One of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life was to throw a party for about 15 people in 2004. Though they were friends of mine, they weren’t all familiar with each other. And, unwittingly, they were to be guinea pigs in my first murder mystery game.
It’s always the butler:Mystery woman Riti (centre) adds a twist to life
One of those present would be “murdered” during the evening, and the rest of them would have to solve the crime. The plot, the characters and the solution all came out of my head, and the game was free-form: I had no idea whether it would move in the way I had imagined.
By the end of the party, everyone had just one question: When can we do this again?
Right from childhood, I had enjoyed reading mysteries, with Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie among my favourites. Then my daughter, Amala, came along. When she was about four years old, I began inventing crime games that involved role plays and scenarios such as tracking down an imaginary burglar. Somewhere along the way, my love for crime fiction and role-playing games came together, and mystery games came into being.
I tried out my idea on Harish Bijoor, an old friend and brand consultant. He thought it was a great plan. So I created my first game, called a group of friends over…and suddenly, I was India’s first mystery exercise designer.
For 15 years, I had been a journalist, covering everything from politics to crime. I began by using that experience to create mystery plots. So there might be a Veerappan-like hostage crisis or a legendary Bollywood actress in an audition that goes wrong. In single space mysteries, people play characters in a whodunnit. Typically, people pick parts at random, dress themselves up with our props—a politician could get a khadi topi and a doctor receive a toy stethoscope and a white coat—and are handed info sheets that tell them about their characters (“you are corrupt politician Jhootbole’s wife and you collect the bribes on his behalf. Jhootbole has an illegal business connection with the bandit.”)
At a later stage, they learn about their motives, pick up clues to solve the mystery or get information about other characters that they can use for negotiation or collaboration. Our actor-facilitators play characters that energize and engage wallflowers. They also help keep the mystery on track. Since there is no script, each mystery plays out differently every single time.
In the outdoor games, our actors become suspects in a pulse-pounding mystery, while participants play detectives and get hands-on experience of investigation, lifting fingerprints and footprints, matching them to suspects and so on. We also have some pure entertainment mysteries for larger groups of people.
When we started, all I knew for certain was that the live murder mystery form would excite and engage people, and I thought both corporates and social parties would use them. But from the word go, corporates have pushed the envelope.
Watching the mysteries play out over the first couple of years, I realized that they lent themselves well to soft-skill training workshops and team-building exercises. So, we partnered with a couple of training houses, and now offer training packages for clients.
A murder mystery situation, which is so not everyday, helps everyone involved to stand outside themselves and look afresh at their thoughts and actions. After a game, our trainers help participants understand and explain behavioural patterns. Very often, realization and self-awareness come from the individuals themselves.
From 2004 till today, Riti’s Murder Games has expanded its database and the structure and types of the mystery programmes. Gratifyingly, we’ve never had a flop show—or a game in which the murderer got away.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee.
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