Real-Life Escape Rooms
Not all of my game design experience has been confined to video games. Last year I was contracted to design some scenarios and puzzles for a real-life Escape Room. What’s an Escape Room, you ask? An Escape Room is kind of a physical adventure game in which people are locked in a room with other participants and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within a set time limit.
I”ve participated in a couple of Escape Rooms when doing research for my client. One Escape Room was a very story-oriented one in Los Angeles in which the scenario was that we were a team investigating what happened to members of a scientific lab. We had to figure out how to turn on the power to the room, so that we could activate the computers and lab equipment, which provided further clues about what to do next to solve the mystery.
I’ve also participated in two Escape Room scenarios in San Francisco. One of these had a bit of a story, and the other one was strictly about the puzzles.
In each of these, people made reservations with the company running the escape room to play at a particular time. I was one of 4 participants in the LA game, and one of 10-12 participants in the SF game.
In each game, we were lead into a room containing furniture and props. Some of the puzzles were implicit — we had to figure out how to turn on a power supply or open a door by figuring out the combination. Others were explicitly — we found a set of instructions telling us what to do. Some of the puzzles involved solving riddles, putting items in the correct order, finding a set of objects hidden in the room, solving math or logic puzzles. Each room had one or more “main” puzzles (such as a crossword or order puzzle) that required information from the individual puzzles.
Eventually, all of the puzzles, if you are successful, leads to the finding of a key for opening the door, or solving a mystery that will cause the host to open the door for you. You must solve the final puzzle in a series of puzzles within a time limit (one hour) in order to win the game. In the San Francisco rooms, we were given the statistics that only about 1% of players actually “escape” form the rooms.
Players receive very few instructions for playing the Escape rooms. People run around looking for puzzles to solve and then solve them, often in groups of 2 or 3. Often a leader will emerge in the group who will coordinate things. There was always a silent host or video camera keeping an eye on us to make sure we didn’t break anything.
Everyone reported they had a good time in each of my experiences. It’s great for people who like puzzles, and a novel social activity.
As for the Escape Room I worked on, I never found out what happened with it once I completed my work. Probably, like other start-ups, it was never able to escape past the first few puzzles of the conceptualization stage.