As the newest addition to the team as games master at Live Escape Rooms Salisbury, it’s been a wild month and a half as I get to grips with working in the escape room industry. There are some things that I had anticipated, and some things that I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for. As such, I thought I’d share some of the observations made since joining.
Observation 1: Always wait an extra minute before offering help
This was one of the first lessons I learned from seeing games from the control room side. Generally, we have a rough time estimate of when people should ideally be reaching certain milestones in our games, and we offer hints to try and keep people around this timeframe as best as possible.
However, the number of times I’ve been gearing up to give a hint to players, only to see them immediately find the puzzle or solution I had been watching them struggle on for some time is uncanny. I have no explanation of why this happens so often, but it’s led me to the golden rule of ‘wait 1 more minute’, whenever I’m about to offer an unsolicited hint.
Observation 2: Predicting human behaviour is hard
A lot of hosting, and particularly helping to design escape rooms comes from predicting how people will react to certain objects, puzzles and experiences. But predicting this accurately is an absolute impossibility.
In my first month I’ve seen people attempt to climb through things that obviously shouldn’t be. People Googling information or answers to puzzles (not that this helps very often), and one player who thought it was okay to use their own house keys to lever open something in the game that would have opened if they played the game as intended. (General advice – escape rooms will always give you all the tools you need, you will not need external items).
Equally, sometimes people will find every aspect of a puzzle but not link them together. Or manage to find a way to make a puzzle far more complicated than it actually is, and confuse themselves out of time in the process.
As such, it’s important to never take your eyes away from any member of a team for too long, otherwise trying to work out what they were doing and where they are now could be a challenge.
Observation 3: The player archetypes
In very broad terms, players of escape rooms can fall into some general categories in how they approach the challenges and puzzles.
The leader/the methodical: This is the person in any group who takes command of the room. Sometimes this is in a very obvious way in that they will explain to people how each puzzle works and help figure out who is best suited to each challenge. Sometimes this is just that they will methodically find everything while others go for a more scattered approach and just head to whatever looks most interesting to them.
The searcher: This person instantly enters the room and starts opening drawers, looking at pictures. Generally searching every object and nook they can find in the room to look for hidden objects or puzzles. Sometimes this pays off, but often it leads to them coming back to the group having missed one or more puzzles.
The quiet one: The dark horse of any team. The quiet one largely spends time on their own not saying much. Just checking in with the group every now and again. Usually, though, the quiet one is also excellent at puzzle solving, but doubts their own abilities, and ends up solving puzzles with none of the group because they don’t want to distract the group from what they are currently doing.
The follower: The final archetype is generally the one who often does the most to solve puzzles, but will generally go to whichever puzzle someone is struggling on. Rather than choosing a puzzle themselves, they work out where the team is struggling and follow others to that challenge to help the team solve it and move to the next step in the game.
Observation 4: It’s amazing how many people don’t think we can see them
Another general piece of advice – if you’re in an escape room, a member of staff can probably see you. And most likely, they can hear you as well.
It’s incredible how often people forget this simple rule of thumb. The number of times I have heard people talk about “the person running the game” like I am not going to hear what they say. Better yet are the people who spot the cameras but assume they must be fake or part of the set dressing for the game.
The camera systems and audio systems are there for safety. So we can make sure that you aren’t going to attempt something dangerous, and can stop you if you do. But they are running at all times, so please consider this the next time you do play an escape room.
Observation 5: Watching people is fun
The final observation I have is that being in the control room side of the game is just inherently fun. The fact is that despite running the same game, no game ever feels the same. Every single group, no matter if first-timers or experienced players, takes their own somewhat unique approach to the game. People get stuck on different puzzles, need help with different things, and occasionally do something so odd you can’t help but laugh to yourself about how good (or not) the idea was.
Running these games is honestly a great experience, and with new games on the horizon, I think it will take a long time before the joys of running games wear off.
Look forward to hosting you all for fun and games in the future!
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