by Kozan Soykal
If we did not miss a newcomer in last month or so, there are four escape rooms operating in the City of Tempe. We are the only one actually licensed (city terminology is “use permit”). There’s a story behind it.
So after weeks of discussion and visiting potential locations, we decided on a shortlist of 3 places, all in the same commercial area. One of the places was a very stylish office, good hard wood furniture, large desks and so on. There was talk of designing an “Escape from Trump’s Office” game, but it was middle of 2016 and we all thought Trumpmania would be short-lived phenomenon… Yes, we realize it’s a good thing our business is not in politics.
So we rented another place. We carefully explained to our landlord what we were going to do with it. He was cool with all. We worked hard for some months and opened our first game, the Cult of Mithras. At this point in time, our landlord happily informs us city regulations did not allow running escape rooms in the location.
We rush to city administration. The City tells us we have to go through a public hearing and dumps a gazillon application forms on us. It takes us days to fill the forms out. The traffic parking regulation one is particularly nasty – takes us 10 days to negotiate. Parking in a mostly empty lot is apparently very serious business. And we had to cough up about $2,000 for various fees.
They also post a huge sign outside our business, saying “Hear ye, hear ye. There will be public opportunity to harass these people. Come and join the fun.” (I am paraphrasing).
So the day of the hearing comes. The hearing hall… Imagine a scene from a movie or TV series in which a group of judges or congressmen sweat the hell out of the protagonists on some black ops. The room is set up exactly like that. There is a huge and elevated desk. You stand in front of it looking up to the judge (city hearing officer). There are seats behind you where spectators can walk in and enjoy seeing you squirm.
There are five hearings that would happen that day. We were last. First one is simple, a person adding a garage to his property. Goes fast.
Next one is a bar on the Mill Avenue applying for a license to host parties for teenagers on some nights. So here’s an establishment which makes money by selling alcohol; applying for license to host teenagers and promises not to sell them alcohol. What will they sell to teenagers? Soda pop at $1 each? You may expect some resistance to this business scheme, but no, won’t happen. Passes without any questions.
Next two are massage parlors. I don’t have anything against massage parlors. Their business model involves putting two people in a private room with a relaxing atmosphere and one of the people getting fully or almost naked. That model can objectively be called a proven success story anywhere, anytime in human history. But I can imagine a city official maybe asking one or two questions on a hearing. Nope, does not happen. Both pass with flying colors. I feel really crass about thinking such inappropriate things about massage parlors.
Finally, it’s our turn. Seeing the cases before us, we expect to pass easily. The officer calls us forward. She has not heard of escape rooms before and starts asking questions. Many many questions. The questions turn slightly worrisome after a bit.
“Do you sacrifice little boys to the Dark Lord in your business premises?”
“No, your honor.”
“Do you sacrifice little girls to the Dark Lord?”
“No, your honor.”
“Do you harbor any serial killers?”
My friend turns and whispers to me. “Does Chucky count?”
I reply. “You got a replica right? Not the original?”
“No, no, of course not. Do you know how much the original would cost?”
At the end, we get our license. We feel dazed by the whole experience. Once we recover our wits, we think of checking if the other three escape rooms operating in Tempe have applied for a license or not. They have not.
Well, not much to say at that point. We are the suckers that walked in with our free will. It’s always nice to see the government at work.
Game Design Team Member
Dare to Escape AZ