The escape games phenomenon that’s taking Canada by storm got a huge boost a few weeks ago when the Diefenbunker Museum launched its own version of this immensely popular immersive experience.
Escape the Diefenbunker is a Cold War-era, espionage-themed game that has participants racing through the museum and gathering clues in order to prevent an imminent nuclear attack. Located just outside Ottawa, the Diefenbunker Museum is a decommissioned underground bunker that was completed in 1961 to protect then Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and 500 government and military officials in the event of a nuclear war.
Escape games typically involve groups of up to about 12 people who are locked together in a room, or in this case a bunker, and given 60 minutes to decipher clues that will help them escape. It’s a race against time that requires logic and teamwork. Escape the Diefenbunker provides just the right combination of tension and urgency thanks to a believable backstory that unfurls within an authentic, and very unique, heritage site.
Telling local stories
In the Toronto area there are more than 30 escape game locations, including the century-old Casa Loma mansion where groups play themed games within the building as well as in an underground tunnel that has been turned into a 1920s speakeasy. A group in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is also bringing history to life with an escape game based on the Explosion of 1917, and in St. John’s, Newfoundland, players solve clues as the minutes tick down to the historic Great Fire of 1892.
At 100,000 square feet, Escape the Diefenbunker is being touted as the world’s largest escape room. It’s an important promotional hook because attracting new and repeat visitors can sometimes be a challenge for heritage sites. That’s why the immersive activity is being marketed to corporate groups and other organizations that are always eager to discover new and exciting teambuilding experiences.
Escape Bunker controversy
Escape games are a promising educational tool, but context matters a great deal. For example, the Anne Frank foundation recently criticized Escape Bunker, an escape game in the Dutch town of Valkenswaard, for recreating the secret annex (complete with swinging bookcase) where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi occupiers during the Second World War.
According to a Times of Israel report, the Anne Frank foundation said the secret annex was one of the places where the Holocaust, or Shoah, played out: “It shows very little empathy for survivors of the Shoah to use the annex as a backdrop for an escape room.”
While the game operator defends Escape Bunker as an educational experience, the foundation said the recreated bunker “creates the impression that hiding (from the Nazis) is an exciting game and if those hiding are smart enough they won’t be caught.”
That impression, the foundation said, is historically inaccurate.