Game explores human interaction

Steel Owl Room Adventures created “Escape the 1980s,” a time-traveling mystery escape game and adventure room.

Owners of Steel Owl Room Adventures, Michael Garson (left) monitors the control desk while Elisabeth Garson (right) gives players clues over a loudspeaker. | Alexa Zizzi TTN

When Elisabeth Garson wrote the course for her interactive room escape game with a 1980s theme, it wasn’t just because of her love for the era.

Influenced by her fascination with psychology and human behavior, Garson wanted to “create something without involving alcohol that still felt exhilarating for people.”

Along with co-founders Michael Garson and Josh Crisamore, Elisabeth Garson launched “Escape the 1980s” in Passyunk this past September at Steel Owl Room Adventures, one of four room escape companies in Philadelphia.

“Escape the 1980’s” is a live, interactive mystery game where a group of strangers form a team and solve 80’s themed clues and codes to escape rooms within 60 minutes.

The rooms are set up to resemble a mini-mall, and are filled with authentic 80’s toys, movies, technology, clothing and famous references.

The course requires tasks like watching VHS tapes, playing Atari, listening to famous songs, making calls from push-button phones and logging onto old-school computers. Players—both friends and strangers—work together to decipher hints and clues to unlock codes and advance to the next room.

Elizabeth Garson serves as the creative director and writer for the game. Michael Garson and Josh Crisamore created the structural and technological side that brought the game to life.

Elisabeth Garson guides the team through the course by communicating through walkie-talkies and a loudspeaker, dropping hints and clues every so often.

“Whoever is in the game is the star of our world at that moment,” Garson said. “It’s difficult because we’re walking a very delicate line—we want people to win and we want to give them a clue that will help them, but it can’t be so obvious that it ruins it.”

Garson said she’s learned to master this process over time with testing. The team makes judgement calls based off personalities and how people interact with each other. She said the strategy of the game reflects her interest in human interaction.

During an 18-month process creating the course and testing the game, Garson studied team dynamics and how music, color, sound and patterns generate feelings.

“This is what’s so neat about human beings, we learn the basics—we could learn little things here and there but what we really see are different kinds of energy and how the people inside the room influence each other—and how we can influence that,” Garson said.

“It’s crazy because the excitement level doesn’t vary based on age,” she added. “People my age who grew up in the 80’s have an energy level that’s equal to both a 12-year-old or a 23-year-old. It’s such a cool thing to watch.”

Phil Springirth, a third-time room escape player, introduced his brother, sister and niece to their first game this past weekend because he knew they would love the theme.

“The general thing I love is the thrill of trying to figure out what I need to figure out,” Springirth said. “I love mysteries, riddles, and also being in that aspect of a real-life human element.”

Springirth said he loves the original video game portion of room escapes, but believes interacting with a diverse team of people is the best way to play.

“When you play a video game by yourself, you get frustrated and stuck and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ whereas in the room, everyone has a different perspective,” Springirth said. “So it’s good to do it with different groups of people as far as younger, older, male, female and having different backgrounds. Different people do things in different ways and always have a different way of looking at things.”

Alexa Zizzi can be reached at

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