Room escapes have made their way into reality television… That didn’t take long.
Chris M. Dickson of Exit Games UK summed up the show succinctly:
“Two teams of three strangers compete to escape identical rooms; the first team to escape within 60 minutes wins a cash prize. Escape within 20 minutes and win $25,000; take longer than that and the money starts to tick away at $500 per minute. Optional clues reduce the potential prize by $5,000 each. Based on a sample of a single episode, the actual show lives up well to the considerable potential. There is remarkably little messing about and the show gets straight to the action. The rooms are the true stars and look gorgeous. The puzzles are… not the most original things in the world, but sufficiently well-designed to impress and look like they have had more money spent on them than could be found in (almost all?) escape games’ budgets.”
My initial reaction
All I wanted to do the whole show was play (kind of how I wanted to play Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? when I watched it as a kid).
On one hand, that probably speaks well of the show. On the other hand, it really underscored how much I’d rather be solving a puzzle than watching someone else solve a puzzle. At least when I watched Carmen Sandiego I could shout answers at the TV for every question, and kind of play along. This show doesn’t give the audience much opportunity to play along (although I really really wanted the players to brute-force that first puzzle after they had retrieved three balls).
What does this show mean for the escape game community?
There are a couple of puzzles in this game that require players to break things. As a player I thought this was pretty cool, but at the same time I would have needed explicit permission to damage things. Destruction of someone else’s property really isn’t in my nature.
I think that escape game owners are going to have to work harder to make it clear to their players that breaking things isn’t acceptable. If new players have only seen this show, it’s logical to assume that they will believe that breakage is part of the game.
We’ve seen the typewriter-turned-enigma machine a few times… I’m betting that some companies are wondering if they need to change their game after watching this episode.
My guess is that after a season of this show every escape game company is going to have to deeply reconsider some of their puzzles. I’m betting that there will be a few owners who resort to public outrage (because a handful of escape game owners believe they invented all of the ideas and anyone who uses something similar must have copied them).
Up your game
While my reaction to these puzzles was mixed, I think they generally reflect a higher level of variety, complexity, and physical interactivity than most middle-of-the-road escape games offer. If watching this show didn’t make you feel like you needed to up your game, then your games are either incredible or you should probably reconsider your approach to business.
New players who know of escape rooms through Race to Escape will feel let down by a room that is mostly hardware store locks and a black light.
Race to Escape has potentially the lamest hinting system I’ve ever seen.
All or nothing is weak.
As a viewer, it’s boring to watch.
As a player it means that you get to completely bypass a challenge which means that there is a whole section of game that you don’t get to test your mettle against.
Made for TV
Everything about this show was optimized for camera. Puzzle elements were mounted high on the walls, and relevant items and fonts were big.
It also seems like the players must have been instructed to follow the linear path of the game and avoid general scavenging.
If they didn’t do it this way, the game would likely make for messy television.
Psychology and strategy lessons
The show justifies its existence on the Science Channel by peppering in little psychology lessons to describe player behavior. This was probably my favorite part of the game. As a player who loves dissecting the intricacies of the puzzles, the minds that designed then, and the people who play them, this was great.
And as a player who hates it when my teammates panic and start blindly guessing every number they see in the room, I would encourage escape game players to reflect on how lame it looked when the players in this game were doing it. It’s always important to relax and realize that if you’re in a well-designed room, the answers will be clear, and derived from solving a puzzle.
Race to Escape is a pretty fun show. The payouts for players are a joke, but this really seems like it’s for the love of the game.
I’m curious to see how they keep it fresh and interesting.