Date completed: April 2017 (3 players). Succeeded escaping!
Creativity: 3; Difficulty: 2; Atmosphere: 5; Fun: Variable (motion sickness)
- English, Spanish (Castillian) or Catalan
- Solo experience
- 10-minute Virtual reality room
- It’s free!
In our recent trip to Spain, my sharp-eyed cousin suddenly tapped me on the shoulder, gestured towards a commercial building in Plaça Catalunya, and said, ‘a free escape room!’ Free? How often does that happen? In one of the busiest places of Barcelona no less!
‘What? Where?’ I replied. And there it was. Written on this scrolling ticker of a building, known as Mobile World Centre, was a message in English indicating that there was a free virtual reality (VR) escape room experience. How could we pass this up?
We made our way inside and soon found the registration desk for the VR escape room, titled A Mobile Story. A friendly host, who conversed with us in both English and Spanish (Castillian), indicated that there was a 15 minute waiting time so we strolled around the exhibition on display. It became apparent that the Mobile World Centre had a focus on promoting telecommunications technology to the public, so the title of the VR room began to make sense.
Once it was our turn, we were led to a series of individual VR silos and the experience began. Like all VR headsets, each player set must go through configuration to account for individual differences as well as language setting. Pa played in Spanish, my cousin played in English, but for some reason, my headset was set on Catalan (the language of Catalonia which they speak in Barcelona). My Spanish is poor and my Portuguese is survivable so between those language skills, I decided to see if I could wing it in Catalan as the host was busy helping others adjust. This choice was perhaps not the wisest but it was too late.
The game started, the 10 minute clock began to tick and an intro 50% incomprehensible to me was delivered. My cousin and Pa obviously had no issues, but the game was fairly easy to understand anyhow. It also became very obvious that despite our simultaneous start time, A Mobile Story was a one player game.
Set inside a telecommunications laboratory, this short game was focused on rebuilding a smartphone. The tasks had to be completed in a specific order, and you interact with lab props and with the main computer. Learning how to ‘touch’ things took us some time, as you have the visual response, but not the tactile one. If we moved our heads or the entire chair, we would turn inside the room, but not walk. To ‘move around’, we had to keep our hands in front of our bodies and move them in the desired direction. We also did not find out how to walk backwards – maybe it just was not possible in this VR setup.
Once we began exploring the lab though, motion sickness set in for all three of us. This problem, well known in the industry as ‘Virtual Reality Sickness‘, was not something I was expecting – especially while trying to figure out what I needed to do in Catalan. For Pa and my cousin though, the game was straightforward and they cleared it in around 7-8 minutes. It was impossible to deviate from the task/puzzle ‘path’ and certain interactions in this VR world would only become available once other things had occurred. Some of the puzzles were association based but most were set around figuring what tools in the lab to use next. It took longer for me to figure out the puzzles of A Mobile Story (because all I could think was ‘lets do this so the motion sickness stops!’). Still, I managed to clear the room with about a minute to spare.
After the experience, the three of us made our way to the the nice comfy chairs in the exhibition space, sat down and just stared out into Plaça Catalunya. We were all still reeling from the dizzyness. This was also something that the Room Escape Artists encountered when they tried a VR escape room in LA last year and is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for incorporating the technology. It certainly reminded me of another discussion from PAX Australia where it was brought up that perhaps Augmented Reality might be a better fit for the escape room industry.
The host came to check on us and we had a nice chat. It turns out the A Mobile Story was an experiment in using VR by students of the Mobile World Centre. Given how prolific escape rooms are in Barcelona, it is no surprise that the students would use this as a means of seeing what their technology is capable of. Also, the entire experience is free and I was always curious about how VR might / might not work with escape rooms anyway. As an escape room, A Mobile Story was not a big deal, but being a short and free game, it can be a good chance for players to find out how VR works. One simply does not know unless one has tried.
Out of the room
Communication: A Mobile Story has a none too subtle in-game hint system in the form of a flashing big red arrow pointed at where you need to go to next. There is no human interaction.
Surroundings: Where do I even start? It’s Plaça Catalunya. There is tons to see, visit, eat, do. I’m just going to refer to a more comprehensive guide to this. There is a subway station entrance right in front of the Mobile World Centre.