disappear into a series of puzzles for an afternoon or a weekend gave me a break from thinking about my differences or how I fit into society. Underground, in Zork, I fit in.

Puzzles became a total refuge from reality: While navigating the rich, subterranean world of Zork, I escaped with both brain and body. Even better, I could play this game with my mother and my brother, and we could all escape together.

I found this escape route again after college, when I was at an emotional low point. I was living with my now-diagnosed twitches, and steeped in anxiety and filled with insecurities about both my friendships and my romantic relationships. Seeking solace, I headed to a ski town in the Rocky Mountains. While there, I was invited to one of the epic 1990s dinner parties: a boxed How to Host a Murder Mystery game. While there was not as much room for complicated puzzle-solving as there was in the underground world of Zork (or todays modern escape the room boxed games), I still found myself deeply immersed in a world that wasnt real, at least for an evening. It was my way of fleeing the pressures and angst of real-life expectations.

To this day, I dont remember who the murderer was, or what role I was playing. What I remember was the delicious feeling of solving something, anything, mingled with the palpable relief of escape.

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Escape the Room, Escape the World - The New York Times

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