The Benefits of Escape Room Actors Playing the Lead

Playing an important character increases the impact of an actor in an escape room experience.

I have come to recognize clear differences in my level of appreciation among escape rooms that include actors. Games feel different when actors play the story’s main characters.

a man in drag, wearing a red wig sitting in an easy chair holding a teacup. on the coffee table in front is a tea pot and a bottle of poison.

Importance Matters

Actors playing characters can help escape room players become more invested by providing them with an emotional connection to the story. This can make the game more memorable as players will remember the characters and their story long after the game is over.

The characters these actors play lie somewhere on a spectrum between irrelevant and important with regard to the story. I have come to really appreciate this distinction. As a player, if the story includes a Big Bad that we need to defeat or a princess we need to save, I much prefer the actor to play that villain or that princess rather than some unimportant guide who gives us a backstory and a few hints during the game.

Take The Risk

It is safer to have actors play minor roles. Basic in-character game hosts and hint providers are fairly popular. There is less pressure on performers who aren’t expected to deliver important scenes during the game. Some actors do this well and are a lot of fun; others end up being forgettable. 

It can be risky to empower someone with a more significant role in the experience. The performance needs to live up to the hype of the character and their importance needs to shine through. However, I think that risk comes with a satisfying reward.

Actors stand out more when they play the main characters: someone we need to confront or someone who needs our help. These types of scenarios usually require more important player-actor interaction and thus more trust on the part of the game designer. However, with more intimate stakes comes a more meaningful experience.

Act For Engagement

Actors as main characters greatly enhances the immersive and theatrical nature of the experience. Important characters can offer unique challenges and opportunities for players to engage with the story, providing a more robust and satisfying experience overall. It can be more exciting and dynamic to be involved in a type of playable theater. Stories feel richer and more complex when you are actually face-to-face with significant characters.

Unseen villains or heroes rarely work well in other forms of storytelling, yet they are commonplace in escape rooms. Characters are best unseen only when they are so intense that whatever an actor will portray cannot live up to the fantasy. It is better to give players a chance to negotiate or empathize directly with the important characters. These can also be great opportunities to employ actors as puzzles

Late Arrivals

It is okay to have your actors first appear late in the game. I sometimes get the sense that creators feel they need to introduce their actors early in the experience. While there are benefits to breaking the ice and setting player expectations early on, often during the initial parts of a game players are acclimating to the environment and the initial puzzle paths. Absorbing an actor playing a character right away can be overwhelming.

If your actor is playing a significant character, having customers play a more traditional escape room style for 30 or 40 minutes before suddenly meeting them can make for a dramatic moment or scene transition. I love when this happens. It adds instant depth and gravitas to the game.

This also allows the actor to function as a normal, control room gamemaster for most of the game and then only enter the room to perform for important scenes or the finale.

There is an art to introducing late-game main characters safely. Make players aware (before booking) that an escape room may contain actors. Customers should opt in to these experiences. Even then, a physical separation that protects the actor and the players is often a good idea if the actor’s appearance could be a surprise. I have seen this done expertly in several different games.

Short Stays

Important characters don’t need long appearances to make big impressions. The more important the character is, the less time they need to spend in the game to deliver a major impact. Sometimes players getting too familiar with a character or an actor can diminish the level of respect or awe that you want them to command. Keeping interactions brief but powerful is an effective strategy.


If you are designing an escape room experience that includes actors, consider having them play your story’s main characters. Try to find ways to have your players interact with the most important people who live in your game world. It can make a big difference in how your game is remembered.


  1. Of all the games I’ve played with “actors” in the room, only two have been enjoyable experiences – and these had trained actors. Too often game masters are given the task of acting and it is cringeworthy. I’d frankly rather not have it if the acting is not good. While there are all types of ways to use a character in game, having a convincing character is super important or else it will fall flat or take away from the experience.

  2. Hi Michelle, I would respond to your comment with the broader point that all escape rooms lie somewhere on a scale of overall quality. If a game includes an actor, that is one component that could affect the quality of the experience.

    If the quality of the actor is the only thing detracting from an otherwise excellent game, that is on the owner/operator to itterate and continue to improve their product. But they might only do that if the marketplace demands it.

    If a player is repeatedly having poor experiences, with actors, or any other aspect of the games being the cause, that is on the player to do better research and chose where to spend their time and money more wisely.

    I am a big advocate for players to seek out and to play good games. I wouldn’t entirely write off the idea of actors, or any other single game component, because of a few bad examples.

    I believe that actors, and more specifically, players interacting with characters is the future of the upper end of the escape room industry.

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