No, you aren’t truly trapped in an escape room.
Every modern escape room should always allow players to free themselves in the event of an emergency.
If you visit an escape room company and they insist on locking you in without an emergency exit, you should demand a refund and leave.
Common Types of Emergency Exits
There are 2 ways that escape rooms typically handle emergency exits. We explored these more thoroughly when we established our basic escape room safety evaluation guide.
No lock at all
The door is always open. You can come and go as you please. When your gamemaster explains this to you, 1 of 2 things will happen:
- Your gamemaster will explain that you can come and go as you please, “but using the door as an emergency exit doesn’t count as ‘escaping.'”
- In the event that your gamemaster doesn’t explain this, inevitably someone from your team will jokingly ask if “using the emergency exit is a way to win.” When your teammate makes that joke, they will be fully confident that no other person has made such a clever joke.
Push To Exit
Many escape rooms use magnetic locks, also known as maglocks. Maglocks use an electromagnet to hold a door shut. In this case, the locks should open automatically if power is cut to them. There will also be a big button near the door that will release the lock.
Maglocks are easy and quick to use. This has become the industry standard, should the game designer feel that a “locked door” is necessary to the escape game’s design.
A minority of escape rooms will hang an emergency key beside the door knob.
This isn’t really an ideal emergency exit system because it requires a little bit of time and coordination. It does, however, provide a means for players to free themselves.
In some regions, locking players in used to be quite common in escape rooms. As escape rooms gained popularity, however, this started changing rapidly due to many factors.
First, locking players in wasn’t a great idea and a lot of escape room creators realized this. It added an element of unnecessary danger. It was also impractical. It was easier to just let people go to the bathroom if they needed to. $#!% happens… it’s best to let it happen in the toilet.
The second factor that drove escape rooms away from lock-ins were laws. Throughout the United States many states and municipalities do not allow a business to lock customers into any space. Sometimes it’s fire code; sometimes it’s false imprisonment laws. Either way, a lot of places don’t allow it.
The third influence away from locked games were insurance companies that weren’t keen on that aforementioned unnecessary risk.
Finally, escape room creators realized that mission-based play was far more compelling than pure escape. “You’re on a quest for the Holy Grail” is almost always more interesting than “You’re locked in a room; figure out how to unlock the door.”
Even with all of these clear and good reasons to avoid lock-ins, there were still some holdouts. Essentially everyone was convinced that lock-ins were bad when a fire in a Polish escape room claimed lives. In the wake of that event, the industry as a whole responded swiftly. Now it’s rare to find locked games anywhere in the Western world.
The Bottom Line
Escape rooms should not lock you in without a quick and easy emergency exit.
If you encounter a company that is locking you in without providing an emergency exit and explaining how it works prior to the game beginning, ask for your money back. Tell that company that this is unacceptable and unsafe. Then go find a better company to visit.
Have a safe and fun time on your escape room adventure.