Here’s the agenda for your next work retreat: escape from jail, win a quiz show, and traverse a jungle. It’s part of a growing trend of reality gaming, (also called active gaming) that businesses are now discovering and using to “level up.”
“When you walk into a room, you normally know how everything works, you know what you’re supposed to do,” said Chad Ellis, CEO of Boda Borg Boston, a new gaming center. “When you walk into a room at Boda Borg, you don’t. We haven’t told you the rules. We haven’t told you what to do. You have to explore and experiment and figure it out.”
Ellis spent $4 million to turn an empty department store building in Malden, Massachusetts into what he calls a “questing” center. It has 16 multi-room challenges.
One team of co-workers, Emily Gouillart, Ben de la Cretaz and Sara Ross, tried Boda Borg for first time on a quest titled “Farm.” They opened the door to the first room to enter what looks like a chicken coop, complete with the sounds of clucking hens and roosters.
“This looks like a button of some kind, doesn’t it?” Gouillart asked.
“I don’t know, I have no idea,” de la Cretaz replied.
Usually, these co-workers crack eggs together in the kitchens of a culinary incubator called Stock Pot Malden. But here, they have to crack a riddle to open the door. And in the next room, they have to scamper through a maze of chutes.
“Watch the feet because I got kicked in the head,” Gouillart said to her fellow teammates at one point.
Boda Borg is the latest entry in the growing market for reality gaming. At least nine cities across the country have single-room challenges called Escape The Room. Other establishments, like Massachusetts-based 5 Wits, let you play the hero in a movie.
One quester, Matt Lindstrom, compared Boda Borg quests to playing the character in a video game. If you fail, you go back to level one and start over. “It’s frustrating to an extent but, like, the amount of satisfaction that you get when you finally do break through that barrier is really, really, well, satisfying,” Lindstrom said.
His teammate, Corrie Lovejoy, said it not only takes many tries, but it takes a team. “You can change up with each other’s strengths,” Lovejoy said. “Because you’re like: ‘I suck at this. Why don’t you try it? I’ll do your thing.’ So you get to kind of test out what each other’s good at, too.”
This collective problem-solving is not only attracting 20-somethings, but also companies trying to teach their workers to collaborate. Corporate trainer Gillian Simkiss brought one work group to Boda Borg, and said it’s a big step up from tired team-building exercises like the trust fall.
“It sort of cements and anchors an experience in different kind of way from an academic kind of business learning – ‘let’s brainstorm and write on a flipchart,’” Simkiss said.
Back on the “Farm” quest, the team of Stock Pot Malden co-workers has figured out the secret. Ben de la Cretaz said he’s going to come back for more quests. “It was surprising how both addictive and frustrating as it was,” he said, laughing.
The cost of that frustration? For a full day, $28 per person.
After completing their first quest, Stock Pot Malden co-workers (l-r) Emily Gouillart, Ben de la Cretaz, and Sara Ross celebrated in Boda Borg’s reception area
His co-worker, Emily Gouillart, agreed. “It was incredibly, incredibly fun,” Gouillart said. “But that said, just because the last chapter is by definition the one that you failed at, oh my God, it’s a really good way of realizing just how deep into this world you’ve become.”
Then she added, “We’ll always have the “Farm.” Just remember that farm, man. We crushed it.”