How IKEA Has Become A Hide And Seek Battleground

It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but for IKEA it spawned a trend that quickly got out of hand.
How IKEA Has Become A Hide And Seek Battleground

Going to IKEA has become part of the ritual of reaching maturity. Inside the Swedish showrooms, 20-somethings will experience many firsts of adulthood, from buying their first couch to having their first public breakup because how hard is it to write down the right serial number Dwayne now we have to go all the way back. But while its products are designed to cheaply simulate the trappings of being a grownup, its stores are perfectly designed to encourage something far less mature: epic games of hide-and-seek.

Yue Iris, Unsplash

“Nittioatta ... nittionio … hundra!”

The problem with hide-and-seek isn’t that it stops being fun; it’s that you run out of clever places to hide around the house. That’s not an issue in the Escherian nightmare that is the average 500,000 square foot IKEA. While its confusing signs, labyrinthine pathways, and endless rows of identical wardrobes were contrived to mentally wear customers down to the point that spending $100 on a mostly cardboard nightstand feels like a bargain, this also makes the showrooms an epic gauntlet of hidey holes. 

This was first put to the test in 2014 when Belgian Elise De Rijck fulfilled her 30th birthday wish by playing a game of hide-and-seek inside her local IKEA. Either a very clever commentary on how millennials barred access to the housing market has lead to a generationwide arrested development or the kind of basic wackiness concocted by someone who calls herself the Phoebe of her friend group

Initially, IKEA was all on board for the cheap publicity, even hiring extra staff to supervise the viral event as over 500 players hid underneath SÖDERHAMNs, camouflaged themselves with off-brand stuffed toys, and crawled inside those massive blue bags that cut straight through your hand. However, the stunt immediately sparked dozens of copycats. Over the ensuing years, tens of thousands signed up to Facebook Groups hosting similar events in IKEAs across the world, with one group in the Netherlands reaching over 32,000 members. 

The Swedish company had intended this to be a one-and-done kind of publicity stunt, as regularly hosting these games was deemed both too disruptive for regular customers and too dangerous. Because while its showrooms resemble every starter apartment/porn set you’ve ever seen, people tend to forget they’re wandering through an industrial warehouse filled with heavy machinery, unanchored wardrobes, and towering flatpacks that can prove fatal falling on soft skulled skulkers. 

IKEA quickly started cracking down on the childish games, banning both peeking and booing from the stores and even calling the police on one 3,000-person weekend game in Glasgow. This just drove the hide-and-seek scene underground, with players not only hiding from their friends but from security as well. It further transformed the docile game into an internet challenge with hundreds of videos popping on YouTube of tweens showing how big their meatballs are by spending the night inside a closed IKEA, only emerging from their LIATORP drawers when the sun crests.

But much like their minimalist instruction manuals, IKEA has sent a lot of mixed messages to its stance on hide-and-seek games. While condemning any unsanctioned tomfoolery inside of their stores, IKEA has also kept capitalizing on its popularity, ‘forgetting’ to remove IKEA challenge YouTube videos with millions of hits, dropping unsubtle hide-and-seek SEO in its folders, and hosting official “sleepover” events. And leaning into the plausible deniability might pay off even more now that the Swedish company has been accused of illegally spying on customers and employees. But surely, how could they have been secretly surveilling millions if they can’t even keep their eyes on hands full of truant kids jumping on display mattresses all night long?

To get lost in more mazelike tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter

Top Image: kgbo/Wiki Commons

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