Rapid growth of horror-themed escape rooms in China raises concern about impact on minors
Published: Sep 23, 2021 06:09 PM
An escape room designed by Tu Chao in Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province Photo: Courtesy of Tu Chao

An escape room designed by Tu Chao in Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province Photo: Courtesy of Tu Chao

In a dark "mourning" hall, a group of female college students hold tightly onto each other's hands. They are trying to finish various tasks given to them from a "ghost" in the hopes of "escaping" the room soon and bringing an end to the story with a chilling theme - posthumous marriage.

"When the female ghost suddenly appeared in the mirror, that broke my limit and I decided to quit halfway," 22-year-old student Han Rui told the Global Times after she and her roommates experienced a thrilling escape room in Beijing. 

In the game, an employee playing a female ghost comes out to scare players. 

Han said the game had a bad influence on her as she started to believe the world really does have ghosts and that she would never dare enter a mourning hall no matter if it is a real one or not.

Li Yumo, a 21-year-old college student also shared her terrible experience taking part in a spooky escape room in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. 

"I became scared when the lights were turned off. We sat round a table with a dim candle lit in front of us, accompanied by sad music. The gloomy atmosphere made me more scared, and I quit," Li told the Global Times.

Murder mystery role-playing games and escape rooms have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in China, especially among young people. 

According to a research report by entertainment service and ticket booking platform Meituan, 75 percent of customers are under the age of 30, with students accounting for 28 percent of this number.

Meanwhile, the number of venues has been surging over the last three years. The report noted that the number of related stores increased from 2,400 in 2019 to its current 45,000 venues and that this number is expected to reach roughly 60,000 by the end of 2021, about 25 times higher than 2019.

With the increasingly fierce competition in the industry, some stores have begun attempting to capture the attention of customers with gimmick themes that run toward the morbid or even violent, which has caused some concern for the possible impact on minors. 

Wang Ying, a psychologist at Beijing Reading the Heart Psychological Health and Technology Company, told the Global Times on Thursday that escape rooms and live action role-playing games can be a good social tool as it provides a new environment for people to socialize in. However, if the content or the setting scene is too bloody or violent and doesn't consider mainstream values and positive spiritual guidance, it will affect players' mental health.

Xinhua News Agency reported that many venues do not include warnings about mature content nor prohibit minors from playing such content and that the emerging industry has found a lot of loopholes to get around regulatory measures and management.

"Minors' psychological endurance, perception of reality and imagination, and self-control are still developing, so it is not recommended for minors to come into contact with content that is too scary," said Wang, warning that content that is too scary could cause psychological issues such as tension, fear and insomnia, and could even lead to psychopathic or criminal behavior.