NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, February 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It…
AUDIO: Now might be a really good time for you to get angry. That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.
Now, if you’ve ever wished you could release your frustration Hulk-style, today may be your day. Rage rooms are all the rage, but because it’s a new thing, there’s just a handful across the country.
EICHER: The concept is simple: You pay money to go into a room and make like a superhero with unresolved issues, about to offer his own sort-of green new deal to the bad guys.
REICHARD: WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen visited a rage room in Chicago to find out more.
ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Before you can start bashing things with a sledgehammer, you have to stop by the prep room. White walls. Black marker. From floor to ceiling, the walls are covered with scrawled messages.
LUPA: Here’s a good one. “You deserve to be seen and heard; start here.”
Everyone who visits the rage room gets a chance to write something. Owner Joe Lupa says that some of the messages are positive. Others…are not. He can’t read them out loud because of the language.
LUPA: I know a lot of these are very angry. I wanted to find a good quote for you. I know there’s a lot of mean ones…
But all of them show some kind of strong emotion: anger, sorrow, fear, joy.
LUPA: We get a lot of medical or cancer survivors come down. We also get a lot of girlfriends who have been cheated on or, you know, had some kind of relationship issues that come down a lot. But we really see it all. If we want to go this way, we can come out here…
The smashing happens in a small red room. One wall is bashed in and you can see the wooden studs underneath. Around the edge of the room lie the shattered remains of electronics, pottery, and glassware.
AUDIO: [Crunching and smashing]
People can bring their own objects to break, or they can buy pieces from the stockroom. There are plates, records, computers… just about anything that will shatter.
Tyler Sutherland and Anastasia Lennikova have opted to bring in their own junk. Tre Daniels gets them started.
DANIELS: If you want to break things, destroy things, crush things, whatever you want to do, we ask you do it towards that wall…
Sutherland pulls on a leather jacket and gloves, then grabs a paintball mask. He peruses the rack of weapons before choosing a baseball bat, a sledge hammer, and a crow bar.
He asks Daniels to play songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack while he smashes.
Rage rooms started in Japan more than a decade ago and quickly spread worldwide. According to Lupa, the experience appeals to a diverse group of people. The CFO of Spotify stopped by and brought some top executives for a team-building exercise.
LUPA: We get everything in between from, you know, people who are just looking to have a fun date night to, you know, we’ve had grieving mothers and things of that nature.
Roosevelt McMullan has worked in this rage room for about a year.
MCMULLAN: I had a customer come in, his son had committed suicide. So he went in there, stomped a printer, and he felt amazing afterward. He could let out certain emotions couldn’t channel through regular means.
Sometimes counselors even schedule sessions for their clients. Yes, you heard that right: counselors encouraging people to smash things. According to Ken Gates, it’s not all that uncommon…
GATES: It feels good in the moment. There may be a part of it that is helpful because it’s, you know, if I can go over here and smash this as opposed to smashing a hole in my own wall, that can be helpful.
Ken Gates is a Christian counselor who specializes in relationships, trauma, and anxiety.
GATES: Smashing things may give you an immediate relief, but it is in no way a long-term solution. That’s not actually getting into the root of why am I angry…
Some psychiatrists worry that rage rooms could promote violent behavior and reinforce negative coping mechanisms. After all, if someone comes to break things when they’re stressed or frustrated, they might be tempted to do that at home or at work.
And there’s another question: how should Christians deal with anger?
GATES: So on a Biblical level, anger that is nurtured in such a way that would lead me to harm somebody else is significantly problematic. That does not fit in the kingdom of God, right? So I don’t think actually it would be appropriate for a Christian, if, for example, I went to a rage room to go break something and I was envisioning a person, right? I don’t think that reflects the heart of Jesus.
But Gates says smashing things can be beneficial in a different way. It is physical exertion. And physical exertion helps regulate emotion.
GATES: When we’re overwhelmed emotionally, whether it’s anger, whether it’s stress, whether it’s frustration, even sadness, that can be so strong that our brains dis-regulate right? We lose connection with our rational brain. Physical exertion can help regulate us. Kind of get things back into alignment, if you will.
As long as they’re used correctly, Gates says he doesn’t see a problem with rage rooms. After all…
GATES: There is something fun just in destroying things. There just is, right? Because maybe because it’s outside the social norm or because we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect things and build things up. So there’s just some fun in actually doing the opposite of that.
Tyler Sutherland seems to agree. He tosses a mug up in the air, then slams it with his bat.
Anastasia Lennikova and Tre Daniels watch from the observation room.
LENNIKOVA/DANIELS: Oh get the crowbar. Nice!
Lennikova says it’s a little addictive: you want to break more stuff… faster. Daniels says that’s fine:
DANIELS: Do what makes you happy!
At its core, that seems to be the rage room’s purpose. Amidst all the talk about anger management and mental health, Joe Lupa summarized his approach:
LUPA: Rage room makes it seem like you have to, you know, be full of rage and angry, but I promise, it’s just fun to smash stuff…
For WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen reporting from Chicago, Illinois.