On Surrendering Mobile Devices in Room Escapes

A closeup of a hand holding an iPhone. The iPhone's screen says, "FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS" in a dramatic font.

Dear Room Escape Operators,

Y’all know I love you, so you know this is coming from the heart.

You cannot have my cell phone while I play your game. It’s not happening. I’m not giving it to you.

I have a life and a career, and whether I like it or not, my iPhone is essential in holding it all together.

My mobile device is the most valuable thing I carry on me. Not my wallet. Not my keys.

When you’re holding a pretty wooden box with the little diary lock in front of my face, asking that I relinquish my phone to you, the answer is, “No thanks… I’ll just leave it in my pocket while I play your game.”

You may retort, “But we have a policy that you’re not allowed to have your phone with you in the room. If you have your phone, you might pull it out… You might spoil our game!”

To which I will point out that there’s a long list of rules that I have to follow in your game. If I can refrain from sticking metal objects into your electrical sockets, jumping out your windows, unplugging your carefully setup devices, smashing your beautifully crafted room, running, climbing, futzing with the blinds, or touching things that have a “do not touch” sticker on them… Then I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that I can spend sixty minutes without grasping at my phone.

And, you’re watching on a camera.

Some of you just made me sign a waiver saying that you aren’t responsible for anything. I think I’ll keep my phone in my own possession.

It takes some serious stones to demand that your customers waive you of all liability, even for negligence, and then demand that they surrender their valuables to you.

If you have policies like this, I urge you to reconsider. Room escapes require a lot of trust.

Your players need to trust you enough to let you imprison them.

You need to trust your players enough to let them feel comfortable in your game.

Besides, if someone wants to steal or spoil your game, they don’t need photos to do it.

Hugs and kisses,



  1. I think this is a really interesting point, especially what you say about waivers.

    One place I went had big lockable chests that all your stuff went in, and that they carried for you. others have lockers that you keep the key for (like at a swimming baths) – whats the problem with that?

    1. I’m fine with it as an option for players if they don’t want to have their phone on them. I’m even ok with it if the storage area is within the room.

      My issues are that the company should not feel entitled yank a $1000 computer with a ton of personal information from the pockets of their customers.

      It’s a small percentage of companies that do this, and these companies do not know why one of their customers may want to keep their phone on them. They could have a babysitter at home, an ill family member, or they could have sensitive information for work on their device (which is my issue).

      I’ve never encountered another form of entertainment that feels so entitled as to take phones from their customers. They don’t even do this in Broadway shows.

      1. As a room owner that requires you to relinquish your phone. I am in agreement with your feelings… Mostly. After I did a room where they kept our phones (and everything else) in the lobby and handed us “the” key… My thought was, even in “Highlander” (who’s tag line was “There can be only one”) there was more than one, and this was simply a key that we know for a fact has at least one copy since that’s the way they come when you buy locks. So, we have chosen the “this is your drawer”, in the room with them, method of securing personals. We do make exceptions, when it is “babysitter”, we ask that they call home and give our number. On call we allow but advise that they don’t answer and ask to be let out of the room first.

        We feel that the point of our experience is to disconnect you from everything else, free you, if you will, if only for an hour. We jokingly remind people that this drawer holds those precious objects and that when they find themselves on their knees sticking a key in that lock that they should laugh and realize that they are having so much fun that they have actually forgotten where their phone was… In 2016!!!

        I found out about your site when you sent Brian here today, and so far, I love your content. I will be sharing this site with the room owners groups on facebook. Thank you for supporting the industry, and for finding a small 4 month old escape room and putting us into your directory.

        Matt Hanson
        Challenge Accepted
        Bloomingdale, IL

      2. Hi Matt, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I don’t mind so much when the device is still in the room with me, as you have described.

        Still, my phone just doesn’t come out of my pocket. When people ask me to give it up, I just say I don’t have one.

        And for what it’s worth I’m only this possessive of my wallet and phone. I don’t mind stashing other things, even my camera.

  2. You are a smart and reasonable guy David so I’ll give you my opinion and let you work things out.
    Before I begin I would like to state that I’ve been to many escape rooms in various team sizes from 2-8 players.

    When I was a beginner I didn’t know how to fully appreciate this form of “art” back than. I only figured it out later that it was mostly our (the players) fault. I’ll tell you why by quoting your earlier premise: “… You might spoil our game!” and making this small adjustment: … You might spoil YOUR game!”.

    Now let’s put things in perspective! You enter the room (for the sake of the argument we’ll suppose it’s a good room) and start giving into the puzzles and the atmosphere and the music (they are getting very immersive after all). Your “fun gauge” rises. Suddenly you receive a text that you have to read and answer. Your friends keep playing and by the time you are done with the text they have moved on. Your fun gauge decreases because now you must interrupt them and understand where they are and how, so that you may contribute to the team again. Time and fun was lost for both you and your friends.

    Now picture when 7 people do this … I HATE IT. I had to spend my precious time explaining what steps/puzzles they lost and where we are every damn time.

    So as adamant as you are about keeping your phone during the game I am about relinquishing it. Now I have a table team of 4 that understands this and we focus on the game instead of anything else. It’s bad enough that there is rarely a room without something malfunctioning that we, as players, have to further contribute to our own suffering.

    As a last addition I would like to point out that you deserve 1 hour off work every day and that you can schedule your leisure time better (try late evenings) in order for that blasted phone to not bother you while you are playing if you still insist on taking it in the room.

    All the best,

    1. Alex, I get where you’re coming from. Understand that I am not saying that “all players must keep their phones.” I am saying that this needs to be the players choice (see my above comment for more detail).

      You got stuck with shitty random players, it happens. The last time it happened to me, I had a guy who had played 3 room escapes spend an hour condescending me about “how to play room escapes” after I had told him who I was and that I run this website.

      You don’t need phones in the room for shitty random players to ruin your game.

      The answer to band random players is to bring your friends. This is an issue that is mostly unique to the United States. Outside of the States, most companies give private games to all teams: you only play with the people you chose to book with.

      Ironically, the playing with strangers challenges are created by company policy. It doesn’t have to be that way.

      And for what it’s worth, if one of my teammates pulled out their phone during the game, they’d have to have a very compelling reason to do so, or they wouldn’t be invited back.

  3. As a room owner, I have to say that while I completely understand where you are coming from, and ultimately agree with it (my staff never confiscates phones), I do feel for those companies who choose to go with a more…let’s say ‘thorough’…route.

    We allow players to keep their phones with them if they so choose, but we highly discourage it, telling them that they risk interrupting their game/fun. In addition, we tell them that they will not need their phone for ANY task in the room, and to please refrain from taking photos/videos or using the phone as a flashlight.

    Even with all of the warnings, it is astounding how many players still insist upon using their phone for light, or randomly checking Facebook, or even going so far as to watch sporting events live while they’re in the room. That last was particularly frustrating to us, being able to see just how much this action distracted the rest of the players. We worked extremely hard to create a certain ambiance in the room, in order to build immersion, and to see it wrecked by one person’s refusal to let go of life for a mere 70 minutes was so discouraging. If the sporting event is that important to you, please watch it elsewhere and save the escape game for a time when you can really focus on it!

    And really…if the staff tells (the royal) you that you don’t need the phone for additional light, then it is probably true – I have seen many puzzles in many rooms that actually became impossible to complete if there was additional light present. Conversely, I have played rooms that actually encouraged players to use their phones (for light, to look things up, etc), and I have to say that I really dislike that practice in general. I can scan a QR code anywhere – when I go into an escape room, I want to get lost in that world!

    But as I said, ultimately I agree with you – I don’t like when players are forced to give up their personal possessions. I just wish more people would live by your example and actually leave the phone in their pocket once they enter the room! 🙂

    1. Summer, you’re not getting a counter argument from me on players removing their phones. I agree that players shouldn’t take their phones out… As I agree in the movie theater, the theater, interactive theater, and any other experience escapist experience.

      Bad behavior is a problem, and one that I wouldn’t tolerate with my own friends. I recognize that challenges emerge when paired with random players, but that is a choice made by both player and company. Nevertheless, movie theaters, theaters, and interactive theaters don’t take phone from players. Most escape rooms don’t seem to do so either.

      That being said, I’ve seen more than a few rooms where the lighting (and flash-lighting)was insufficient for many players to see. It’s tough on players when room escape designers assume that all players can see equally well in low-light. I totally get why some players take their phones out and use their flashlights when they truly can’t see.

  4. Great post & agree with you David! Before we started Escape Kings, I hated going to places that demanded that I lock-up my phone in locker in the lobby and stuck me with yet another key to manage. Never again! We will be in Seattle playing a ton of rooms next week and guarantee you my phone will be on me the entire time. If my family or work has a 911 moment, I need to answer.

    We don’t give up our phones at airports for more than 10 seconds when going through a high security facility. Escape rooms need to let people at least have them on them for emergencies for their family or worse, in case they actually have to call for help (911, etc).

    So, when we opened Escape Kings, we just ask that people don’t take selfies during game and save that until afterwards. Given that we have a very busy life and kids too, we know that people may need their phone for emergencies. People are ABSOLUTELY allowed to have their phones with them at Escape Kings. They also get to have coats, purses, clothing, etc too in the room in a bin that THEY manage, not me.

    We don’t want to strip search or make our participants go through metal detectors to play the game. It is to have fun! Heck, TSA does not even go to that level nowadays and gives me the VIP treatment. If you are an experienced escaper, you should get the royal treatment too 🙂

    If my customers need a flashlight, well, we have lights in room plus emergency lighting in all rooms. If they truly want to use their cell flashlight, fine by me!

  5. Hey Nathan! I hope that one of the rooms you’re playing next week in Seattle is Locurio’s The Vanishing Act – I’m one of the owners, and I think you would really dig our game! (and we won’t take your phone away, lol!) Hope to see you soon! – Summer 🙂

    1. I’ve heard great things about your game. Lisa and I are planning a visit in April. You should be hearing from us soon.

      1. Awesome to hear Summer! We will be doing the vanishing act first, we are so excited!

        Loved the trailer video! I fully think it will be best of all for my group. If want to chat afterwards too, glad to share some of our cool stuff here.

  6. I thought this article was very interesting. I have been to both types. The one that demands your phone and the one that lets you keep it. I was also with well behaved people both times so it was never an issue. I personally think it should be an option to lock up your stuff and liked the place that actually had lockers that let me keep the key. For women this is especially important as we carry purses.

    That being said, I have a real problem with the whole, “my life is so busy I need my phone on me at all times” excuse. At only 31, I remember a time when a cell phone was rare and people didn’t own them. At best they had a pager. People have had babysitters, family issues, work and any other excuse in the book long before a cell phone and I can’t help but roll my eyes at people that insist that it is that it is an absolute necessity to have. Keep it if you want. I don’t really care. However, don’t try to convince me that it is out of the possibility of some dire emergency that you keep it on you. Work can wait, I bet you vetted your babysitter, and it is one hour. Just stop it.

    That being said, I still feel like people should be able to keep their phones not because they are a necessity, but because of the other point you made. They can cost nearly $1000.00 and there is a lot of personal information on them. That makes it worth keeping on you. Just as I would never tell a woman that she had to give up her purse if she didn’t want to for the same exact reason.

    1. It seems we agree on more than we disagree on. I’ve made no claim that, “my life is so busy I need my phone on me at all times.”

      What I have said is that my phone is too valuable for me to give over to a stranger. I’m not going to further rehash what I said in the post or in the comments, however I will say this.

      I am roughly the same age as you are, and I too remember a time before cell phones, and smart phones. That time is in the past. Times have changed. Culture has changed. Expectations have changed.

      There are doctors, lawyers, firefighters, paramedics, and system administrators who are on-call. Their are people who have ill family members who may need to get in touch with them. Their lives don’t stop because they are on-call, they go out and do their thing. They need to have their phones, and they need them on.

      I’m happy to turn my phone off for an hour. That doesn’t mean that everyone has that same luxury. And yes, for some folks it is a luxury.

      1. I can agree with the majority of this. Well, except for the firefighter/paramedic part. We are given emergency responder pagers that are directly linked to dispatch if we are on call. If we are on shift, then we are not out doing things like this. So no need for the cell phone there.

  7. @nellie9erfan there are plenty of professions who are on-call and do need a cellphone. I used to have a job just like that.

  8. #1 I am an adult
    #2 I am in the medical field and never completely “off”
    #3 I am quite capable of receiving a signal and excusing myself from a room without disrupting others
    #4 If the GameMaster is not attending to the game, what are we paying for?

    The item right behind my disdain for strict phone bans is the “requirement” that I provide an email address to play your room (used as part of the waiver form). I have had places refuse me access to the room if I do not complete the waiver form where the email field is marked with an asterisk as REQUIRED.

    David, please craft a similar post that explains to these owners that their desire for my email should not be a REQUIREMENT for me to pay them to play their room. Owners, quit taking an option and making it a requirement. This still STEAMS me everytime it happens.

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