Are Escape Rooms Locked?

No, you aren’t truly trapped in an escape room.

Every modern escape room should always allow players to free themselves in the event of an emergency.

If you visit an escape room company and they insist on locking you in without an emergency exit, you should demand a refund and leave.

Closeup of a beefy squire padlock securing a door.

Common Types of Emergency Exits

There are 2 ways that escape rooms typically handle emergency exits. We explored these more thoroughly when we established our basic escape room safety evaluation guide.

No lock at all

The door is always open. You can come and go as you please. When your gamemaster explains this to you, 1 of 2 things will happen:

  • Your gamemaster will explain that you can come and go as you please, “but using the door as an emergency exit doesn’t count as ‘escaping.'”
  • In the event that your gamemaster doesn’t explain this, inevitably someone from your team will jokingly ask if “using the emergency exit is a way to win.” When your teammate makes that joke, they will be fully confident that no other person has made such a clever joke.

Push To Exit

Many escape rooms use magnetic locks, also known as maglocks. Maglocks use an electromagnet to hold a door shut. In this case, the locks should open automatically if power is cut to them. There will also be a big button near the door that will release the lock.

Maglocks are easy and quick to use. This has become the industry standard, should the game designer feel that a “locked door” is necessary to the escape game’s design.

Emergency Key

A minority of escape rooms will hang an emergency key beside the door knob.

This isn’t really an ideal emergency exit system because it requires a little bit of time and coordination. It does, however, provide a means for players to free themselves.

An old rusty master lock and a disk lock securing a door.

History

In some regions, locking players in used to be quite common in escape rooms. As escape rooms gained popularity, however, this started changing rapidly due to many factors.

First, locking players in wasn’t a great idea and a lot of escape room creators realized this. It added an element of unnecessary danger. It was also impractical. It was easier to just let people go to the bathroom if they needed to. $#!% happens… it’s best to let it happen in the toilet.

The second factor that drove escape rooms away from lock-ins were laws. Throughout the United States many states and municipalities do not allow a business to lock customers into any space. Sometimes it’s fire code; sometimes it’s false imprisonment laws. Either way, a lot of places don’t allow it.

The third influence away from locked games were insurance companies that weren’t keen on that aforementioned unnecessary risk.

Finally, escape room creators realized that mission-based play was far more compelling than pure escape. “You’re on a quest for the Holy Grail” is almost always more interesting than “You’re locked in a room; figure out how to unlock the door.”

Even with all of these clear and good reasons to avoid lock-ins, there were still some holdouts. Essentially everyone was convinced that lock-ins were bad when a fire in a Polish escape room claimed lives. In the wake of that event, the industry as a whole responded swiftly. Now it’s rare to find locked games anywhere in the Western world.

The Bottom Line

Escape rooms should not lock you in without a quick and easy emergency exit.

If you encounter a company that is locking you in without providing an emergency exit and explaining how it works prior to the game beginning, ask for your money back. Tell that company that this is unacceptable and unsafe. Then go find a better company to visit.

Have a safe and fun time on your escape room adventure.

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 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.