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.
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:
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.