So, you've come to an escape room. So, you've come to our escape room (The Virus presented by Get the F Out - tell your friends). You've struggled with puzzles. You've yelled at your team mates. You've patted yourself on the back for being so clever. You've experienced every emotion in the book from exhilaration to frustration to abject rage. You've made certain connections but missed others. And, the worst has happened. Though you were oh so close, time has expired. You have failed to save the world. You exit the room with your head hung low. You pose for the death picture and you watch sadly as the game master adds a line in dry erase marker to the losing side of the dry erase board.
You have failed to escape. But does that really matter?
On the one hand, of course it really matters. This form of entertainment you have chosen to engage in is called an escape room after all. The title of the thing tells you what the goal is. You have to escape. The goal is to escape. Duh. You have sixty minutes to get out of the room. If you succeed, you win. If you fail, you lose. It's just that simple. And with escaping comes bragging rights. You can tell your friends how smart you are and you can lord your winning time over theirs...especially if they have previously failed to escape.
But, I would argue, that escaping is not the point of an escape room. It's not the point by a long shot. The relatively new art form known as the escape room is not an I.Q. test. It has absolutely no bearing on how clever you are, how worthy you are as a person, or how far you will succeed in your life. As an escape room creator and game runner, I can tell you that I never watch a person or a team struggling over one of our puzzles and think to myself, "Boy this person is stupid. How do they ever get through life? Why didn't they realize that closing the refrigerator opened the hidden bookcase?" And, conversely, I never watch a person or a team speed through the puzzles in our room and think to myself that this person is some sort of genius. More likely, the "successful" puzzle solvers have probably done more escape rooms than those who do not succeed. They have merely seen that type or style of puzzle before. They have a larger mental escape room puzzle rolodex than those who have done fewer escape rooms. It's analogous to the savvy crossword puzzle solver who immediately knows that the five letter word for an eagle's nest is an "eyrie". The person who does not do so many crossword puzzles perhaps has not come across that particular clue before and doesn't immediately have that word at their disposal.
(On a side note, I should add that the world of escape room clues and puzzles is a finite one. Though we at the Virus Room have tried desperately to avoid copying what we have seen in other escape rooms and though we have gone out of our way to create unique and never before seen puzzles and experiences, sometimes the collective unconscious is too great. I have groaned in horror after experiencing the exact "unique" puzzle in somebody else's escape room that I thought that I had created on my own. Carl Jung never did an escape room but I'm certain that if he did, he would not be surprised to find that my one of a kind chemical processor in Burbank looked exactly like the chemical processor found in another room somewhere in Zimbabwe. But I digress....)
I would argue that an escape room is not a test of your abilities so much as it is immersive theater. Far be it from testing you, an escape room exists to submerge you in a world. The larger purpose of an escape room is to place you within the confines of another time and place. In my opinion, an escape room can be more thrilling than music, cinema, the stage, video games, or books. For, it is in the arena of an escape room that you become the main character in a story. And as the main character, your choices dictate what transpires in the room. Though the above listed art forms transport the listener, the viewer, the reader, or the game player to other realms, it is in only in the arena of the escape room that this transportation takes on an immediacy and a realism not found elsewhere. The most successful escape rooms are those that are most effective in making it seem like you are somewhere else. Those rooms that make it seem like something horrible will happen if you lose are those rooms that get my blood pumping and my imagination racing. The goal of escaping is there to raise the stakes and to add excitement and thrills to the adventure but in my ever so humble opinion, it's just not as important as the experience as a whole.
What do you guys think?