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Last year my daughter’s friend had a birthday party. But rather than the roller skating rink, Chuck E Cheese, or that place where everybody climbs inside giant inflatable balls and then spend 40 minutes running into each other, this party involved something I had only heard of recently: an escape room. A group of eight kids were locked into a room sparsely decorated with palm trees told that they were to pretend to be stranded on a tropical island that was threatened by an erupting volcano. They were further told to imagine that there was a boat on which they could escape this disaster, but that the keys were hidden somewhere on the island. They had 60 minutes to find them or face a lethal overdose of lava.
In a way, classic adventure games were the precursors to the escape rooms that are popping up in strip malls and warehouses all over the country. But unlike adventure games, escape rooms take place in physical space with tangible objects. But just like with video games, people who design escape rooms and other kinds of live, narrative experiences can benefit from an understanding of human psychology. What kinds of boundaries do typical human perception and information processing place on how an escape room can be designed? How can the well worn mental shortcuts that people use to make decisions and understand the world be used to advance a narrative or provide clues for a puzzle? And then how can these concepts be looped back around to lessons that can be applied to video game design or even how to play a video game and interact with other players while trying to solve some challenge?
And what about virtual reality? Can the design of escape rooms inform the design of similar experiences in VR? Don’t those two things have a lot in common?
These are the kinds of questions that I’ll be tackling with the help of my guest expert in this episode.
Some links for further reading and listening: