Chekhov’s Gun & His Other Belongings in Escape Rooms

Here’s a simple rule of escape room design:

The coolest things in the room need to have a purpose.

If they don’t, they turn into a disappointment.

And… in so many instances, the coolest props and set pieces in a given escape room do nothing.

This rule is a simplification of the concept of Chekhov’s gun.

Pixelated photo of a revolver.

Chekhov’s Gun

Popularized by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, “Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that suggests that details within a story or play will contribute to the overall narrative. This encourages writers to not make false promises in their narrative by including extemporaneous details that will not ultimately pay off by the last act, chapter, or conclusion” (Masterclass).

The notion here being: in a story, if there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in Act 1, it needs to go off in Acts 2 or 3.

This video does a great job of breaking down the principle:

Chekhov’s _______

Escape rooms are packed with Chekhov’s other belongings… but sometimes his gun is there too.

We frequently find prop guns in escape rooms that do nothing… or next to it. “They’re just there to be cool.”

Maybe there’s a big antique cash register in the room… and it does nothing.

Or a car’s engine block… just sitting there looking like an engine block.

Maybe there’s a big nuclear missile, but you never get to interact with it.

The list can go on… and when these things disappoint, we talk about how “that game had Chekhov’s missile” in it.

Don’t make Chekhov’s belongings. Use your most eye-catching props appropriately. Your escape room will be better for it.

US Escape Room Industry Report – July 2022

In this report dated July 2022, we present a data-driven look at the US escape room industry today.

After a global pandemic caused 2 years of significant upheaval for small businesses and in-person entertainment, the escape room industry is rebounding.

This report is based on 8 years of data collected and maintained through the Room Escape Artist Escape Room Directory since 2014.

Reads: 2022 Escape Room Industry Report, depicting the REA logo.
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Escape Room Phones Should Default to Speaker

A recurring and simple issue that we have seen in countless escape rooms over the years is their use misuse of telephones.

In almost all cases, escape rooms should be using speakerphone, not handsets. I’ll explain.

A pixelated, black speaker phone.

πŸ””πŸ””πŸ””πŸ“ž

When player picks up a phone receiver and is delivered a clue, hint, or bit of story, the game has just created a solo moment.

That player is solely enjoying the experience and the rest of their teammates are watching, hoping that the teammate who answered the phone will successfully relay all relevant information to them.

And the better and more entertaining the phone message is for the person holding the phone, the more the rest of the team is missing out.

This is an artificial and unnecessary feel-bad moment.

πŸ””πŸ””πŸ””πŸ”ˆ

Whether you’re delivering a clue, hint, or bit of story, it’s better to deliver the message via speakerphone… or better yet… pipe it through your PA system.

Yes, I know that picking up the phone receiver is more realistic and immersive, but this is a classic example of when breaking from the “more realistic and immersive interaction” makes for a better experience for all involved.

It’s better for the person who picked up the phone too. It kind of sucks as a player to have a really entertaining moment, and then have your teammates ask you what happened, and you can’t really explain what made it compelling or funny. It’s hard to retell jokes.

You can still keep the telephone receiver in the room, have it ring and everything… but when the player picks it up, blast the message out through the biggest speaker you can.

When πŸ“ž > πŸ”ˆ

There are a few instances where the receiver is better than a speaker, but they are few and far between:

  • If part of the game is psychological and you’re attempting to create an air of mystery or distrust.
  • In some horror experiences, you might want to create an intense moment for one player, and having the rest of the team witness their reaction is important.
  • You’re attempting to create some kind of communication challenge.

But in most cases… just default to speaker.

Escape Rooms Should Embrace End Credits

A quick thought: over the past few years, we’ve seen a handful of generally excellent escape rooms present end credits at the conclusion of the experience.

Top of The Nest end credits card. "Written and Directed by Jeff Leinenveber & Jarrett Lantz" and a cast listing.

The first time I saw this, I’ll admit, it struck me as a little strange, but that was 100% because I wasn’t used to it. I’m completely convinced that this should be the norm. Allow me the opportunity to convince you.

A few examples that have stuck in my mind:

A Practical Way To End Immersion

From a creative standpoint, end-credits solve a problem that escape rooms frequently struggle with: signaling the conclusion of the experience.

All too often the actual ending of an escape room is a gamemaster walking in and asking, “did you have a good time?”

End credits are a clean way to make it clear to players that their time in the game world has come to an end.

Professionals Deserve Credit

Mid- to high-end escape rooms take an increasing number of minds and hands to create their magic. Crediting those individuals is a professional courtesy and a sign of respect.

  • Respecting your team will likely increase your retention of your team.
  • Showing your customers that you respect your team will likely increase their respect of the craft.

Crediting Demonstrates Profession Maturity

As we exit the early years of escape rooms, a lot of companies are looking to professionalize. Appropriately recognizing the individuals who contributed to the experience is part of growing up.

These games that we love rarely emerge from one mind and one set of hands. It’s high time that we honor everyone involved in the production.

Are Escape Rooms For Adults?

Escape room companies host a variety of player types: corporate team-building outings, birthday parties, families, bachelorette parties, competitive puzzle people, and fantasy role-playing nerds, to name a few.Β 

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a clear trend emerging. Escape room companies across the country seem to be experiencing it. Kids are getting into escape rooms, big time.

Kids’ birthday parties, teen outings, kids urging their parents to take them to an escape room. Kids, kids, kids. They’ve become a non-trivial customer group. The reactions I am hearing from owners range from extreme gratitude for the revenue, to disappointment with an audience that doesn’t get their themes, stories, and puzzles, to mild disgust with the destructive tendencies of unsupervised younger players.

A child's hand placing blocks on a stack.
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