Escape Rooms & Empathy for Conspiracy Theorists

I can’t stand conspiracy theories.

Believing your typical conspiracy theory requires a faith in governments and massive corporations that I cannot fathom.

Closeup of a peron's eyes as they hide in the shadows.

To put it bluntly, the most powerful government in the world, at the height of its power, couldn’t successfully cover up a blowjob. The events of the past 3 months have reinforced that the wheels of governments and machinations of corporations couldn’t even successfully stave off global pandemic, even when it seems there were plenty of people in powerful positions warning of the dangers beyond the wall.

When I look at the world as it is today, or dust off my history degree and turn an eye backward, I see chaos: fortune for some, tragedy for others. Certainly some people have had plans at different points in time, and maybe even seen them through to completion. In the long run, however, even the smartest, most successful of humans turns to dust. The constant is chaos.

So, I don’t believe that there are evil geniuses invisibly pulling the strings of the world, silently sacrificing some portions of humanity to achieve some nefarious long game. But I have been wanting to understand, even if I don’t believe.


About a decade ago I was one of the earlier people in the tech community hopping on the “design with empathy” bandwagon.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Sympathy is feeling for someone. Empathy is feel with someone. The difference might seem semantic, but it is far from trivial.

Sympathy is your friend describing to you what it’s like to ride an incredibly tall and fast roller-coaster.

Empathy is hopping in and riding.

One drives distance while the other fosters connection.

Conspiracies & Escape Rooms

Now more than ever, I’ve wanted to empathize with conspiracy theorists. I’ve wanted to understand what they feel when they look at something like a global pandemic and believe that it must be a weapon that was deployed against humanity.

So, what does this have to do with escape rooms?

When you leave an escape room, most people seem to experience a heightened state of awareness. It feels as if everything that you look at has meaning. We call this “post-escape room hyperawareness.” You feel this after an escape room because during an escape room, everything does have meaning.

Escape rooms are deliberately designed games so that (usually) everything is there for a reason. There is a grand mystery, and it is solvable. When an escape room is well designed, there is so much beauty in knowing that if you just put more effort in and observe a bit better, the truth of the situation will reveal itself.

Each escape room is a giant conspiracy to unravel.

They send you back out into the world primed to see meaning where there is none… because the rest of the world isn’t that deliberate.

The world is scary and it’s more comforting to think that a person, or group of people, is behind the suffering. If a human is causing this, then someone is still in control. Few notions are more comforting right now than the idea that someone – anyone – is in control, even if they are a villain.


  1. Well said. In some ways, the attraction of an escape room is to outwit/outsmart the clever creator of the situation. By doing so, one feels clever-er by vanquishing the architect of said situation. Batman and Robin found themselves in “impossible’ situations every week yet through smarts, cooperation, and a phenomenal utility belt, always found a way to solve the situation.

    If there was an organized source for an otherwise dreadful situation all we would have to do is sleuth through the clues and solve it, thereby ending it. In this sense there is some form of hope. If the dreadful situation is not a deliberate manifestation of our kind then that element of hope does not exist.

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