Escape Rooms in the Era of Pandemic & Quarantine

We aren’t escaping our home anytime soon.

Last week we began publishing content embracing self-isolation. For the foreseeable future, our publishing schedule will continue to put a greater emphasis on play-at-home games and experiences. We’re doing this because we think that it’s best for as many of us as possible to shift our mindset.

We resisted the powerful urge to suggest anything to owners or players about how to handle this crisis because it felt irresponsible to add to the cacophony. With the clarity of this week, we have a lucid message.

A lone person standing on a island in the middle of the water holding a flighlight in the darkness.

Please Stay In

We aren’t encouraging players to visit escape rooms, even though we’d love to play, and we know how badly COVID-19 is hurting escape room businesses (more on that later). The best path forward for all of us is to temporarily change our lifestyle in order to keep this outbreak from spiraling out of control.

None of us can do this individually, but collectively we can make a difference. By staying home… and in our case, puzzling.

Maybe you already agree with me or maybe you think that I’m gullible, wimpy, or dumb. For those that think less of me, let’s do a thought experiment.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Let’s look at a pair of possible scenarios.

Nothing Happens

COVID-19 is a total bust. “It’s Y2K.” “It’s a bad flu.” “Nothing happens.”

Everyone who isn’t involved in keeping the basic mechanisms of society running has shut themselves indoors for few weeks. Everyone’s really bored, the economy takes a hit from the diminished production, and a lot of people suffer from the loss of work, but in the end “it’s not that big of a deal.”

At the end of a couple of weeks life goes on. In 20 years we will all get to laugh at it when VH1 makes I Love 2020 and some washed up comedian that no one remembers cracks jokes about it.

The Threat is Real

What if it’s a legitimate threat?

What if we’re literally 2 weeks behind Italy’s trajectory?

What if we’re all staring at a historic turning point and we make the wrong decision to go get some dinner and play some games?

What if we don’t force that exponential outbreak curve to plateau?

We’re all escape room players here. We all understand limited resources. If more people need hospital beds and ventilators than we have available, people will needlessly die.

If we don’t slow that exponential growth curve, then the timeline of the crisis will spiral out of control. It will run longer. Quarantines will extend. Business shutdowns will extend. Everyone will suffer more.

If you’re still thinking that this is “just a bad flu,” let’s not forget that the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed more people than World War I. The Great War. “The war to end all wars.” “Just a bad flu.”

If you’re thinking that “this is like Y2K… and that was a total joke,” please remember that the only reason that Y2K wasn’t a calamity was that countless people worked long hard hours to manually update code and prevent the problem. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to keep Y2K from breaking the world, and it worked. Was it really “nothing” if it required that much effort to prevent?

Moreover, even in the COVID-19 scenario where “nothing happens,” tens of thousands of people have still died.

We must embrace quarantine.

Escape Room Owner Problems

I’ve been speaking with owners for the past few weeks about how they are going to weather this crisis and no one has a solution to match the problem.

Escape room owners are drowning in operating expenses, even though they cannot actually operate. Rent and insurance alone are profound costs.

Escape room owners with employees are bearing the burden of making painful decisions. Who can they pay? Who can’t they pay? Do they pay themselves? Will their valued, skilled, and trained employees even be around when this crisis ends, or will they have been forced by circumstance to move on? When we come out on the other side, how much spending money will the nation at large have for entertainment?

The problems are grim, the options are bleak, and every single problem will be amplified with each day that passes. The longer this crisis extends into the unknown future, the worse it becomes. We must embrace quarantine.

These problems aren’t limited to the escape room world. They touch so many small businesses.

Small Businesses

I’ve owned multiple small businesses for over 15 years. Politicians from both sides of the aisle love to speak of the value of small businesses to the American economy.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a politician utter the phrase, “small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” I would have a lot more than government has ever done for my small businesses.

Everything that’s being done right now helps giant companies, banks, and investors. And look, in times like these, everyone needs help. But small businesses shouldn’t be forgotten as they always are. They shouldn’t be left out to languish as bills pile up. No one asked for this. No one made some foolish decision that led to this.

Landlords and insurers have two options right now. They can be parasitic in the face of a crisis or they can realize that everyone hurting means that they have to hurt as well. They can take this pain now or take it later when they strangle their tenants and customers to death and are left wondering where their revenue will come from in a strained, post-pandemic economy.

Government has similar choices. Let landlords and insurers strangle small businesses or stand around in 2021 wondering where the hell all of their tax revenue went. This isn’t just an escape room problem.

Embrace The Quarantine

COVID-19 is not going away without all of us doing our part. Some generations have been called upon to fight wars. We don’t have to take up arms. No one is asking us to give up our lives. We just have to sit at home and play games, solve puzzles, read, and watch Netflix.

Lisa and I started our self-imposed quarantine a week and a half ago when we returned home from our trip to Europe. We were obsessively careful while traveling, but upon returning home we decided for the sake of our friends, colleagues, and strangers that we would act as though we were carrying the virus.

For my part, this isn’t coming from a place of ignorance. I spent years designing software for use in humanitarian crises. I’ve been deployed by the United Nations into the field. I’ve seen things that shook me to my core. I’ll never claim that I am a humanitarian myself, but I understand that world and how to interpret the data.

We need to embrace quarantine. Flattening the curve is the only weapon that we have available to us… and it takes all of us to make it work.

We need to quarantine because for all of the policy decisions that could be made to help small businesses, none of us can donate enough money to get enough leaders to listen. To help.

We need to quarantine because the shorter this lasts, the better everyone’s chances of living and thriving are.

REA in the Era of Pandemic & Quarantine

At Room Escape Artist, we’re going to continue to publish daily content for the escape room industry. Our audience includes players, creators, owners, and the escape room curious. Regardless of your place in the escape room economy, your normalcy is temporarily upended.

On this website, we’re operating under the assumption that the era of pandemic and quarantine will be temporary. This is what we need to do now to enable our industry (and many other industries) for the future. We’ll continue to publish a lot of our normal content, which will be of value again when we emerge on the other side.

We know that many in our community are severely hurting right now. We know that you have to make hard decisions and that every day will be challenging. We will publish content for you too, but only when we have well researched, rational words to share.

In the meantime, we’re adding an emphasis on play-at-home content, as noted at the top of this post. For the most part, we’re planning to keep our content lighthearted, not out of disrespect for the severity of the situation, but as an escape.

2 thoughts on “Escape Rooms in the Era of Pandemic & Quarantine

  1. Beautiful written and pointedly stated. Who knows if this will be the beginning of the end for so many interactive experiences or a temporary pause that we will all have to bear. Keep posting content and here’s to coming out the other side.

  2. Well said. We are owners and are waiting to hear back from our landlord. You’re right. The operating expenses are huge! The big questions is how long? How long will quarantines go on? How many waves? And…what will the economy look like a few months from now? Hoping our landlords pause or at least half rent. If not, we’re not sure if we want to pour money into a very uncertain future. Our market and profits are small – it might not be worth the risk to pay to keep our venue.

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