Some of the most joyous moments in escape rooms come when the rules that had been previously established rules get shifted. Thinking back to the first time I had ever tried an escape room, the most exciting part of the whole room was when we opened the secret room in back. Seriously, that caused more joy than when we actually solved the puzzle.
There’s something exciting when you discover that the world you’ve found yourself in is bigger than you thought it was. Everything that came before still matters, but now you’re forced to look at it in a new light. It’s like a satisfying twist in a movie.
Of course, now that I’ve done a few escape rooms I’ve come to expect the second room. I’d be left a little deflated if it wasn’t there. You’d have to do something truly unexpected to get the same kind of glee again. Which is why I was so excited by the twist that Mink Ette came up with her “Rabbit hole” escape room in the lecture we watched this week (er, um… last week).
I found that so example so exciting because it was playing with the very nature of the rules of the game that everyone had agreed to. Everyone entered into the room with a certain explicit rules that they knew about escape rooms, as well as implicit rules about how to behave in a gaming environment. Don’t break things, don’t use the same clue more than once, don’t steal things from the space, those were all explicit rules of the game. Other rules, like that the game would be centered around one table, or that zip-tied astro-turf carpet around the legs of the table probably means you shouldn’t go under it, were more implicit.
When she directs the players to go under the table, the players found that the whole rules of the game had shifted. The artifice, conflict, and quantifiable outcomes stay the same while the rules shift ever so slightly. The magic circle didn’t disappear, it just had a different shape than previously thought.
I’m not totally sure that our mid-project twist has the same impact (and I’m not even sure that the players of the above-mentioned escape room found the twist as clever as I did), but I’m hoping we can do something unexpected. I’m hoping that, given our small space, players won’t expect the kind of two-tiered multi-linear path that we’re attempting here. Small things like sending in “stagehands” to change out clues while the players are in our time machine will hopefully add in an additional unexpected element: did they really come in and change the room around? I haven’t seen that in any escape room I’ve done.
Who knows how effective any of this will be, but being able to toy with people’s expectations is an exciting opportunity.