Basic Safety Evaluation in Escape Room Reviews

Update 12:15 pm: Based on reader feedback, we’ve updated some of these standards since this post originally published this morning.

For years we have been pushing for escape room creators to make safer games. We have been speaking out on the issue of safety at conferences as well as addressing safety issues in editorials and reviews.

Immediately after the fire in Poland, we started noting in reviews whether each game had an emergency exit… but that was a quick change.

Moving forward, we are going to apply a more useful standard when evaluating basic escape room safety.

A

Preface

We wholeheartedly believe that the excitement and fun of an escape room comes from the game, puzzles, story, and set design… not from being locked into a room.

Just as a thrill ride will make you feel the threat of falling without injury, a great escape game will create excitement without endangering the lives of the players.

Emergency Exits

The most important aspect of escape room safety is that players have the ability to free themselves in the event of an emergency. There are more and less optimal ways to provide this, but regardless of method, self-freeing is a mandatory safety requirement.

We have observed 4 categories of escape room emergency exits. All reviews moving forward will note the style of emergency exit. We have ranked them in order from most preferred to least preferred.

A+: No Lock

The game is entirely mission-based, or it asks you to escape from a locked door, but there is a different door in the room that is never locked. Regardless of configuration, there is always an unlocked door present to the team.

This is an accepted industry standard.

A: Push To Exit

A large green button labeled:

The team is locked within the room by a maglock (magnetic lock). This door will automatically pop open when the game is over or if the players push an emergency “Push to Exit” button. If power to the maglock is cut at any time, the magnet will automatically open.

This is an accepted industry standard.

B: Emergency Key

The team is locked into the room using a physical lock. There is an emergency key available for the team to open the locked door at any time.

This is an acceptable approach, but less optimal. In a crisis, it requires locating the key – even if it is clearly labeled next to the door – and performing a precise motor function. It could be exceptionally challenging in the dark. It takes more time.

F: No Emergency Exit

The team is locked within the room and there are no emergency exits available to the players. The only ways for a team to exit the game are by (1) completing the game and finding the exit key or (2) being released by someone outside of the game.

This is an unsafe approach to escape room design.

Physical Restraints

While considerably less common, we have noted a similar pattern of approach to physical restraints in escape rooms and grouped them into 4 categories. Similarly, we have ranked them in order from most preferred to least preferred and will note this on all reviews moving forward.

A+: No Physical Restraints

This escape game involves no physical restraints.

This is an accepted industry standard.

A: Push To Release

One or more players are physically restrained at some point within the game. The restraints are maglocked and the players may release the restraints with the push of a button. Should the power fail within the game, electricity to the electromagnet would be cut and the maglock would release on its own.

This is an accepted industry standard.

B: Mechanical Release

One or more players are physically restrained at some point within the game. The restraints have a backup mechanical release such as a carabiner or handcuff safety switch. The players may free themselves at any point.

This is an acceptable approach, but less optimal. In a crisis, it requires some dexterity or physical effort. It could be exceptionally challenging in the dark. It takes more time.

F: No Emergency Release

One or more players are physically restrained at some point within the game. These players have no means of freeing themselves during a crisis.

This is an unsafe approach to escape room design.

Limitations

We are not fire inspectors. There are a great many codes that a fire inspector is supposed to enforce. We don’t have the background, access, or authority to enforce these laws.

We have to assume that the owner of an escape room company is adhering to their local laws and that individual municipalities are enforcing their own laws.

Tracking

During 2019, we will maintain a dataset of basic escape room safety in the games that we play. We will issue a report at the end of the year.

Evolution

These standards and how we approach them will most certainly evolve over time. We welcome input.

Open Reviewer Standard

In the interest of encouraging safe game design and making it easier for all players to find games that they are comfortable entering, we welcome any reviewer to apply these standards within their reviews.

We also welcome any reader who visits a game we had previously reviewed to leave a comment on any Room Escape Artist review with the date visited and the safety standard.

Note that there are a few reviews scheduled to publish throughout January 2019 that predate this blog post. They will only have basic yes/no on the question of emergency exits.

2 thoughts on “Basic Safety Evaluation in Escape Room Reviews

  1. Thank you for this article! We have been philosophically against locking people up since day one. As we enter our fourth year in business, we find that more and more escape rooms are enjoying popularity with quest-based adventures. The other day, a man called, upset that he would NOT be locked up. He said, “How can you call yourself an escape room when I don’t even need to escape?” I told him that the “escape” in our name was more of an escape from reality. I don’t think he bought it, but that’ my story and I’m sticking with it. What may have started out as an escape from a room has evolved into something better, safer, and more fun.

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard plenty of stories of customers demanding being locked in. I believe that it is illegal to do so in California… so good luck to him finding one that meets his needs.

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