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A day in the life of…… A CGI Escape Room Gamesmaster!

Written by Katie Roden

People are excellent at talking. We talk about all sorts of things all the time. When it comes to important decisions, we spend hours deliberating and working out pros and cons. Communication is vital, but we run out of time to take action if we spend too long talking. This is often the case for topics of the utmost importance. As an industry, we frequently discuss education and how we are inducting the next generation of potential candidates into STEM and Cyber. We all know a delta between the number of candidates available and the sheer volume of roles our industry advertises. So, naturally, we talk about it. It’s an important topic, so why wouldn’t we? But, what are we doing to tackle this challenge?

CGI created Cyber Escape to help employees, schools, clients and anyone else who wanted to give it a try understand potential cyber security risks. The aim was to create a fun and engaging way of learning.

There were four key focus areas for the escape room:

• Phishing

• Physical Security

• Social Media

• Attack Mitigation

Just as the Cheltenham Science Festival was in full swing, the CGI Escape Room landed at All Saints Academy. This was the inaugural excursion from its home of Chippenham. We were excited to get groups through it to put it to the test and see the value it could offer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to detail the challenges and what tasks are in the escape room. That would spoil the fun! But, the aim is to escape within 60 minutes

As one of the games masters (GM) facilitating, I was there multiple times a week throughout its visit. The role of the GM was to introduce the groups to challenge, set the scene, watch the groups and offer support if they hit major blockers and debrief the group at the end of the session. After each run was complete, GMs had to reset everything and, because of the joy that is COVID-19, clean EVERYTHING. All so this could be repeated for the next group.

The first week was an unprecedented heatwave in the UK, and with the escape room being in a metal shipping container, this led to some unforeseen challenges that added to the GM role. We needed to ensure that the escape room didn’t get too hot (strategic fans everywhere), we set up a shaded area for the introduction and debrief to allow groups to get some respite for the sun, we learned that locks and keys could sometimes get a lot harder to turn when the metal in the mechanism has slightly expanded due to the heat. But what is a live performance without a few teething problems, and luckily, Great British Summertime being what it is, we soon returned to the cooler, rainier climate that we’re all used to, and all those problems went away.

I have to say that it was hard not to get caught up in the game aspect. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience, and I found it great to see how the different groups adapted to the different learning environments. For example, it seemed that student groups approached the tasks very differently from the adult groups. Team dynamics changed with the tasks; some natural leaders are demonstrating their skills for delegation while other self-organising teams used utterly different communication styles. We had groups who were already heavily embedded in STEM subjects and some novices who were giving it a go. Groups of 5 (the max for COVID compliance), groups of 3 or 4, teachers, students, adults, clients, friends; I don’t think any two groups tackled the escape room in the same way. All of this was truly fascinating to watch.

After each run-through, we debriefed participants and emphasised the challenges focused on and how they connected to the key learning outcomes. This quickly and naturally transitioned into questions about Cyber and our roles within the industry. And oh boy, did we get questions! We also got so much feedback. All Saints Academy teachers told us that school students were contacting them asking how they could go on the escape room. There were discussions in the playground about which team got the higher score or which teams escaped and which didn’t. The teachers were booking some of the after school sessions because they didn’t want the kids to have all the fun! Some non-school bookings were made as a result of groups hearing about other groups doing it and wanting to have a go. People were talking about the CGI who had never previously heard of us.

I started this piece by highlighting we talk a lot – that’s not a bad thing. Now, we need to start doing more. Together! If the CGI Cyber Escape demonstrates anything, its shows that the way we engage matters! To get this many questions from an hour activity, imagine what we could do if we, as an industry, contributed similar ideas to the curriculum or engaged with the public less abstractly.

CyNam, CyberFirst, UKC3, the Golden Valley Development and Cheltenham Science Festival are fantastic platforms for coming together and solving problems. We could address the recruitment and talent crisis we see in our industry. We could address real-life challenges that people experience daily. We could do something completely new and different. But…
In order to do any of this, we have to change the way we think about these problems and work together to resolve them.

4 weeks, 63 school groups, 28 adult groups, 1 CGI Cyber Escape and a new way of thinking moving forwards?