Since 1996, the Tomb Raider video games have been famous for their high levels of immersion, intensity and, most of all, their puzzles. Players will spend hours at a time as the isolated Lara Croft, pushing giant stone columns and yanking at every fixture with a grappling hook, often leading to a wondrous finale that defies the laws of mechanics and physics. Other times, the puzzles are much closer to something us mortals could achieve- smaller, hands-on -something that we might find in an escape room, for example.
One of my specialisms in the themed attractions industry is escape room design; escape rooms are a relatively new phenomenon where groups race against the clock to solve puzzles in the interests of fleeing a themed room, a trend that is reaching a lofty pinnacle in popularity. While the theme of this room could be anything from an abandoned Soviet bunker to a terrifying tomb, you can immediately see the appeal of escape rooms to Tomb Raider fans- but what about people who don't play video games?
Minor SPOILERS for the 2018 Tomb Raider movie follow!
To me, the Tomb Raider movie was was like spectating, or even partaking in, an elaborate narrative-driven escape room, as if it were a two hour long escape room advert. The puzzles seemed to have been designed as I would design them for an attraction: with clear stages that gradually reveal a greater reward and importantly, that anybody could achieve. For example, Lara's first puzzle is:
- A twisty prop that unlocks to provide a piece of paper and a key
- The paper provides a riddle
- The riddle leads to a hidden keyhole
- The key opens a secret door- or the escape!
This sequence, the form and the design of the puzzles are all too familiar and stood out to me in a way that puzzles never have in other movies; where they can be more obscure, confusing and less engaging- or simply less like something you'd find in an escape room.
Other escape room design tropes, such as trial-and-error, logic, and image association appear later on and heavily in the final act. Of course, this could just have all been for the sake of making the movie like a Tomb Raider video game, rather than doing an escape room, but the medium of film forces it to feel more real- these puzzles had to be believable and vitally, they had to be achievable by real humans, thus more like something in an escape room than an animated video game world.
Another observation I had was the diversity of those faced with the puzzles. The hopelessly confused, the angrily determined, the head-strong daughter who works it all out, the confident but slightly useless dad, young, old, rich, poor, male, female, Eastern, Western, family, enemies. I'd seen it many a time during my days as an escape room host and, if we pretend for a moment that Tomb Raider were a promotion for escape rooms, then this range of backgrounds and puzzle-solver archetypes, as well as Lara's subversive role as a heroic young woman, would definitely be in the spirit of escape rooms, where the idea is that everybody comes together and anybody (not just big-armed lads) could beat the puzzles.
I'll make it clear- I don't think that the Tomb Raider movie is an escape room advert. But there certainly are enough similarities in the ways that the puzzles are presented and solved to get viewers in the mood to visit one. It wouldn't be outlandish to suggest that the escape rooms industry helped fund the movie's production, although I don't think this was the case. They did help promote it, though...
To market the movie, temporary Tomb Raider escape rooms were commissioned in London and Hollywood, explicitly merging the association between the viewing experience and escape rooms- a conscious decision to present the two as related entities. This is especially relevant with the London attraction, which featured real set pieces and was made in consultation with the movie creators, including production designer Gary Freeman.
Are the escape room similarities in the movie all just a coincidence, inevitable in a story about puzzles? It would be interesting to see if the Tomb Raider movie does have any influence on escape room popularity, especially with the summer approaching. But whatever its effect on the industry, I have a good feeling that the movie's creators were more than aware of the trend when they sent Lara on her latest adventure.
Is the Tomb Raider movie going to encourage more people to visit escape rooms? Let me know on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!