A few weeks ago, Yuan Chaojun quit his well-paid job with a trading company in Shanghai and started teaching people how to "escape from rooms."
Room escape is a real-life adventure game, during which "imprisoned" players are required to escape from "dungeons," "prisons" and mysterious cells by solving puzzles and connecting clues within a fixed period of time.
The venue where Yuan works is in downtown Shanghai, and his job is to explain the plot of the game to players before the game begins, warn them of possible dangers and help the gamers if they find it difficult to "escape." After the game, he is also responsible for putting all the equipment back where it belongs.
"Room escape is very exciting because it allows people to play different roles and experience another life for a short time," said Yuan, 29. "Although time is limited, it is very good way to release stress from work and school."
Room escape reportedly originated in Silicon Valley in 2006 and is said to have been inspired by the novels of Agatha Christie.
Mixed with excitement, challenges and fear of the unknown, the game has become quite popular in China.
In Shanghai alone, more than 200 locations offer such adventures. Across the country, thousands of these escape rooms with various themes have sprung up.
Room escape attracts people from all walks of life. Yang Shuyu is among them.
Yang previously worked for an online gaming company, but, along with his wife, he switched to creating room escape games at "Magic Cube" in 2013.
"The industry is essentially about gaming, which I love, but it is utterly different from online games," Yang said.
Within only four years, Magic Cube shot to fame in Shanghai, and now Yang operates five spaces in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing, plus three franchises, including one in London. Each venue has a different theme, and two of them won awards this year for originality.
Stress relief is one of the major reasons why these games are so popular, Yang said.
"Tired, stressed-out Chinese urbanites, particularly young people, want to meet friends, chat and find some interesting activities," Yang said. "That's why room escape has become a new way of partying, following karaoke, video and board games," he said.
Room escape often requires group thinking, making it a good alternative for some companies' team-building activities.
Ye Kai works for a film production company. He and his colleagues recently took on a room escape theme called "Assassin," and only made it out "with the help of everyone."
"The game gave me a strong sense of involvement and teamwork," Ye said. "I will definitely come back and try other themes."
But the escape games are not without their critics as they expand, even into residential districts.
According to Shanghai's "Labor Daily", a venue opened in a basement in a residential area in Shanghai's Jing'an District recently, attracting a big number of devoted fans to the area. Local residents expressed irritation as the door is constantly open.
"How can our safety be guaranteed if they allow these random strangers into our community freely?" said one concerned resident.
The game developer apologized for the inconvenience after the newspaper broke the story last week.
"We are thinking about employing security guards at the entrance to check our customers," said the developer. "We want people to have fun. It was never our intention to disturb the neighborhood."