Escape game is a relatively new phenomenon and game genre. Escape games have existed as a form of entertainment since 2007, when the first ecape game took place in Kyoto, Japan. Further, Parapark, a Hungarian escape game company, was established in Budapest in 2011.
Escape games are usually group games in which a group of players solve various problem-solving tasks. Often the game has a theme or storyline, although there may be a simple framework for the game. The name “escape game” comes from the objective of the game: players must escape from a given situation or circumstance within a given time. The escape can also be symbolic. Put simply, players aim to reach their target, which is “the escape” or ”complete the room.” Escape games therefore have a time limit, which is an additional challenge for the players. When the game space is a closed room, the game is called an escape room game.
Escape games are rooted in gamification. The term gamificaton refers to the “use of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts” the phenomenon of creating gameful experiences”. Escape games can be adventurous and challenging games for a team of players. In practice this means for example to discover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks together. Escape games develop a wide range of skills of pleyers: Teamwork, critical thinking, attention, problem-solving, time management, collaboration, focus under pressure and respect of others’ characteristics and way of thinking. The aim is to make the player as active and proactive as possible and to let go by the educator as much as possible.
Why do we like to gamble?
- a clear objective
- self-direction and activity
- tracking your own progress made concrete and visible
- social activity
- experiential and immersive, requiring concentration
- can create a flow experience
Pedagogical/educational escape games are characterised by a predefined pedagogical /educational objective and the fact that pedagogy/educational approach and gamification are interlinked and form a whole that supports learning. Escape game can be used for example to create a discovery-based learning environment for youngs. Getting feedback and reflecting on learning in a variety of ways together with youth workers/educators is also essential in pedagogical/educational escape game.
There are more and more examples outside formal educational currculum where escape games have been used as part of educational work. Some examples: sexual education, human rights, substance abuse education, media or global education. Educational escape rooms can be used also to help young people deal with all kind of social issues, as for cyberbullying, teamwork skills or inclusion.
The ingredients of a good escape game: Good theme + good subject + good story + creativity -> good puzzles and an interesting set!
Step by step: How do I start designing an escape game?
- Name: Create a Name For the Escape Game
- Start with game design and structure – this is a key part of design process!
Will the game be physical, electronic, hybrid or perhaps mobile?
- a physical game -> a space that is free for a sufficiently long period of time (inside/outside)
- an electronic game -> a digital game platform (where the game will be played? What facilities needed?)
- a hybrid -> needs to take both of the above into account.
Who is doing it and for whom? Youth worker produces a game for young people? Or do they design the game together with the young people? Or the young people produce the game themselves for other young people? Or the escape game is commissioned from an external provider.
Another important point: A clear division of labour between game designers facilitates planning and implementation. Who will be responsible for puzzles and problems, or will they be shared between the players? Who will take care of the implementation and procurement of props? How is the supervision of the learners divided?
Target group and number of players/games: Who is the game for (number, age, social and educational level)? Define the target group as precisely as possible. This will avoid making the game too difficult or too easy. Both extremes frustrate players. Remember to keep the game challenging enough; escape games involve frustration and trial and error.
Objectives: What do you want to achieve in youngs through play? Learning new skills (for example emotional and interaction skills), exploring new topic, learning new things?
The number of players? It depends in a single game on the game, but a team of four has been found to work best (3-6 players normally)
Game duration: How long does the game last? 60 minutes, many hours or perhaps a full-day game?
Topic: What is the topic of the escape game?
Story: The game should have at least an intro to introduce the players to the game.
Theme: The theme can have a deeper meaning, e.g. friendship, solidarity. So the theme may not be directly reflected in the theme and story of the game. A theme is not compulsory.
Brainstorm and use your creativity!
A good brainstorm with some creative people will bring you to your first ideas, and from there you find your way to create a good narrative and set a game flow up in detail. Throw ideas around, let the ideas flow. You can mix and match ideas. It’s easier to weed out a large number. Remember to narrow it down at the end!
Progressing in the game:
Linear or straight forward escape game
- tasks are solved in a certain order, only one task can be solved at a time
- suitable for a progressive plot,
- easy to understand
Non-linear escape game
- tasks can be solved in any order
- the group can split up to solve different tasks
- can be implemented in many ways (e.g. grid-like)
- suitable for larger numbers of players
- more difficult to develop a plot
Outline the game on paper (or on an electronic platform). Think about how you will manage the game. Check that there are no unintended shortcuts or clues that mislead players.
Focus on diversity of tasks and atmosphere in the game!
- Locks/tasks What and how will the task be solved? Think of clues to make the task easier. What tools are needed to solve the task? What about the time planned for solving the task? In order to avoid that tasks remain isolated and disconnected, think about the structure and the way the escape game is implemented. On the other hand, sometimes the aim may be to make a collection of individual problem tasks, so that the tasks do not need to be tied into a coherent game.
- A variety of tasks:
- code locks (numbers, letters, dates, degrees, colours, etc.)
- hidden objects
- cryptography and coding tasks
- cryptography, cipher and cryptographic tasks
- clues in pictures and objects
- information aggregation tasks
- multiple-choice tasks
- physical tasks
- sensory tasks
- online tasks
- videos and recordings
- information retrieval
- grids, puzzles, mazes, sudoku puzzles, cake puzzles, etc.
- The soundscape influences the atmosphere and the players’ emotional states. Music, nature or traffic sounds: Remember to check copyright! (CC licence)
- Lighting: bright/dark, flickering, changing lights?
- Images can be used as part of tasks or to create atmosphere (e.g. Canva)
Debriefing & evaluation
Players’ own reflection (self-evaluation, peer feedback) and assessment of learning Players’ own reflection is important for the learning process. In the debriefing, it is worth going through the tasks and locks of the game and their solution processes (check the ready-made forms)
Tips for facilitator/ leader
- Testing and refining the game: Testing the escape game is how you make sure it works! Just one test is enough!
- Game controller: remind players of these!
- tell the game’s framework story and rules
- emphasise the importance of cooperation
- don’t break anything
- do not force locks open
- leave items in place
Here are supporting materials you can use when preparing and realising escape games. All the documents are in editable format.
- There must be nothing sharp in the room that could harm customers
- first aid kit must be present, just in case.
- Customers must be able to leave the room in the middle of the game.
- The instructor must be able to see what is happening in the room at all times.
- The room must not be locked.
- Psychological safety: however, the escape game is not suitable for use in situations where, for example, group communication is inflamed. For example, bullying situations cannot be solved by means of an escape game. When dealing with a realistic crisis, special care and sensitivity are needed to ensure that the issue is handled correctly and respectfully. However, an escape game is a fictional game, it is not real life and the experience can be very immersive for the player.
Examples of concrete methods
In the project Playversity, the organisations have developed examples of escape games you can use. Check out their website. Main creators are Be International (Czech Republic), Ticket2Europe (Spain) and Shokkin Group (Estonia).
Sources and further reading:
- Humak University of Applied Sciences 2018. Educational Escape Rooms with Gabi Steinprinz, episode 6. Talking Youth Work. Future Labs -project. Erasmus +. https://humak.podbean.com/e/educational-escape-rooms-with-gabi-steinprinz-episode-6/
- Institute of Entrepreneurship Development 2019. Escape rooms in Youth Standard and Special Education. https://ied.eu/project-updates/escape-rooms-in-youth-standard-and-special-education/
- Koiranen Joona 2019. Pedagogiset pakopelit opas. Helsinki: Ääres eduEscape.
- Parkki Tuomo 2020. Make Your Escape! Opas pedagogisen pakopelin suunnitteluun. Light a Bot – hanke. Joensuun Mediakeskus. https://read.bookcreator.com/mSzqLfdM3VoEJKRXm1GLLcOKRxDFEfeA9wF22UCrL4s/1_RGPfS7SXGZgIymLOo4Rw
- Siukola Jesse 2021. Nuorten yhteisöllinen ja osallistava toiminta Kuopion 4H-yhdistys ry:ssä. Pakohuonepelin rakentaminen. Opinnäytetyö (AMK). Humanistinen ammattikorkeakoulu. https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/510297/Siukola.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y
- Steinprinz Gabi 2017. Escape Room as Educational Tool. Tools for Learning. Salto Youth. https://educationaltoolsportal.eu/hr/node/2143
- Tahvanainen Ville, Nenonen Suvi and Harjula Tarja 2021. Implementation of Digital and Physical Learning Environment to 21st Century Skills – Case Escape Room in the University of Eastern Finland. Research Papers. The 20th EuroFM Research Symposium 16-17 June 2021. https://eurofm.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Proceedings_EuroFM_Research_Symposium_2021.pdf
- University of Eastern Finland 2022. Pakopelikäsikirja. OpenDigitaito -hanke 2021-2022. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. https://digicampus.fi/course/view.php?id=3382
The article written by Kristiina Vesama, HUMAK, 2023.