Kids, you are going to die! Teenagers too – as the audience is invited to step back in time (to before most were born), and experience the thrilling graphics, fast-paced action and amazing effects of an old-school text-based adventure. Think 2D letters on a screen… sometimes in different colours.
Our host, John Robertson, welcomes us to this literal dark room. With a booming voice, light-up armour and a torch, he guides brave adventurer after brave adventurer on their quest. Choose from one of the four options, progress through the levels, and see if you can beat the game to win £1,000. But don’t worry, if – and more likely, when – you die, there is always a prize from “the table of wonder”.
While the game itself remains the same as the original grown-up Dark Room, the banter is of course pitched differently for a younger audience, and Robertson strikes a good balance of being mean without being genuinely upsetting. There is some mild swearing, a bit of gore and a generally creepy atmosphere, but the suggested age of 12 is spot-on and there were definitely a few 8-year-olds in the audience who enjoyed it.
Although the game itself is very plain and simple, Robertson’s rapport with the audience and numerous ad libs keep it interesting and funny. There are jokes for the adults and innuendos for the kids, who hide their laughter from their parents. The prizes from the “table of wonders” are so terrible as to be hilarious, and Robertson makes the most of that too.
But it's noticeable that, having not been brought up on this type of game, the young people tend to repeat the mistakes of the previous player – choosing the same options again and again rather than trying new ones. Although this is quite frustrating for the adults (and logicians in the room), it has the benefit of giving plenty of young people a turn, and allowing everyone to enthusiastically chant “You die! You die! You die!”.
Similarly, the young people in the audience are all hoping for it to be their turn… so whenever they were asked, they cheered loudly for the death of the player, rather than choosing leniency and the possibility of progress. It grows frustrating, though the truly terrible consolation prizes (presented and received to great amusement) do somewhat make up for the lack of progress.
Robertson's engaging and energetic performance keeps the audience’s attention well, but he struggles to control the room in places – more so as the show progresses and the younger people present become overexcited. Still, it's the flip side of his ability to keep the crowd enthusiastic.
This is a video game experience like no other: a show filled with laughter, bizarre prizes, and slightly ominous chanting, that young people got enthusiastically onboard with. To quote: “You might like playing video games, but this game doesn’t like you!”