Laura E. Hall explains how escape rooms are more like video games than you might think

On the subject of escape rooms – the mysterious places that have popped up everywhere in recent years – few are as knowledgeable as Laura E. Hall. She was there, did it and literally wrote the book on it. The book in question, Plan your escape, aims to transmit part of its escape expertise to all those looking to perfect their skills in the field (or in the gym).

Admittedly, Hall has carved out a fairly specific niche for himself. Sitting down to chat with NME, she explained that she has always been “a lover of puzzles and mysteries” – since her passion for Nancy Drew at a young age.

Fast forward, she explains that “in college, I got passionate about alternative reality games which introduced me to the genre of puzzles. What I found really interesting about these is that they are time based, right? It’s a community coming together to solve this game, but the narrative is interactive and responsive to the audience. That’s what I really liked about it, but I never really saw myself as an enigmatic person. “

That perception changed when she moved to Portland in 2010 and was introduced to a “puzzle pint” event where “you show up for a beer and solve puzzles”. The event was a turning point for Hall, who discovered that “it was sort of the first time I saw myself as a riddle person, although in reality I had been solving riddles for years.” From there, Hall’s passion for puzzles morphed into bigger and “more intensive” puzzles as a team.

Laura E. Hall, speaking at GDC. Credit: GDC.

“We had just done one in Seattle and we heard about this thing called ‘escape rooms’, it was brand new. We played it and we were totally blown away, you know?

This very first escape room had a huge impact on her. Such an impact, in fact, that on the way home, Hall and his friends made the decision to throw their own.

“We agreed that we were already enigmatic people; we love storytelling, we do video games, we do theater… we should be doing something like that. The potential of these games was so obvious to us as a fun team game, in a physical space around you that tells a story, but contains puzzles that can be really fun and challenging.

“On that ride home, my group of friends and I were like, we have to try this, right?” And that’s what we’ve done. We opened, I think, the first in Portland, maybe the first in Oregon. “

Hall and his friends opened their first escape room in “a small building in the industrial district,” and that had advantages that would be disadvantages in any other endeavor. “It was a little scary, there was a lot of atmosphere and it was a dilapidated building. Most importantly, it was cheap.

Hall adds that according to an Escape Artist poll, there were – at the time – only 22 like-minded companies in the entire United States. “We opened up a very narrative one, incorporating puzzles and mechanics into the story, very early electronic components in a time when it wasn’t all that much… Yeah, it all started from there.”

“It all started from there” sums up the expanse of escape rooms that have attracted friends, workplaces and families over the years. There is very clearly something out there that appeals to a lot of people – something that can convince a group of friends to trade the safety of their dropped pints to be voluntarily locked in a room. But what is it?

For Hall, she says the joy of escape rooms comes down to being there and working with friends.

“You can have an amazing and fun time with your friends even in the worst of rooms, a game with a terrible design, precisely because you are there with your friends, you can make the most of any situation. have performed in hundreds of venues over time and even terrible venues we can at least laugh because we’re together.

Then again, making a habit of actively looking for garbage escape rooms is probably not ideal. There are all kinds of reasons a place can be a little cheesy, but we’re talking to the expert: Going the other way around, what makes the perfect puzzle? She explains that a lot of puzzles revolve around “the dynamic between the author and the puzzle solver,” and that a good one should let the players “look at the puzzle and sort of know what the hell is going on. he expects from you, or you find pleasure in understanding what he expects from you ”.

If this sounds a little familiar to you, you’re not the only one who thinks it. Hall points out that despite the unique and physical principle of escape rooms, so far detached from the console or screen, they share very striking similarities with video games.

“It’s like a video game that way, it’s a rules system that you enter, but because you’re in the real world, you always test those limits and find out what it means in-game and out-of-game. . What responds and what does not respond. Everything to get a feel for what’s really going on. In that sense, escape rooms are more like indie games than AAA titles, because it’s a different developer each time, so you have to figure out what they see as a puzzle, which is a red herring, which is just a cool piece of art. There is like a little evaluation period each time .

In that regard, is it really so surprising that we have flocked to escape rooms? Like countless video games, we are drawn to the experiences that engage us with our friends. Whether it’s taking down other players in War zone or work with your friends to escape through a very real locked door, maybe we’re chasing the social side of things more than we thought.

There’s an even simpler connection, a big reason everyone will be playing games of any type – we almost always want to win. With that in mind, it would be a shame to speak with Hall and forget the most important question: what’s the best way to actually escape from one of these rooms? After all the talk about community and friendship, it’s no surprise that she says “The escape game will begin with your team”.

“Escape rooms aren’t lonely experiences and you really have to work together to be successful. “

Specifically, Hall recommends “checking in with your teammates, knowing when to stop and change to get a fresh take on [puzzles]. Making sure that the team dynamics are good throughout the set is an equally important thing throughout the experience.

“The most important thing is to assess the information, look around; what do you see? What do you have? Concretely, what has not yet been used? This is where communication comes in again. Usually rooms try to challenge you but not deceive you. They are not there to point the finger at you and make fun of you Nelson de The simpsons style. All the information you need should be there, or you are about to access it.

Also, it may seem counterproductive to use your wits and wits to escape, but Hall actually recommends asking for help if you are indeed stuck:

“Constantly checking in with the game is a big part of that, and part of it is knowing when to ask for a hint. If a clue has not been given, you may be close, but you can ask for this confirmation of the information. Do we have all the information we need now? Is our code correct? If you are basing the rest of your resolution on something that is not correct, or you do not have all the information yet, it can be very helpful.

Laura E. Hall
Laura E. Hall. Credit: Laura E. Hall.

Obviously, these clues won’t just give you the keys to the kingdom (or the gate). Hall describes “an art of giving clues,” which pushes people in the right direction without taking away the satisfaction of solving it.

Hall can’t say too much either. Not only is “protecting the secrecy” surrounding escape rooms vital to the industry, but it also has a recently published book that – among other things – helps readers polish their Houdini impression.

So hey; if you love the usual video games and fancy something new, why not gather some friends and try out an escape room? Ultimately, you might find that the two have more in common than you think.

Laura E. Hall’s latest book – Planning Your Escape – can be picked up at Amazon, Water stones, and other bookstores now.