I just fought my way up a wind tunnel, scrambled
through a ventilation duct, clambered across 40 yards of rope netting,
rolled under a fence, and burrowed through a mass of grapefruit-sized
plastic spheres. Now I’m facing two doors. One leads to freedom. The
other to a room with something nasty in it, possibly involving torture.

I’ve got a full sweat going, my pulse is hammering, and the
countdown on my wrist-mounted navigation unit tells me I’m running out
of time. Minutes ago, a pictogram flashed up at me on a video monitor.
Now I have to match it to one of a dozen symbols on a column between
the two doors. Pick the correct one and I’m free. Mess up and I’m
toast. I make my choice. Bzzzt. The door to my right swings open to reveal a large chair bristling with wires and leather straps.

Until this moment, I thought I had mastered La Fuga.

This medieval-looking electric chair sits deep inside an old bank in Madrid. The building has been remodeled to house La Fuga, a real-life role-playing game. Think of La Fuga
(The Escape) as a $20 million cross between Halo and laser tag. The
goal is simple: Decipher visual riddles to navigate and escape Mazzina,
a high tech prison.

The company behind La Fuga is called Négone. It was
founded by a sister-and-brother team, network engineer Silvia Garcia
Alonso and former investment banker Jorge, who owned a piece of a
dotcom that sold to Yahoo! for $400 million. They put their share of
the money into live immersive gaming, starting Négone in 2002 and
opening La Fuga last October. "There were lots of
advances in in-home entertainment," Silvia says, "but in real-world
entertainment, there was nothing happening."

A standard first-person shooter was one option, but the duo wanted
something more cinematic. "There are certain plots that work again and
again," Silvia says. "Finding treasure, a robbery, a big escape. The
idea I think we all have when we see these movies is that it would be
great to be the main character."

Creating the game presented both physical and intellectual
challenges: They needed to erect a maze of steel and exposed concrete,
and they needed to build a database to track the progress of each
player through the labyrinth. Négone’s coders didn’t have to worry
about writing the sort of physics-simulation software used in
videogames, but Silvia says the logic engine – which keeps track of
who’s where in the building and what they’re doing – gave her fits.
"For video RPGs, you can use an off-the-shelf game engine, the way EA
or Id does," she says. "But there’s nothing that could handle all the
kinds of data we need to use, so we had to build it ourselves." Now
that the Madrid facility is operational, the company is focusing on
opening a game center in Manhattan early next year – with plans for 60
more worldwide in the next decade.

I pay 15 euros, set up an account, and receive a
navigational unit with a networked PDA and an RFID chip that I strap to
my forearm. The chip tracks my progress through the prison.

I have three lives – three incorrect test answers – before the
system will spit me back into the lobby. A kiosk scans the RFID chip in
my wrist unit, and I head down a set of stairs and through a dark
passageway into a room lined with steel. From a 17-inch flat­screen, a
severe-looking woman with slicked-back hair tells me I’ve been assigned
for reprogramming. Everything’s in Spanish. I’m accompanied by a
translator, but I need no help getting the gist: Resistance is futile.

By Josh McHugh