In Pursuit of Storytelling: Year 5 of Escape Room Innovation (Interview Series Intro)

At this point in my escape room journey, I am most interested in learning more about innovative ideas. I want to understand the creators and companies trying new and different things to advance and expand the medium. 

In the latter half of 2019, I interviewed a selection of creators about the motivations and goals driving their innovation. There are many people thinking differently about escape rooms and what they can be. As one of them put it to me, “There is no universe in which we would consider trying something safer or simpler. It’s not why we’re here.” 

Stylized image of a light bulb

I have my own theory of escape room evolution. I feel like after their initial introduction as puzzle games, we entered into the era of tech. This included everything from rooms using a single Arduino all the way up to the brilliant display of technology in The Edison Room at Palace Games. The next stage is going to be the rise of the importance of drama, character, emotion, and story: the era of narrative. I’ve caught glimpses of this in escape rooms I’ve played over the last few years, but it is far from widespread.

Through my conversations about innovations, I noticed that we’re entering that next stage. As we reached 5 years of escape rooms in the United States, storytelling became the driving force behind a lot of significant innovation. Escape rooms are truly a new medium for storytelling, one with a ton of untapped potential.

Conversations With Creators

I talked with the owners of Lost Games and City 13 about Seamless Transitions Between Individual Escape Rooms. One of the storytelling challenges of most escape games is their short length. That’s why the players always seem to arrive after the inciting incident of the story, just in time for the climactic scene. Transitions like this allow for additional world building, more of a story, more of a complete arc, and more immersion. The real advantage to seamless transitions is an opportunity for more storytelling.

Off The Couch spoke about the Book By Time model for their new game Pandorum. This booking technique is another vehicle to further storytelling. It literally allows you to stay inside the game for as long as you want. It pleads with us to slow down and not rush through the story elements in service of the puzzles.

Haley E. R. Cooper of Strange Bird Immersive shared thoughts about using Immersive Theater in Escape Rooms. Strange Bird Immersive’s aim is to leave you with a memory. Feeling and living the story of their experience creates a more lasting memory than any puzzle, or probably even any set, ever could.

Hatch Escapes discussed The Quest for Replayability and their next experience The Ladder, where they ask, “Why have we taken for granted that escape rooms can’t be re-playable? That they can’t support compelling, complicated, moving stories? That they can’t have branching narratives?” Replayability will succeed when it lets players truly get more into and also get more out of the story.

2020 has impacted all of these companies and their innovations in different ways, but I feel that we’re now in a place where we can start to get excited about in-person escape rooms again. I can finally share these ideas that I have been thinking about: ideas about telling stories.

I hope you will follow along as we present these topics as a series of articles about interesting innovations, and what the people and companies behind them are adding to the escape room industry.

The links to each interview article will be added above once it is published.

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