Are Escape Rooms Real?

I love this question so much. There are a couple of layers to it that aren’t immediately evident.

Comic of a dog raising it's paw like it wants to ask a question.

The question “are escape rooms real?” is really asking 2 different questions:

“This is a real thing? I thought it was just a movie?”

And then the immediate followup:

“Wait, it’s real life… and not like a video game?”

Are escape rooms real?

Yes, escape rooms truly exist in real life.

Escape room creators are building games where a group of participants collaboratively discover and solve puzzles, tasks, and challenges to accomplish a goal within a set amount of time. The participants solve the games together, in a physical space, which is usually a themed environment. Sometimes these games are just about escaping a physical space like a prison. More and more often they are about completing a mission like Indiana Jones finding some powerful lost relic.

In fact, they are a global phenomenon existing in every continent except for Antarctica.

As of 2019, there were more than 2,350 escape room facilities in the United States alone. There is a sprawling global community of players who share game recommendations to traveling fans that can be found in the Escape Room Slack and a Facebook Group.

This isn’t a video game or TV Show?

Escape rooms conceptually began as video games and TV shows, but now they are real-life games that you can purchase tickets to.

Game shows like The Crystal Maze (UK) and Legends of the Hidden Temple (US) were certainly proto-escape rooms.

Video games like Myst, The 7th Guest, and even the Zelda series are clear ancestors of modern escape rooms.

We explored the history of escape rooms a while back if that kind of thing interests you.

Finding A Company?

We maintain a directory of all escape room facilities within the United States. To help you find great games near you, we also build recommendations guides; not all escape rooms are created equally.

Now that you know that escape rooms are in fact a real thing, go check one out.

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Scary?

It surprises most folks to learn that the overwhelming majority of escape rooms are not scary at all.

Yes, scary escape rooms exist.

However, the horror genre is a small subset of the escape room medium. Horror escape rooms are heavily desired by some and hated by others. Within the horror escape room genre, most are more creepy and intense than they are terrifying.

Creepy image of a person fearfully clutching the window of a door.

A few horror escape rooms are legendary in the escape room player community for their fear factor, but they are extraordinarily rare.

Escape room companies label horror games appropriately as horror. If you read a company’s website before you book, you won’t inadvertently book a scary escape room.

Let’s examine:

  • Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?
  • How can you determine whether or not an escape room is scary?
  • Where can you find some truly scary escape rooms?

Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?

There are 2 reasons why most people immediately assume that an escape room must be a horror experience.

SAW

It’s difficult to hear the words “escape room” and not think about the SAW franchise. Those movies are literally about a group of people confined within a space and forced to escape or die.

You can rest easy knowing that whatever escape room you visit in the United States is a proper business with insurance and a desire to not get sued or prosecuted for murdering a paying customer.

The Official SAW Escape Las Vegas logo depicting Jigsaw.
Image via Official SAW Escape

Escape rooms – even the official SAW escape room in Las Vegas – are not operated by serial killers hiding behind a literal puppet.

Escape Room Movies

While most escape rooms focus on puzzle and adventure, the movies with the name “Escape Room” are all horror movies (one was more watchable than the others). More specifically, these movies are basically low-budget SAW knock-offs… which is funny because SAW was a low budget flick in the first place, and the sequels are all SAW knock-offs.

A character solving a puzzle box.
Escape Room (2018)

How do I determine whether or not an escape game is scary?

Scary escape games are generally clearly marked.

Zoe, the scariest escape room that we’ve ever played, had this video advertising it on the booking website. It isn’t coy:

Companies like THE BASEMENT that specialize in horror experiences are direct about this on their websites.

Creators of horror escape rooms are targeting a specific audience. They aim to appeal to players who are excited for the experience.

That said, if a game tells you absolutely nothing about the experience, like Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown, you can also read the total lack of information as confirmation that it’s scary.

Where Can I Find Horror Games?

If you’re the type of person who found this post not out of fear, but out of excitement, here are a few places you can go to seek out the thrill of a horror escape room:

The Basement, Los Angeles, CA

The BASEMENT is one of the best-known horror escape room companies in the United States. In each of their games, you are trapped by the serial killer Edward Tandy, who toys with you, his prey, as you solve his traps. From their collection, we highly recommend The Courtyard and 2017 Golden Lock Award-Winning The Elevator Shaft.

DarkPark, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

DarkPark is one of the leading escape room companies in The Netherlands. At their locations in Delft and Zoetermeer, they create “mysterious, immersive, and blood-curdling experiences that take you to new worlds.” Their games are dark and intense. We highly recommend Golden Lock Award-Winning games Honeymoon Hotel (2018) and The End (2019).

Single Games at Escape Room Facilities

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Claustrophobic?

Many escape rooms contain elements that could trigger claustrophobia in someone who suffers from that medical condition. At the same time, there are plenty of escape games that will likely be playable for someone with claustrophobia.

I’m no doctor and I’m no expert in claustrophobia, but I have played games with friends who were worried about enclosed spaces, and they found this wasn’t an issue.

We’re going to take a look at what claustrophobia is and what you should do to ensure that you’re selecting an escape room that won’t trigger your claustrophobia.

Stylized image of the interior of a steel elevator with closed doors.

What is Claustrophobia?

If you suffer from claustrophobia, you experience an irrational fear of confinement. Common triggers include elevators, tunnels, revolving doors, and other restricted spaces.

This is a medical condition. I am not a doctor. If you suffer from claustrophobia, I would strongly urge you to speak to your doctor. A general practitioner can help you find a specialist with expertise to help you through this. You do not have to live with claustrophobia.

Please read up if this sounds like you or someone you care about.

Will Escape Rooms Trigger Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is an individual problem that will affect different people in different ways. I cannot provide a concrete answer that will apply to everyone.

That said, I can speak to some of the common triggers as they pertain to escape rooms.

Locked In or Confined

When escape rooms were first introduced, some of them would lock players in. Modern escape rooms should never lock a player into a space without providing that player with a means of freeing themself.

If you visit an escape room that doesn’t provide you a means of emergency exit, you should ask for your money back and leave.

Tight Spaces

Each escape room offers a different experience in a different sized space.

Some escape rooms can feel cramped or confined, but many of them are large and wide open. A few are even outdoors.

Crawlspaces, small rooms, and elevator-like spaces certainly do exist in some escape games. In many games, however, only 1 teammate is required to go through the small space. This is especially true of crawlspaces.

What to Do Before Booking

If the size of the space is a concern for you, reach out to the company you’re thinking about visiting. If they are a good operator, they’ll answer questions and help you determine if they have a game that will meet your needs.

You should feel comfortable saying, “I (or someone on my team) isn’t willing to enter tight spaces or tunnels. Which of your games should I book?” It’s a completely reasonable question. It’s an easy way to get some peace of mind before booking. The person you speak with may or may not get into the details of the space, but they certainly should be willing to help guide your game selection. If they don’t, call another company.

Also, as a general rule, I’d suggest avoiding horror games. In my experience, they tend to have more crawlspaces, tight spaces, and other attributes designed to poke and prod at human fears.

There are so many different and wonderful adventures to have in an escape room. Many have nothing to do with tight spaces or even escaping. Find the right game for you and go have some fun.

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

When To Slow Down & Savor an Escape Room [Player Tip]

I moderated a panel of international escape room owners at ERIC 2019.

The panel consisted of 6 creators from many of Europe’s most renowned escape room companies (and some of my personal favorites):

  • Chris Lattner (The Room/ Berlin, Germany)
  • Dmitri Varelas (Paradox Project/ Athens, Greece)
  • Lukas Rauscher (Crime Runners/ Vienna, Austria)
  • Sheena Patel (Time Run & Sherlock: The Game is Now/ London, UK)
  • Tomáš Kučva (The Chamber/ Prague, Czech Republic)
  • Victor van Doorn (Sherlocked/ Amsterdam, Netherlands)
The International Owner's panel moderated by David at ERIC 2019.
Image via Stefan of Two Bears Life.

In the middle of the mostly unplanned conversation, a question popped into my mind:

“Raise your hand if you think record-setting teams have more fun in your games?”

None of them raised their hands.

Savoring The Moment

There is a type of escape game that I really believe is best savored.

We mentioned this recently in our review of Rabbit Hole’s Mystic Temple. After realizing what we were playing, we slowed down quite a bit for Rabbit Hole’s second game, Paradox. Sometimes a game has so much detail that the optimal experience is to slow down and take it all in.

This can be a tough transition because we’re encouraged to move quickly by timers and escape room tradition.

I’m not going to tell you how to play your games. If you want to blaze through things, by all means, do it.

That said, I’ve been on many record-setting teams and I find that there’s a hollowness to it when the game was truly special. I can’t help but look back and wish that I had made more of the time rather than put up a good time.

I think that we’re going to start noting this in our “reaction” section.

For An Overview of ERIC

Our friend Stefan from the escape room blog Two Bears Life wrote up a lovely overview of ERIC 2019. I recommend checking it out.

“Real ID” and Escape Room Tourism

Many of us travel all over in search of amazing escape rooms.

Starting on October 1, 2020, American citizens will need a “REAL ID” compliant form of identification for domestic airplane travel.

That is only 1 year away.

Background

The law dates back to the post 9/11 security freakout of 2005. Rollout/ enforcement has been delayed repeatedly, but October of 2020 is the drop-dead enforcement date.

Some states adopted this law a few years ago. Others, like my adopted home, the great State of New Jersey, just started rolling it out.

I am out today, literally renewing my license as a REAL ID as this publishes.

We’re going to set aside whether this is a good or bad idea and look at the facts as they pertain to escape room tourists.

Is My License a REAL ID?

It’s pretty easy to tell if your license is a REAL ID. It will have a star in the upper right quarter that looks like one of these:

5 different gold and black stars indicating REAL ID.

What Happens on October 1, 2020?

If you don’t have a REAL ID as of October 1, 2020, the TSA will require you to fly domestically with a valid passport. Otherwise they won’t let you through security.

Take a look at your license and make sure that your future travels won’t be disrupted by this Bush-era law that took over a decade to roll out.

Visit the TSA for more information on REAL ID.

Note that you will still need a passport for international travel, now and after October 1, 2020. For Americans attending our escape room tour, Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2020, make sure you have a passport. And if you have a passport, but not a ticket to this event, there are just a few left!