Rage rooms: Smash things, 'move on, let go'

‘Cathartic’ rage rooms welcome customers to break objects, relieve stress


Toasters. Computers. TV screens. Old furniture.

These are the kinds of discarded everyday objects that customers who are riled up — or who are just seeking some fun — can smash, shatter and rough up at rage rooms in Denver.

It’s a phenomenon that may have become popular in Japan in 2008, according to national news outlets. Since then, rage rooms have spread to countries worldwide, including to many cities in the United States.

Drew Neilson, an owner and founder of Smash It Breakroom, went to a rage room in Australia. As he waited for one to come to Denver, he and co-founder Dustin Gagne decided to make it themselves.

“There’s a feeling of lawlessness and freedom that goes with it,” Neilson, 37, said. “But it’s just plain fun.”

At the pair’s rage room in southwest Denver, customers can take a crowbar, baseball bat, sledgehammer and other intense tools to lay waste to objects provided for them, such as a car hood. The business — which just opened near the start of September — sees upbeat events such as bachelorette parties, birthdays, corporate events and couples’ date nights, but it’s often a way for people to relieve stress from sources such as their jobs, Neilson said.

“It can get pretty heavy sometimes — divorces, family members passing away,” Gagne said of what can be on customers’ minds when they arrive.

Sources of stress in today’s society could explain the rise in popularity of rage rooms, Gagne said, a sentiment that Shawn Worthy, a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, echoed.

General frustration arising from lack of upward economic mobility in the country could play into that, said Worthy, a professor of human services with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

“I think particularly our youth, young people, don’t have a lot of outlets,” said Worthy, adding that traditional outlets for emotions from generations past may be less common. “They spend lots of time on video games and technology, where maybe past generations might have been playing sports outdoors, where you would have been able to demonstrate those urges in an acceptable way.”

Taking out frustration by breaking objects can be viewed as an example of a coping mechanism called sublimation, Worthy said.

“Sublimation means taking a socially unacceptable impulse and using that impulse in a more socially acceptable way,” Worthy said. It’s similar to “someone going to a boxing gym or kickboxing class,” he added, and it yields a temporary emotional benefit.

For some, the mark a rage room can leave may be more permanent: some customers come at turning points in their lives, Neilson said, bringing childhood toys and other objects they don’t want to simply throw away.

“This gives them a process to move on and let go. In a lot of ways, it can be celebratory, (such as) college kids getting rid of furniture when they graduate,” Neilson said.

Carlos Malache, 27, recently came to Smash It Breakroom with his wife and some friends who enjoyed the stress-relief side of the activity.

“My wife’s a teacher, and some of our friends are teachers,” said Malache, who lives in Castle Rock. “They have stressful jobs, and they don’t always get the recognition.”

At another establishment with a rage room — Axe Whooping, an ax-throwing location — stressors take a front seat, too. People can write out their frustrations in chalk on the wall before letting them out, said Curtis Roundtree, the business’s owner and co-founder.

“A lot of people have said it’s really cathartic,” Roundtree said of the rage room. His business at 437 N. Broadway has been open for ax-throwing for about two months, and its rage room has been open for a month.

For Malache, rage rooms — much like Denver’s “cat cafe” — are another out-of-the-box attraction.

“I like seeking out these weird things to do, especially in Denver because there are these unorthodox things you can do,” Malache said. “I think that’s what makes the city special.”


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