Announcing the RECON 21 Day 1 Featured Talks on YouTube

The talks from the first day on RECON ’21 are now available to view on the Room Escape Artist YouTube channel. These talks first aired August 22, 2021.

Available RECON ’21 Featured Talks

Title: The Promise & Possibilities of Escape Rooms
Speakers: Lisa & David Spira of Room Escape Artist

Title: Avatar Games: Innovating with Structure and Maximizing Fun
Speaker:Tasha Tarkhanova of Hypnodive with Project Avatar

Title: How To Build & Refine Your First Escape Room Tech Project – A Step-By-Step Guide
Speaker:Karmisha Jawell

Title: Growing our Community: Lessons in How to Best Bring New Players In
Speakers: Jackie Catterall  of EXIT Games, Ken Ferguson of The Logic Escapes Me, and Magritte Snow of Serial Escapers

Title: The Chinese Escape Room Scene: Stats and Stories from an Isolated Yet Booming Community
Speaker: Yan Xie of Archimedes Inspiration

Title: Five Things New Designers Should Know about Escape Room Puzzle Creation
Speaker: Errol Elumir of Room Escape Divas

Title: Getting Started in Building Immersive Environments
Speakers: Marise Watson & David Vella of The Cipher Room

You can also watch the RECON ’21 Introduction by Neil Patrick Harris and the after-hours events with Escape this Podcast and The Two Bears.


Please subscribe to the Room Escape Artist YouTube channel to see new videos immediately… like the RECON ’21 day 2 talks, which are coming soon.

Escape Room Narrative Design: Simple Plot, Complex Characters

“Having complex characters who can appear vividly in the game (whether in person or through the environment) is often what can make a game memorable.” – Manda Whitney at RECON ’21

One of my favorite takeaways from RECON ’21 was a storytelling concept I saw mentioned in a text channel. The idea was that when crafting a narrative for a player-based experience, consider this framework: Simple Plot, Complex Characters. 

As I thought about which games I had played that fit that description, I realized almost ALL of my favorite escape rooms fell into that category. I am not a storyteller or narrative designer. I am a player reflecting on the common threads in my favorite games. Since I read this comment at RECON, I’ve been thinking about how and why this style provides the type of escape game experiences I appreciate most.

Manda's headshot in an ornate art deco RECON 21 frame.

Concise Backstory

Try to avoid the situation where a game host gathers the players just outside the escape room door and then proceeds to introduce the game with a long story. A player’s anticipation is high at this point and their ability to absorb complex information about unfamiliar names, places, and events is low. A simple plot allows players to enter the game quickly and then discover important information on their own.

Let Me Be Me

A simpler plot in an escape room usually means that players are not asked to take on the role of a character, but rather, are entering an experience as themselves. This takes pressure off of the players. It lets them focus more on what is being presented to them and what they need to do, instead of trying to remember who they are supposed to be. Sometimes complicated plots rely on players-as-characters having specific motivations that the actual players may have trouble relating to or even remembering. I have played several games where my teammates and I had to stop and try to remember why we were supposed to want something or what we were supposed to want to accomplish. This problem is much less likely to occur when we are playing as a version of ourselves, even when placed into extraordinary, fictional circumstances.

We Love To Snoop

Most of us love to snoop through other people’s belongings. It’s a mischievous way to learn about someone else. It feels badass, or sly, and motivates players to take in information. Use that to your advantage. Let players learn about your characters by finding their personal artifacts and belongings. A set of family photos where the subjects change over time can provide character and story information without any text. A discarded chef’s hat found along with a rejection letter from a culinary school can say a lot. Diary entries, drawings, or paintings made by a character can reveal parts of their identity, but so can items like a wheelchair or a military uniform. Dusty old prototypes of an invention or an evil weapon can inform players about a character’s backstory, so a game host doesn’t need to recite it in the intro. Learning about characters, their motivations, and their resulting actions is a form of story.

Character Arcs vs Story Arcs

Complex stories with plot twists can be great in books and movies, but they are hard to capture in the escape room medium. With everything going on in a timed game and players often working on different things simultaneously, it can be hard for the whole group to keep up with twists and turns in a narrative. Character progression is easier for players to track. 

Just four pieces of discovered evidence in a magic shop could tell us that the elderly proprietor started out as a magician’s assistant, then struck out on his own, rose to fame and the top of the industry, then became bitter and evil when he fell out of favor with audiences and his own assistant became a star. That character path can span decades of story time and quickly explain why his shop is full of sinister-feeling puzzles and tricks that we must solve to escape. After solving the final puzzle players find a note, “All I wanted was for someone to appreciate my work again.”

That game needs little introduction, “You and your friends pop into a curious-looking magic shop after dinner.” The story is in the character. It is in the things we learn about him and his journey.

Puzzles As Character Beats

Escape room puzzles, tasks, and challenges can all be designed to help players empathize with your characters. If your character secretly observed something important, have the players find that hiding spot, look through that peephole and see what the character saw, feel what they felt, and connect with that character. If your character worked hard to build something – a machine or a piece of music – have your players struggle a bit (within reason) to piece together some parts or musical notes to create a masterpiece. Let them feel the accomplishment that the character felt.

If your game has a character who is asking for help or for information from the players, think about the task of delivering it to the character. If we solve puzzles to obtain the information, the process of communicating it to the character can be a powerful moment. Maybe it is not the desired result and we need to break it to the character softly. Maybe it is exactly what they need, delivered just in time, and we can feel their relief and joy.

Learn At RECON

“Simple Plot, Complex Characters” is just one example of the type of thought-provoking insight provided to RECON attendees. Between the featured talks (available to watch here), the workshops, and the tremendous level of community conversation, the amount of quality, actionable information provided at the RECON ’21 escape room convention was simply amazing.

Top 5 Things to Know Post-RECON

Thank you to the many REA readers who joined us for RECON 21!

We really enjoyed seeing and meeting many of you in the RECON Discord.

RECON was a blur… with streamed talks, discussion groups, games, and even workshops sometimes all taking place simultaneously. In case you missed something, here’s what you need to know today.

RECON phoenix rising from the flames.

Top 5 Things to Know

  1. The featured talks will all be available on the Room Escape Artist YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. Or, better yet, subscribe! Then you’ll know as soon as they are posted.
  2. For those who attended RECON, the post-RECON survey is now available. We’d really love your feedback. And on the final page, right before you hit “submit,” you can click to enter to win a copy of Box One signed by Neil Patrick Harris, and provided by Theory 11.
  3. The RECON Discord isn’t closing. However, if you met someone at RECON who you want to stay in contact with, you should “friend” them on Discord. Then you can easily send direct messages. This is not a weird thing to do. “Friend” all the great people you met!
  4. The RECON swag shop will be open only a little while longer. This is your last chance to grab some awesome RECON ’21 swag.
  5. Yes, there was an ARG at RECON. And yes, you can still solve it. Enjoy!

Thank you!

RECON is only possible because of the incredible team of people working for months to put on this event and all the volunteers who kept it running smoothly. It took an army. Seriously. We cannot thank you enough.

We also thank Patreon backers, many of whom came out to RECON in so many different roles: speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, VIPs, and volunteers. You are the amazing community that makes this madness possible.


Brendan Lutz

Cara Mandel

Cindi Saiewitz

James Cobalt

Lee-Fay Low

Michael ‘Auggie’ Augustine

Theresa Piazza

Theresa Wagner

RECON Volunteers

Amanda Dupuy

Andrew Reynolds

Anne Lukeman

Ben Rosner

Bill Chang

Brett Kuehner

Chris Holland

C.J. Smith

Dan Egnor

Daniel Dilley

Darren Miller

Denise Kuehner

Errol Elumir

Heather Burns

Jason Lisnak

Jeb Havens

Jennifer S

Kate Wastl

Lindsay Froelich

Manda Whitney

Matthew Stein

Melissa Miller

Melanie Keep

Michael Andersen

Myra Ramdenbourg

Nick Moran

Noam Strassfeld

Richard Burns

Scott Olson

Shannon McDowell

Sheila Holland

Shuai Chen

Sim Lauren

Tammy McLeod

Tommy Honton

Tom Mortishire-Smith

Yuehwern Yih

Patreon Backers

Amanda Harris
Andrew Reynolds
Andrew Sturridge
Angie Meyers
Anne Lukeman
Ben Rosner
Bill Chang
Breakout Games
Brett Kuehner
Brian Resler
Brian Vinciguerra
Bronna Butler
Byron Delmonico
C.J. Smith
Cara Mandel
Chris Cannon
Chris M. Dickson
Chris White
Daniel Egnor
Daniel Kolb
Darren Miller
David Longley
deadpan 1113
Derek Tam
Drew Nelson
Emile Wang
Eric Mittler
Farand Pawlak
Greg Marinelli
Haley & Cameron Cooper
Herbert Chan
James Shearer
Jan-Luc Van Damme
Jason’s Fitness Consigliere
Jim of PARADOXsquared
John Wardrope
Jon Kaufthal
Jonathan Dautrich

Jonathan Driscoll
Joseph Allen
Joseph Friesen
Joseph Mayeux
Josh Kendrick
Julie Burge
Justin Nevins
Kurt Leinbach
Laura E. Hall
Lee-Fay Low
Leo Dennett
Lindsay Froelich
Lori Miller
Marisa Capobianco
Mark Blume
Mark Denine
Matt Beverly
Matt Keyser
Matthew Stein
Michael Andersen
Michael Wolman
Michelle Rundbaken
Mihir Kedia
Nathan Walton
Neda Delavarpour
Negina Kolesar
Nick Moran
Nick Rose
No Proscenium
Olivia Anderson
Omer Aru
Patrick McLean
Patrick McNamara
Paul Tashima
Paula Swann
Philip Ho
Phillip Justman
Psych Out
Puzzling Company

Rebecca Horste
Rene Sorette
Rex Miller
Rich Bragg
Richard Burns
Rob Tsuk
Ruud Kool
Ryan Brady
Ryan Hart
S T Cameron
Samantha Koehler
Sara Reed
Sarah Zhang
Scott Olson
Sean McBride
Sendil Krishnan
Seth Wolfson
Spencer Arnold
Stephanie McNeill
Steve Ewing
Steve Gaddy
Steven Valdez
Stuart Bogaty
Stuart Nafey
Tahlia Kirk
Tammy McLeod
Teo Litto
Terry Pettigrew-Rolapp
The Escape Room USA
The Wild Optimists
Theresa Piazza
Theresa Wagner
Tiffany Schaefer
Todd Geldon
Todd McClary
Tom Henley
Victor van Doorn
Vivien Ripoll
Wesley James
Will Rutherford

To those of you reading who have the means, we hope you’ll consider joining this wonderful group of supporters. 

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon, Etsy, or Art of Play 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.

RECON Day 2 – Today’s Top Picks

RECON is back this morning!

Here is the event schedule.

RECON phoenix rising from the flames.

Featured Talks

We have 7 talks scheduled today. They cover a variety of topics including tabletop escape games, hint systems, and marketing. There’s something for everyone.

To conclude the talks, Elan Lee will share Escape Rooms Taught Me How to Build a Booth That Got Me Kicked Out of Comic-Con and then wrap up the day with a conversation with David and Lisa.

Pro & VIP Conversations

There are workshops, facilitated discussions, and birds of a feather conversations happening in the RECON Discord. These are all great networking opportunities.

Additionally, there is an AMA about escape room industry advocacy and lobbying with Andrew Preble (Escape My Room & ERGO).

Game Hall

The RECON games experience continues today for all Play Pass holders.

Sign up in the RECON Discord for your time to play Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Escape From Escape Island.

And look for the RECON Discord channels where you can join in on the fun of Green Door Lab’s Space Cats!

At 11:30am, Great Gotham Challenge’s CTRL/ALT/DECODE MMXXI runs again (it also ran yesterday) and all Play Pass holders are invited to join.

These are just a few of the highlights of RECON ’21 games.

Exhibit Hall

We have a wide variety of sponsors and exhibitors showcasing products at RECON this year. We invite all attendees – owners, creators, and players – to check out the Exhibit Hall channels in the RECON Discord. There’s something for everyone.

Also, please head to the demo stage in the RECON Discord for live product demos!

Woman wearing a black t-shirt with the RECON 21 phoenix and a hidden message.


We hope you’ll show off your RECON swag today in the video channels. It’s not too late to purchase from the RECON swag shop: shirts, hoodies, hats, mugs, stickers, and more!

After Hours

RECON wraps up tonight with The Two Bears Discord Variety Hour. Join us for some trivia, gameshow-style questions, and puzzle fun. Then find us in the video channel pubs!

At RECON Right Now: NPH Introduces REA

RECON is today!

Right now, on the RECON Stage, Neil Patrick Harris is introducing RECON ’21 Global and the first talk, David and Lisa’s keynote The Promise & Possibilities of Escape Rooms.


Here is the event schedule.

Today, there are 7 featured talks. They cover how puzzle design, building immersive environments, how to get started with basic escape tech, and so much more.

For Pro Ticket holders, there are many opportunities to network through the RECON Discord, including workshops and facilitated discussions.

For Play Pass holders, there are tons of games taking place all day.

And this evening, join us in the RECON Discord at 20:00 (New York) for the Escape This Podcast Live Event.

RECON 21 phoenix insignia.


Don’t miss out on this event. You can still get a ticket today.

Today, you’ll find us in the RECON Discord. Come say hi. See you at RECON!