PICTURED: A team plays “The Attic” virtual escape room experience via Zoom. (Photo submitted)

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Escape rooms have become a popular activity for those looking for something engaging, interactive and fun. The idea (for the uninitiated): get “locked” in a room with a group of people (you can book a room just for you and your friends, or join others signing up for the same time slot) and explore it to find clues that will lead you to a combination or key that will allow you to “escape” within the time allotted. Every drawer, cabinet, artwork, etc., seems to hold some valuable information, and a variety of skills come into play in order to get out in time — the ultimate party game for problem solvers. 

Escape rooms are by nature enclosed spaces, and thus were closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ultimate Escape Rooms in Ventura Harbor Village spent that downtime developing an online experience that just launched this month and can be experienced from the safety of your home.

“The Attic” involves exploring a virtual environment by interacting with a live, human game host that acts as a character “trapped” in the space. You and your team view the room via a live feed from your host’s point of view (they have a camera strapped to their chest) plus two security feeds — all through Zoom. Together you guide the host to open drawers, turn levers, look at notes, etc. — the host will do by proxy anything that escape room participants would do if they were in the room themselves. Solve the puzzles to get the clues and use them to help your host escape the room.

“You and your team are the brains figuring out the room, while the host is your eyes, ears and hands in the room,” says Ultimate Escape Rooms owner Annette J. Cortez.

One of the pleasures of an escape room is its dramatic backstory. “The Attic” is built around the idea of a remote cabin owned by a beloved relative who would host family reunions every year. Due to the uncle’s “death” and the pandemic, family members agree to gather on a video call instead . . . except for one cousin, who ends up at the cabin in person, breaks in, and gets “locked” in the attic. Escape room participants work together to break their hapless “cousin” out of there. One complicating factor, according to Ultimate Escape Rooms advertisements: “Are they really alone up there?”

Cortez describes “The Attic” as a “family history mystery with a creepy twist,” but notes that it is not a “horror room” with jump scares or gore. “Many young kids have played it and enjoyed it!” Most escape rooms allow hints, and for “The Attic,” Cortez says that hints will be unlimited (your host will provide them) with one caveat: The entire team must agree that a hint is needed.

Anyone from anywhere can join this escape room experience, making it perfect for people missing social interaction with family and friends during stay-at-home orders. Up to 10 people can participate with optimal video quality, although the company will allow more if requested. Prices start at $80 for up to four people; additional players are $10 each. All players log on through Zoom, following instructions sent via email after signing up. Reservations are easily made by going to the Ultimate Escape Rooms’ website. If the dates and times on the standard calendar don’t work, the company will customize a specific appointment.

“This format has given us the exciting and unexpected opportunity to allow people from anywhere around the world to play our escape rooms,” Cortez says. “We’ve had a team play from Hawaii for example . . . [and] just got a request from a corporate team in Europe.”

Cortez is looking forward to welcoming people back to the Ultimate Escape Rooms once restrictions are lifted. Until then, she’s delighted with the online option so far, and has another one — “The Wizard’s Lair” — in the works. 

“The Attic” live video escape room is taking reservations now. For more information, call The Ultimate Escape Rooms at 805-256-6600, email info@theultimateescaperooms.com or visit www.theultimateescaperooms.com/.