A few seconds of complete darkness can be used as a form of misdirection that allows magic to happen in escape rooms.
I don’t mean a dimly lit room that strains players’ eyes, where lock digits are hard to see. I am talking about sudden, dramatic lights-out events that force players to freeze, focus, wonder, and wait. Even just a few seconds of darkness can create a memorable effect.
Horror games often use this mechanic as a way to build tension or introduce a jump scare. However, there are so many other, non-scary, ways that unexpected darkness can be implemented in escape rooms.
What Happens In The Dark?
Anything can happen when the lights temporarily go out in an escape room. Things can change, and objects can appear, disappear or move around. Walls can move and spaces can change shape. A new path forward can open up or the path of retreat can suddenly be sealed off. Actors or projected characters can enter the space. Players can be removed from the space. Time can rewind. Props can be reset, and thus be ready for players to make another attempt at a previously botched game sequence.
Darkness can provide the misdirection needed for even low-tech magic to take place. A lack of light combined with a swelling soundtrack can be just the cover needed for a stealthy game host to make a physical adjustment to the game space.
In the dark, players will stop what they are doing and will be ready for a reset of sorts when the lights come back on.
Focus Your Players
Designers have an opportunity to get creative with the ways they bring the lights back up following a period of darkness. A single spotlight shining on an object or an area will provide a clear signal that draws players’ attention exactly where the designer wants. A slow, gradual return to normal game lighting could cause players to scan around the room and look for what might now be different.
Even if darkness is just used to signal an act break during the game, lighting has now been introduced as an important part of the storytelling structure and players will more likely pay attention to how it is used during the rest of the experience.
Lighting is a common subject of discussion among escape room designers. Let’s not forget about the power of temporary, complete darkness and about the opportunity it provides to add a bit of magic to our game experiences.