Why aren’t there more sex-themed escape rooms?

“I like sex themed escape rooms. Why don’t we have more of them?”

-Diane from Texas

Not Much Sex

You’re certainly right that we don’t have much in the way of sex-themed escape rooms.

I’ve only played one in the United States: Komnata Quest’s 7 Sinful Pleasures.

Overseas, in Berlin, Germany, we played House of Tales’ Kowloon Walled City.

Every once in a while someone shares a story with us about a sex-themed game that was gross and mediocre… and we certainly cannot judge a genre by poorly executed ideas.

However, none of this answers why there are so few examples: If I have to speculate, I think it’s because there is an assumption that players either can’t handle or won’t comfortably pay for sex-themed escape games.

The silhouette of a woman pressed up against a translucent door.

Violence > Sex?

In the United States we get weird about sex. We treat sex as worse than violence.

The Federal Communications Commission treats sex as more harmful than violence. The Motion Picture Association of America and the Entertainment Software Rating Board do so as well.

I find it absolutely baffling that we’re collectively outraged by acts of love that feel good, have measurable psychological and physiological benefits… and are the only reason that any of us exist.

Appropriateness

The issue of appropriateness comes up increasingly often in escape rooms. What themes are “ok” is as deeply cultural as it is individual.

Personally, few themes and stories make me uncomfortable. When executed intelligently, themes like violence, horror, death, destruction, drugs, and sex don’t bother me. The only reason I’d hesitate to book a game would be the feeling that the escape room is deliberately bigoted.

For example, I wouldn’t be bothered by a game where I’m fighting Nazis and there’s a swastika as decor. If someone were to create a game sympathetic to the Nazi cause, however, I’d be disturbed by that.

As another example, a game about a made-up serial killer or a serial killer from a century ago doesn’t give me pause. A game based on the murder of a local family from a couple of years back would piss me off. If the friends and loved ones of the victims are still around, then strangers shouldn’t be gamifying the death of the people that they cared about.

While I’ve never once held it against a game, I don’t love escape rooms that center their story around violence against children.

The same goes for sex-themed games. I’ve heard tale of a now-closed game where players were basically told that losing teams are sexually assaulted by the mysterious serial killer character who had abducted them. I’m just going to assume that the stupidity of this is obvious and not bother to parse out why this is classless, dumb, and cruel.

What We Flag

We do our best to help people understand what kind of narrative and experience they are getting into.

We don’t normally do this in the form of a content warning (unless something gets extreme or unusual). We typically handle this in the story description and let the reader decide if the murder dungeon, hijacked airplane, or a demonically possessed church is the kind of adventure that they want to undertake.

A cucumber held firmly in a wooden hand.

Escape Rooms Can Handle Sex

I think that sex is dramatically under explored in escape rooms. I am certain that there are some cities that could comfortably produce sex-themed games.

“Sex sells” is literally a marketing cliché.

I’d strongly urge creators to:

  • make sex-themed games private ticketed
  • avoid sexual violence
  • be creative, thoughtful, and playful with your narrative
  • be upfront about the nature of the content and/or setting
  • never mislead players in marketing or pre-game materials
  • build these games in markets that will have an accepting audience

If everyone wants to be there, why not have a good time?

5 thoughts on “Why aren’t there more sex-themed escape rooms?

  1. While sex is natural and part of everyone’s existence, it is not a particularly shared subject. ER operators are not going to see mixed gender work groups in these rooms and will have to hold the line on age restrictions. Zoning issues could be triggered by the “adult” nature of the activity and employees (most are younger) may be harder to hire/retain due to the nature of their job with these rooms.

    Batchelor/Batchelorette groups may flock to these but my guess is that there is more revenue to be had with non-sex themes for the square footage involved.

    1. Zoning is going to be a completely local thing, but my rough understanding is that this is much more akin to a movie theater playing rated R movies or a local theater putting on a production of Spring Awakening than a strip club or a brothel.

      As the post says, this comes down to the company and the market. If you and your customers can’t handle it, then don’t do it. I’m standing by this being an unexplored region and an opportunity for creativity.

  2. The subject would need to be dealt with extremely well. I can see 90% of the ideas immediately raising concerned eyebrows, ranging from the article’s “escape the sexual predator” anecdote to a terrible kind of “you have one hour to get into the girl’s pants” type scenario. (What was the name of that Czech room that was set in Auschwitz? Best intentions aside, hoo boy did the tone-deafness there raise some well deserved hackles.)

    At the same time, if the room is a “break in and steal the widget” scenario set in, like, a high class bordello, that really isn’t using sex per se as a thematic element except you can use some creative wall decor or something.

    A potentially larger concern is that you potentially introduce all kinds of “misunderstandings” for hosts and players and (gulp) actors in such a room. I say that in air-quotes because we all know people can get out of hand when amped up or can be offended to the point of negativity. Will anyone pay to play if your room is being protested? Will any allegations of improper acts (or worse) take place during the room’s run?

    It seems that Komnata Quest did find that right balance, which is excellent! But I bet they would say it wasn’t easy, and it included members of that particular community to make sure things were done well, and it was marketed clearly and correctly to potential players.

    1. I have to say that there is a big difference between a sex themed game and an Auschwitz themed game.

      Globally there are more than a few sex themed games, or at least games that overlap with sexual themes, and it’s not that big a deal.

      If it’s in the right market, and the creator doesn’t make foolish choices, it’s completely fine. Same goes for most other themes.

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