A teenage girl from New York’s Lower East Side has set up an online escape room for her sisters and friends to enjoy a virtual reality movie or to talk to strangers in the comfort of their own rooms.
Sarah Jones, 15, a junior at Queens College, started Escape Room, a virtual room in which friends can meet and interact online with strangers who have been diagnosed with mental health issues.
The room, located on a virtual computer in her dormitory at Queens Community College, has been used to meet new friends and hang out in virtual spaces since Jones first heard about it.
Jones, who is autistic, has anorexia, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She is also a member of the autism community, and has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
“The room is my sanctuary,” Jones said in an interview.
“When I want to meet someone, I go into my room and start playing.”
Jones said that while she doesn’t know the exact number of people who have gone through the virtual room, it’s probably about 100 people.
“I was kind of hoping that maybe people would like the idea,” Jones added.
“But I’m not sure how to get them to actually sign up.”
The rooms are open to people with autism spectrum disorders, but only people with severe or ongoing conditions are eligible to enter the room.
Jones said that she’s trying to open the rooms to people who are able to communicate with the virtual strangers and to allow them to talk about their problems.
“We can talk about all kinds of things, like their depression, their anxiety, their mental health problems, how they are coping with social anxiety and how they want to improve their life,” Jones told The Washington Times.
Jones said she first heard of the virtual rooms when she was living in the city’s East Village neighborhood.
She said she would often go into her room and see a friend in distress.
“My life was very different, so it was very hard for me to deal with,” Jones explained.
“I had to go into the room, talk to the person and have the room open to me.”
Jones says the virtual space is a way for her to be in her own world, where she can share her struggles and be heard.
“Sometimes I have to be a little quiet, just in case someone needs me,” Jones shared.
“It can be challenging, but I try to be supportive of them, just to make sure they’re okay and that they’re safe.”
Jones hopes to make the virtual environment more accessible for other people with mental illnesses.
“When I see someone who has a disability, I think about it, and I try not to think about their disability, but the disability of their friends and the people around them,” Jones continued.
“So if I can have the virtual community around me that I can be myself, I want my friends to have the same experience.”
Jones is one of the few people in the Lower East Siderm in New York City who is actively exploring the virtual worlds.
She and her friends live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, and the group has been hosting parties for over a year.
“People are still not comfortable with the idea of being in a virtual space, but we’ve definitely seen a lot of positive reactions,” Jones’ friend, Alyssa Hough, said.
“Everyone is super into it,” Hough added.
“There’s this weird vibe of people hanging out in the virtual world.
It’s definitely a fun experience to be around.”
Hough, who also lives in Brooklyn, said that her friends were “trying to figure out how to make this happen.”
“It was kind to see the reactions from the girls who are just like, ‘Hey, how did you guys do?’ and ‘How are you guys doing?'”
“There’s definitely people who really enjoy the experience.”
Hugh said she believes that virtual spaces are an important tool for people with disabilities to explore, share their thoughts and experiences, and build community.
“You can do it with friends and family and have a real community around it,” she said.
Jones hopes that other people in her situation can also find the virtual spaces that she has created.
“Maybe this will encourage them to come out and try it out for themselves,” Jones, said of her virtual spaces.
“If we can make it as accessible as possible, I’d love to see more people in our situation.”
Jones’ virtual room was featured in the HBO series “Girls” as a part of a series of events hosted by a nonprofit called the Virtual Family.