When someone wonders about the origin of the escape rooms, usually it refers to Takao Kato, as he started creating group challenges such as sowing clues and puzzles in Tokyo bars in 2008. Not much is known about him, however, the reasons that led him to invent the game are clear: “I was wondering why interesting things had never happened in my life, as they did in books. I thought I could create my own adventure, a story, and then invite people to participate”. His passion for novels and manga led that format to success first in Asia, conquering Beijing, Shanghai, and Singapore, and then, thanks to a friend, Takao also subjugated the US after the opening of the first room in San Francisco.

The idea began to spread and soon similar experiences were born all over the world. In Europe, it dates back to 2011 in Hungary and in 2015, finally, in Turin, Italy. Even so, the connection between the game and escaping emerged much earlier. In fact, it goes back to the origin of game creation.

In his theory about the origin of the Etruscan people, Herodotus describes the birth of the game of dice, the inventors, and most importantly, the reasons behind its creation.

The story took place in Lydia, an ancient region located in Asia Minor (Anatolia, currently the Turkish provinces of Manisa and Smyrna), where a severe famine occurred during the reign of King Atis. At first, people were able to survive without food, but as they saw the situation was not going to change, they were forced to find alternative solutions. Hence they decided to use the sheep’s knuckles as four-sided dice and invented a game with simple rules. Since then, they alternated a day to play dice, a day to eat, and so on.

The collective participation in the games distracted people from thinking about the lack of food over many days, so in that way, the population managed to survive for another eighteen years.

Time passed, but as the situation remained unchanged, King Atis decided to play his last move.

He divided all the people in half, and then by drawing lots he decided who remained in Lydia, and which of the two parts had to leave that land. The remaining half headed by King Atis continued living on the resources available. The son of Atis, Tirreno, went down to the sea with the other half of the population and, after building boats, they sailed to the west coast of the Italian peninsula. There they founded a new civilization, the Etruscans.

It should be noted that experts are still looking for pieces of evidence to prove the existence of famine and genetic links between the Etruscans and the Lydians. As in this case, we cannot be sure of the veracity of this story, as well as in all the stories of Herodotus. Either way, our interest is not that much in the historical facts, but mainly in the role of the game in the entire story. The tale has a strongly metaphorical and evocative language, so the famine could represent any type of threat against which people would have had very few tools in the event of a pandemic: on the one hand research to discover techniques adequate to defeat evil, on the other hand, the waiting in the hope of containing the phenomenon and limiting the damages.

The invention of the dice game, at first, represents just this: the use of the resources available to create a new way of spending time, keeping your body and mind occupied in order not to feel hungry and not to be discouraged.

A game to escape suffering.

It is the epilogue to the story which shows the most interesting side of this invention.

Playing time is not a waste of time. We can imagine, in fact, those eighteen years of dice games have helped the Lidi with developing skills and competencies to solve their problems.

The same skills allowed Tirreno to complete a long journey and thus save their culture.

It takes a little imagination, then, to believe that the escape rooms are not only an invention older than you think but also that, somehow, they can be considered the first games to be created.