Our world is paused and I miss playing escape rooms. That statement sounds silly. It sounds like I miss playing games. It seems trivial. But escape rooms offer so much more than gameplay.
Room Escape Artist uses the tag Escape Immerse Explore for their escape room tours. Those three tenets of play are some of the most important motivations for people who enjoy escape rooms. Those three words demonstrate how much more there is to escape rooms than the game itself.
As players, we have different reasons for playing these games, and now, different reasons for missing them.
Escape From Your World
Most escape games are mission-based adventures. They’ve grown beyond the one goal of challenging teams to actually escape from a room before the time runs out. Still, the term escape room can have a negative connotation to those who are nervous about a potentially scary, claustrophobia-inducing, or unsafe activity.
If I reframe the term “escape,” however, it is the very thing we are all looking for.
It is part of human nature to try to temporarily escape from our realities, problems, and worries. Books, theater, television, movies, and even a trip down to the local pub are all proven tools used in our quest to escape. So are games. Escape rooms in particular are a good way for us to leave it all behind for an hour. We are forced to unplug and disconnect from the outside world, the world where our responsibilities live. Escape games let us forget all of that and have something more fun in mind for a while.
In a time of uncertainty, to play an escape room would be a literal escape.
Enter a Constructed World
Immersion is when we transition into the reality of another world. Immersion can be addictive. Books, video games, and even sports fandom all offer levels of immersion.
In an escape room, we are actually enclosed inside a 3-dimensional physical world, complete with a story, characters, and sound and lighting effects. An escape room experience is different from sitting in a darkened movie theater, buckling into a theme park ride, or running single file through a haunted house. In an escape room, we explore a real space where our actions affect the environment. The game world was specifically designed to transport us to a different reality where we can be someone else and do unusual things.
Discover the Unknown
Searching and exploring are components of most escape room designs. People love to explore. We like to discover secrets: secret messages, secret motives, lost items, and hidden rooms. We like to snoop inside the medicine cabinet when we use the restroom at someone else’s house. So of course we love the idea of being turned loose in an unfamiliar space and encouraged to explore a haunted mansion, a wizard’s chamber, or an evil villain’s lair. We want to use our hands to interact with objects. We want cabinets to pop open. We want to feel as though we have discovered something that no one else has seen for a long time.
Where Everything Make Sense
Real life is messy. Things often don’t make sense. We want our actions to be meaningful.
In the constructed world of an escape game, our discoveries lead to everything aligning into tidy little solves. It’s immensely satisfying when our actions resolve in ways that make sense.
The Thrill of Winning
Competition is a motivator for some escape room players. People like to feel smart. We like to win. The simple idea of solving a series of puzzles in a given time period can alone be a strong motivation. We get to compete against the clock and the other teams. When there are leaderboards, we can try to set record times. Many escape rooms calculate escape percentages to signify the degree of difficulty. Many players calculate their personal escape percentage to measure their own skill. With the ever-present risk of losing, we play for the thrill of winning.
Escape rooms are team activities. For the time we are in the game, we are all contributing to a common goal. Most escape rooms rely on different types of intelligence. With a diverse team, we have the brain power to solve together what would be impossible alone. Escape rooms are a place to make a valued contribution to a larger group effort.
I did a thing!
According to the 2019 Escape Room Enthusiasts Survey, accomplishment was the strongest motivation to play escape rooms among those surveyed. We like to complete things. It feels good to try something, struggle with it, and then succeed. We want to look back on it and brag about it. Escape rooms are packaged for completion. 60 minutes later, we can leave with a tangible accomplishment of the day.
My name is Richard and I am an escape room addict.
Many escape room players like to count how many rooms they have played. And after we’ve counted the individual escape rooms, we count the number of states and countries where we’ve played. We make lists and spreadsheets. We review the rooms, rate them, and rank them. We make lists of games we would like to play, and then cross them off our lists. And that feels good, because there is that uneasy feeling of rooms left unplayed.
With the World on Pause
With so many businesses closed across the country and across the world, we miss a lot of things that we’ve come to take for granted as part of daily life. It might sound odd to say I miss escape rooms. It sounds trivial to say I miss playing games when I consider the magnitude of other comforts we are all missing right now.
The thing is, it’s not that I miss the gameplay. There are so many reasons to play escape rooms, and those are the voids I feel. I miss my escape.