Full disclosure: I only solved three of the seven tasks that the Desert Survival Challenge threw at me in 15 minutes. That is about as lucky as I usually get, as escape rooms go, before I need to call one of the supervisors to give me a handy hint and then proceed to save the lives, earn the money or reach whatever treasure lies at the end of the game.
This new one is different for two reasons: it takes place online, so is more challenging as there are no clue-givers; and it aims to make players more aware of their relationship with nature and make a pledge to protect wildlife. For instance, it has players click to pick up plastic bottles, fruit peels and other rubbish, and place it in the correct recycling and composting bins. A clutch of eggs, when clicked upon, reveal that a female houbara bustard bird is close by and should not be disturbed.
Elsewhere, bumper stickers placed on a 4x4 unveil important messages: don’t disturb the wildlife; there is no planet B; noise is also pollution and so on.
As players seek to escape a sandstorm in the Arabian Desert, they make their way to a shelter where, through various puzzles and riddles, they will learn the importance of keeping the environment clean, and how loud sounds and bright lights impact wildlife, as well as learning more about the houbara and its habitat.
The Desert Survival Challenge is the UAE’s first conservation-themed 3D virtual escape room, launched to coincide with World Habitat Day on October 5, by the Connect with Nature organisation and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation. The former, which is a collaboration between Emirates Nature-WWF and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, has previously put up an award-winning physical escape room, but turned to a virtual version owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The idea is to “use gamification to help boost awareness around sustainability among the youth in the UAE”. Gamers can also tag three friends on social media to challenge them to beat their time, thus adding to the appeal and, hopefully, the awareness.
How to play
- Log on to Connect with Nature and click the "learn more" tab under the Desert Survival pop-up. The game works best from a desktop web browser.
- Create a log-in ID, read instructions under the 'How to play' tag and click the Start button.
- Peruse the briefing video for an introduction to the scene and story.
- Begin the challenge and use your environment-friendly instincts and out-of-the-box thinking to tackle the seven challenges within the 15-minute time limit.