A Personal Journey Through Player Motivations

Something that struck me recently is how I have evolved as an escape room player and how that path, and where it took me, has been different than I would have expected.

My journey began like so many others. 

“We should try one of those escape rooms.”

 “What is an escape room?” 

Stylized image of a compass leaning against a window sill

Instant Enthusiast

I became an escape room enthusiast after playing my very first game several years ago. I was blown away by the idea. I was captivated by the challenge, the immersion, and the feeling of competing against the clock and winning. We booked another room for the next evening, after which I was even more convinced. I said to my wife, “There is something to this. This is a new medium, a new business model, a new industry.” All I wanted to do was play more games, play every game, introduce these games to my friends, and try to set new record times.

A More Discerning Palate

Something changed, however, as I played more and more escape games. I discovered the wide range in quality of the escape room universe. Some of these companies and the rooms they had created were really good! I started to care more about things like set design and construction, lighting and sound, characters and story, and puzzle design. I found that some companies were just better at their craft. 

I decided to shift my focus to finding more of these great rooms. I began online searching and reading escape room reviews, Facebook groups, and regional spreadsheets. I was taking it all in. 

One day I read a review of a new escape room that just opened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of all places. It was called Cutthroat Cavern at 13th Gate Escape. I was awestruck by the reviewer’s description of the scale. I couldn’t fathom sets like he’d described and the size and complexity of the space. This sounded like a fully constructed world… and the recipe for that true immersion I craved. 

In-game: The carved wooden figurehead of a winged woman on the bow of bow of an old ship.
Image via 13th Gate Escape

A few months later, I was able to convince some friends to travel with me from Wisconsin to a city in the South that none of us had ever thought we would visit, just to play all the games at 13th Gate

Reflecting upon Cutthroat Cavern, I was able to nail down what makes an escape game great for me personally. I want to play the game and somehow forget that I am in an escape room. I want to be fully immersed.

I was hooked on searching out and playing only the escape games that I thought could deliver this feeling.

As I researched, looking for more truly special escape room experiences, I compiled lists of the most popular recommendations. I was communicating with more and more experienced players. I was telling them about my discovery about that feeling of forgetting I was in an escape room. I would ask them for their favorite games and explain that I was only interested in this type of experience. I searched for rooms that were bigger, longer,and more challenging. I wanted rooms that looked great and played great, with cool tech, clever puzzles, and surprise twists. I longed to feel the extra effort that the creators had put in to craft something special. I told other players that I had no desire to play poor quality rooms. I felt ripped off when paying the same price for those lesser experiences. 

More than once I was told by these people that I looked up to that this was a phase that would pass. I would learn again to value lower quality games and just enjoy those experiences for what they were. 

A Maturation Of Expectations

Over time, I did find myself having the urge to book escape games I had previously ignored. My addiction needed to be fed and these were games left unplayed. So I rationalized, since there was less travel involved, and they might be fun… why not? After doing this a few times I realized the prediction from those experienced players had indeed come true. I was having a good time, a much better time than I had imagined playing any average escape room.

The joy of just playing escape games was still there.

I enjoyed utilizing my skills. In easier rooms, my teammates and I could be sillier and less stressed, knowing we had plenty of time. I could still discover even one new puzzle or new prop. I would find a great interaction in a place I never would have expected it, and that alone often made the experience worth it. I could quest for and love some of the most immersive and epic escape games in the world and at the same time, I could appreciate almost any escape game for what it was. 

The Universe Is Expanding

As my own experience level grew, I developed more of an interest in the industry of escape rooms. 

I became curious about the owners, the creators… the people with ideas. I became especially curious about ideas that pushed the boundaries of what escape rooms could be.

For example, I played Popstar’s Room Of Doom at SCRAP in San Francisco, California. In this actor-driven escape game, we entered a time-loop that reset each time we made a mistake. Although it was rough around the edges, it left me thinking for hours about how the concept could be repurposed for different settings, or become its own genre of escape room.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.
SCRAP’s Popstar Room of Doom

The escape room community also introduced me to some escape room adjacent activities. I learned about puzzle hunts, the haunted house industry, and escape room enthusiast meetups and tours. I never would have tried immersive theater if it weren’t for conversations with escape room players who assured me I would like it. I went to The Speakeasy in San Francisco and Sleep No More in New York. These helped strengthen my appreciation for immersion and led to even more questions about what future escape rooms can become.

When I played the spectacular The Man From Beyond at Strange Bird Immersive in Houston, Texas, it blew me away with its style, depth, intimacy and commitment. It wasn’t one of those experiences where we could scan the room, trying to get a jump start on solving things by looking for puzzles and locks while some briefing video played on a screen. An event happened, and we were witnessing it and contributing to it. We were so involved that the game clock didn’t matter. In fact, we were fully enveloped into the world before we started any gaming. We were engaged in a cohesive experience from the opening moments through our exit. 

Image via Strange Bird Immersive

This gave me hope and excitement that there are creators out there building something new that will captivate me. How many creative directions can escape rooms go?

A New Phase

My current obsessive focus is on finding companies that are doing something special. They are creating escape room experiences that are beyond the norm: something different, something bigger… something I didn’t see coming. 

But I didn’t see any of this coming. This is just one person’s journey through the world of escape rooms. It is hard to believe what that journey has provided me: travel, new experiences, community, and excitement for what is coming. It all came from that suggestion, “We should try one of those escape rooms.”

3 thoughts on “A Personal Journey Through Player Motivations

  1. Interesting journey. Coming back to an appreciation for lower quality games is the dicey part of loving escape rooms. Lower quality and poor quality live close together if all you have is their website to decide whether to play. I no longer play “suspect” rooms based on “Hope”. If someone in our community of informed players gives it a nod I will play with tempered expectations. Otherwise, the sting of bad rooms, poor customer service and a wasted evening lasts longer than the giddy anticipation of playing a new room.

    Part of the future I am hoping to see is the development of good single room games. These can be an important segment of the offerings that will help sustain the industry. As smaller (private) groups seek affordable play and owners seek affordable facilities/businesses I see an opportunity for players to have a good, affordable experience that is also good for the owner.

    REA has provide a ton of information with respect to design, service, etc. ad nauseum for creators/owners/players. RECON should boost this awareness to another level. I loved Cutthroat Cavern and I’m looking forward to the immersive theater offerings like Strange Bird and even the maze related seek and find games. As the poster described, there are many different ways to have a good experience.

  2. Wish you could play ours in Hawaii. Not sure if we’ll be around when all this is over though 🙁

    We have a very similar journey as yours but I actually like escape games much less than when I first played (and was an instant enthusiast). I get so frustrated with puzzles that are clunky and could be easily fixed.

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