February 23, 2019

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Not the same old game

City escape-room designers add active elements, replayable mode to new challenge

It’s dark inside Activate Games. Like, really dark.

“One second!” yells owner Adam Schmidt as he flicks a switch.

A dark purple glow suddenly illuminates the hall enough to get a better sense of the place. It’s still a few weeks before the new active gaming experience will be open to the public, but what is complete of the 14,000-square-foot space is impressive. Massive glowing signs hang above doorways to indicate which game is inside each of the 11 rooms; it feels very tech-y, almost like you’re inside of a spaceship or about to participate in a real-life video game.

It’s not virtual reality, though, this stuff is very much hands on.

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It’s dark inside Activate Games. Like, really dark.

"One second!" yells owner Adam Schmidt as he flicks a switch.

A dark purple glow suddenly illuminates the hall enough to get a better sense of the place. It’s still a few weeks before the new active gaming experience will be open to the public, but what is complete of the 14,000-square-foot space is impressive. Massive glowing signs hang above doorways to indicate which game is inside each of the 11 rooms; it feels very tech-y, almost like you’re inside of a spaceship or about to participate in a real-life video game.

Each room has two games and each game has three levels of difficulty. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Each room has two games and each game has three levels of difficulty. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

It’s not virtual reality, though, this stuff is very much hands on.

Activate Games is designed by Schmidt and his wife, Megan (who are also the creators of Winnipeg’s first escape room, The Real Escape); it is the first of its kind in the country, and maybe even the world.

"We wanted to create a more active gaming experience for people, as well as tying in a replayable gaming experience. Obviously if you do an escape room and you’ve completed it, whether you failed or not, you can’t really do it again. All of these games at Activate, you can play and keep replaying until you get better scores," explains Adam.

"The more games you play and levels you complete, the more activate points you accumulate over time, which can be redeemed for rewards."

The Schmidts and their Winnipeg-based team have been dreaming up, designing, building, testing and retesting the new games for about two years, and now Activate Games is ready to open its doors Thursday in Westwood, at 3338 Portage Ave.

Megan and Adam Schmidt are ready to give Winnipeggers a new indoor gaming experience at Activate Games. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Megan and Adam Schmidt are ready to give Winnipeggers a new indoor gaming experience at Activate Games. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

But what actually is Activate Games? Well, that’s kind of hard to explain, so the Schmidts suggest we try things out for ourselves.

Before we — we being myself, my partner, Nick, and Activate Games project manager Jeremy Darville — get into the rooms to try the games, we are given a debrief on how things work. Being a particularly clumsy person, I am already nervous.

Darville explains gamers will get a wristband, which they can connect with their player profile using iPads in the lobby area. A player profile is just a name and email address you can input each time you visit to keep track of the points you’ve earned and the levels you have passed. Once the wristband is set up, teams of three to five people enter the main gaming area.

To enter the individual games, each player taps their wristband on a glowing blue pentagon, reads the game brief on a nearby screen and enters the room. The pentagon then turns from blue to orange, to let other groups know the room is in use, and the game begins. Each room has two games, each game has three levels of difficulty and each level takes around two minutes to complete, give or take.

Jumping on specific coloured squares isn't always as easy as it sounds. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jumping on specific coloured squares isn't always as easy as it sounds. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The rooms vary in terms of the skills tested: there’s a basketball-based room, there’s a room with a rock-climbing wall, there’s rooms where you need to throw or jump or run, pushing to complete tasks within a given time frame or else losing one (or more) of your limited amount of lives.

In terms of cost, gamers will get 90 minutes of time at the facility for $25 per person.

We decide to tackle a room which involved jumping on specific coloured squares as we make our way from one end to the other; we do badly at this, there is a lot of yelling and a sad sound ring from the speakers as our lives quickly dwindle and we have to leave the room. It was fun, and the instinct is to immediately try it again and do better, which is exactly the feeling these games are designed to inspire.

We perform better during the next game, which is basically target practice that favours accurate throwing, and Adam joins us to tackle a spelling game that is challenging and more physically exhaustive than it sounds.

After 30 minutes, we are sweating and glad we were told ahead of time to wear sneakers and activewear. We didn’t understand all of the games right away, but Darville says that’s part of the experience.

"It’s meant to be a learning process, we don’t give you a lot of instruction, you’re meant to go in there and mess up a couple times before you understand it," says Darville.

"We’re trying to find a balance, because from testing it some people did find it too frustrating, so we added bit more instruction. So we’re trying to find that balance of still having things to figure out but not getting frustrated. But then we always have staff around, so if anyone doesn’t understand it, they can jump in with them and explain it," adds Megan.

You do need to be relatively able bodied to tackle most of these games, and the suggested age is 10 or older, but the Adam is optimistic Winnipeggers will get on board with this new form of entertainment.

"It really is literally no where else in the world; it’s a new form of gaming and I think it might be a big thing," he says.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

It doens't look like much from the outside, but inside Activate Games is a new gaming experience. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

It doens't look like much from the outside, but inside Activate Games is a new gaming experience. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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