Solo moments are an underutilized mechanic for pushing the boundaries of escape room design. Solo moments are some portion of the game (a puzzle, a challenge, a task, a story beat, a physical space, or a setpiece, etc…) that is experienced by only one member of the team.
What About The Team?
Solo moments might seem counter to the whole idea of escape rooms as team adventures. Escape rooms are usually group activities, and are sometimes used as team building exercises because of the communication and cooperation needed to be successful.
Is it fair to have one player experience something that the rest of the group misses? Is the specialness felt by one player worth the possible disappointment of the rest of the group in an escape room? I think in some cases it can be.
In the immersive theater world, the one-on-one is a key aspect of many designs and it is often valued and sought out by attendees. Escape rooms and immersive theater are not the same, but they are increasingly becoming closer and closer cousins in the immersive gaming universe. Escape room creators should consider ways to borrow this concept as a way to push the boundaries of their own designs.
It Is OK To Be Special
Sometimes team activities have individuals experience hero moments: a task or event where one participant has a chance to lead their team, stand out and feel special. These can result in the overall experience feeling different for that individual. They can create an entirely different kind of memory of the game.
Solo moments in escape rooms shouldn’t be pressure packed game deciding events, but they can still make a player feel special. They can be optional, non-critical puzzles or challenges that have a fun pay off if completed. It could be a simple character interaction, or a story delivery device so that one player has some cool new info to explain to the team. David Spira suggests that Escape Room Phones Should Default to Speaker unless they are being used to create a special solo moment or interaction. So let’s use them for that purpose. There can be magic in a private conversation with a game character.
Split From The Team
Some escape games do have single person carve-outs that function as a form of split team interactions. These come with the normally associated pros and cons. There is something exciting about being selected for something, or volunteering for something that is unknown, but it can go sideways if the wrong player is chosen for a specific task or puzzle. Often some type of communication puzzle is employed where the whole team works together by relaying information to and from the individual who has been separated.
Solo experiences can be purely theatrical. They should not be puzzle situations where the entire team gets stuck or is relying on the single player in order to proceed. Good game design would ensure that the rest of the team is engaged in the important game-advancing content while their teammate is away doing something interesting, but less important to the group’s success.
The remaining team may feel FOMO if they perceive that the selected player got to do or see something unique, especially if the team has a member that often leaps first at those opportunities. Experiences can also be designed to select someone other than the boldest and sometimes make a person – who maybe needs it – feel special or more confident about themselves.
Occasionally solo interactions are designed so other people can see the isolated player and witness what they are experiencing, but I don’t think that is always necessary. I appreciate the possibilities of creating a special moment for one individual to cherish and maybe others to be envious of.
Fortune favors the bold. This is a basic tenet of all life on Earth. I do understand the desire for all players to see and do everything equally, but I think that design constraint robs the medium of a mechanic that can reward certain players who really buy-in and trust the game world.
I don’t remember an escape room where I haven’t asked a friend, “What did you just do?” or “What just happened when you did that?” I don’t expect to experience everything firsthand. I don’t think that is owed to me when I buy a ticket to a group event. Maybe if this idea becomes more widely accepted, then creators can feel freer to stretch the normal escape room structure to include moments intended for just one person.