Not only had I never been to one of the “real escape games” popping up for various anime series in Japan, I had never even been to one of those “mystery murder dinners” in the United States. So every step of the new Detective Conan real escape game was new and exciting—but also deadly.

It’s a generally understood rule of reporting on the real escape games that almost everything about the games is confidential. From the moment you walk into the room, are handed folders of documents, and are shown to your seats, it’s all a secret. But feelings, now those can be shared.

I was understandably nervous as I met the other reporters. I still don’t have generic business cards (the ones I have being specifically for other positions), so I wasn’t prepared for the typical exchange. Fortunately for me, half of the others who made up my group were also unprepared, so I didn’t suffer embarrassment alone. My colleague Toshi Nakamura was also present, which gave me the flexibility to use English.

As the only non-native Japanese person in the room, I was very nervous. I knew this was a puzzle game, and I wasn’t sure my Japanese would be up to it. Each team was made up of six members, mine being no exception. It was also split evenly along gender lines, there being three women and three men on our team. I believe that there was an attempt to similarly split other teams, but it didn’t end up as perfectly for the other teams as on mine.

Like what I think is common for these types of games, it started with original animation of the characters describing the set up of the situation. I had no trouble following the characters and their description of locations, events, and clues. I even figured out a couple of things faster than my teammates. It’d be nice to share those, but I can’t, because they’re clues.

There are a number of different puzzles that had to be solved in various timed rounds. I found my Japanese ability was not the marker of whether I was helpful to my teammates or successful at various puzzles. Instead the puzzle types definitely were spread throughout different abilities, and what I was actually good at already in either language (such as social studies, as I am a social studies teacher in Japanese and English) would determine if I could solve a puzzle or not. Due to my poor math skills and my dyscalculia, puzzles with numbers were passed onto a teammate who was better at calculation. 

In the end, I felt like I contributed in equal amount as all of my native Japanese teammates, but I am not sure how useful I would have been if I hadn’t been able to speak Japanese at all. However, while I feel like our team was one of the better teams, no team ended up being able to solve the final puzzles. They were really, really, really difficult. And thus, sadly, time over, the entire room ended up dead.

Would I do one of these kinds of games again? Yes, but I’d prefer to do it with my friends or a group of my students. The point isn’t really win or lose, like many activities in Japan. Instead, the game seems more about bonding and building collective spirit. Unlike “murder mystery dinners,” which is what I originally imagined this would be like, this reminds me of many of the activities and games I’ve used in my classrooms both to teach the subject matter and to create a tighter sense of collective identity.

Doing it with a group of strangers definitely brings you closer to those strangers, but doing it with a group of people you already love would probably be a much deeper experience. So next time, I’d like to do that.

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