“Your lungs are burning. Your heart still races from the intensity of the attack. The smell of burning gasoline and tires still drawing tears from your eyes. It’s okay... you are okay now… you’re safe in this Mall.”
3:30pm, Saturday, May 27th - Long Island City
Upon arrival to a nondescript warehouse in LIC, we meet with up three other players to begin our experience. Escorting us during a short walk to the staging area itself, founder Dan Gomez explains his goal for Frist Person Xperience RED – it is one part post-apocalyptical thriller, one part interactive theater, a dash of survival horror, and set with strong first-person-shooter video game undertones throughout. Notably, Dan indicates that there are an array of different possible “endings”, depending on which choices the players make throughout the event.
After entrance into the warehouse, we were debriefed in a starkly white-paneled room backlit by irradiating, neon lighting. Here, we are led through a basic safety and procedural briefing by EVE, an assistant dressed entirely in a white latex jumpsuit, whose robotic cadence and clinical demeanor helped aid in the immersion. After being fully briefed, we were instructed to put on blinders that fully blocked out our vision, and then split up and each of us were escorted into different rooms within the main setting – The Mall.
Alone and in total darkness, I began to feel a strange sense of paranoia that built as a voiceover set the stage – as a survivor of a mysterious apocalyptic event that has plunged the world into frenetic disorder reminiscent to that of The Walking Dead, I have found my way to a mall nearby, where I only have one nebulous goal: to survive.
As soon as the narration ends, I take off the blinders, and I immediately take stock of where I am; it seems like I’ve been left in a decrepit section of the walled-off canned foods aisle. The lights are flickering, and there’s a gnawing sense of unease in the air. Not knowing what to expect, I collect the necessities – water, canned food, some rope. Suddenly, I hear some noise, and as I exit the initial room, I’m relieved to find my fellow survivors, with whom I came. We quickly explore the other rooms in the Mall, and build a flashlight from component parts, which is critical in the shadowy Mall. As we search for information, there is a commotion, and – without spoiling too much – there are new survivors, played by various actors and actresses, who enter the Mall.
It’s important to note that First Person Xperience RED is not an escape room. While escape rooms are more puzzle-driven, First Person Xperience RED instead opts for a more interpersonal experience. As such, in my personal experience, the event was less about figuring out a way to progress, and more about gathering information and trying to coax information out of the new parties – though your mileage may vary depending on how successful you are. As such, it’s necessary to interact with all the actors and actresses, and ask questions, communicate with your fellow teammates clearly and frequently, and make decisions as a group.
What ensues over the next hour is hard to describe. The goal is to survive – with the main decision being whether to barricade oneself in the Mall, or to flee. But the wildcard is the new survivors who arrive. It’s difficult to decide who to trust. Conflict quickly ensues, as incongruous accounts of the quickly developing narrative come to light. At least one of the new survivors must be lying. More than one of them are trying to split up our group – to pit us against each other. On one memorable occasion, one of the new survivors isolates me from the group and gives me a key piece of information about the secrets of the apocalypse; I pursue the conversation thread, which unravels and gives us a new clue hidden in plain sight. Given this new information, we as a group argued and had to determine how credible it was, and what course of action we should take. Should we stay in the Mall; should we try to escape?
At the climax of the storyline, the actors freeze mid-action, and we are escorted out, left with more questions than answers. After debriefing among ourselves, we realize that we all had slightly different experiences. EVE gives us a formal debrief, and sends along a story fragment that answers a couple questions, but leaves most unanswered. Some of us were a bit confused and left unsatisfied by the abrupt ending, the cliffhanger. But perhaps that is the conceit; as Dan puts it, the only way to unlock the full story and experience the different endings is to reboot, and play again.
We were guests of First Person Xperience, however, the opinions are our own. To learn more about RED visit firstpersonxperience.com.