Elizabeth Sturgeon, Columnist
It’s very common for me to scroll through Instagram and see a trendy group of teenagers who survived a kidnapping or a volcanic explosion at Breakout Birmingham, where small groups are challenged to find their way out of a real life situation in under an hour.
Everyone who completes a simulated adventure at Breakout Birmingham is sure to post a picture on social media. This escape game chain locks a group of eight people in a room and challenges participants to decipher clues and unlock codes in order to escape. It’s a thrill plus a photo-op at the end.
There’s something disturbing about rich kids paying to be kidnapped while human trafficking is a $32 billion industry. How has Breakout become a Birmingham staple while the I-20 hotspot between Birmingham and Atlanta is the largest center for human trafficking in the United States? While I shelled out $24 for a ticket this summer, the WellHouse, a Birmingham women’s shelter for trafficking victims, struggle to have enough beds and to keep victims safe under Alabama law.
Americans forget that slavery still exists in the United States, yet it is the fastest-growing criminal industry. About 42 percent of girls in the trafficking industry are younger than 18 at entry – almost the same age group that is most excited about Breakout Birmingham.
I have been to Breakout, and I admit that cracking the last code with 44 seconds left was an amazing rush. The Breakout business is inside our heads. It’s a perfectly set up corporation, but many refuse to look past the photo-ops, T-shirts and the pure thrill of escaping. Escape is some romantic, adrenaline-pumped idea that modern Americans have learned to cherish. Horror movies with recycled plotlines make millions of dollars, murderous video games grow more graphic by each release date and now teenagers pay to see what abduction is like.
Kids love adrenaline, but the wound-up energy boost under pressure is meant for survival. It seems as if Americans are so safe that they crave just a taste of danger. However, the danger we seek is becoming progressively darker, moving beyond just adventure.
I’m not telling everyone in Birmingham to avoid life on the edge, but we must be aware of how numb we are to horror. Although I went into the game loathing the rip-off, with some crafty technology and exciting teamwork, it was easy for me to forget that dangerous situations actually exist.
Without knowing that slavery still exists in the United States, young adults are letting insensitive fun take control. The realization that catchy photo-ops and free stickers draw us can prevent places like Breakout Birmingham from turning into corporate schemes.
Whether you jump on the escape bandwagon or invest your $24 into your own scavenger hunt business, at least know that there are people who may not be so lucky as to break out of danger in a perfectly guided hour-long experience.