I Need An Adult... Or At Least Someone Taller Than Me...
Updated: Aug 16, 2018
We played an escape room last week that involved a LOT of search-and-find. I think I’ve mentioned before that the members of Team Bluefish are not the best searchers… or the best finders. We frequently overlook game elements that are (somewhat) out in the open, and we’ve been unstuck many times by a GameMaster saying something like “Did you look in the bowl that’s sitting on the table there?”
I know that we’re not great at that aspect of escape games. I can accept that, and we counterbalance this by employing a couple of strategies outlined here. What becomes frustrating is when a game is designed to make it physically difficult to find an object that you need to make progress.
In the game I mentioned above, we were 40 minutes into the game when we got stuck and asked for a clue. The GameMaster informed us that we needed two more keys to win the game, and that both of the keys were readily accessible. That is to say, neither one was locked up and we actually could have found them at any point in the game.
Mrs. Bluefish and I sighed at each other (always a good sign) and divided the area into spaces to search. We weren’t excited about looking for the keys, but we know ourselves, we know that searching isn’t our strong suit, and we know that this sort of thing happens in games.
Fast forward ten minutes and two “clues” from our game master, and we managed to find the first of our two remaining keys. In order to do that, I had to lay down and stick my head in an oven (which had been searched by both of us at least twice). Eureka. All kinds of fun (he said, sarcastically).
With ten minutes left, we felt like the game wasn’t playing fair, but we wanted the win. So we redoubled our efforts. We searched the entire play-space again, paying special attention to hiding places that pushed the boundaries of traditional escape room rules.
Eventually we were hinted towards a cabinet about six feet off the ground. We couldn’t see into it because of the height, so we felt around inside the cabinet (which we had each already done prior). We didn’t find anything, but our GameMaster’s hints couldn’t possibly point to anything else. Mrs. Bluefish then grabbed a cutting board and began scraping at the cabinet shelf to no avail. Finally, as I stood on my tiptoes and reached into the far back corner, my fingers brushed a key, laying flat on the shelf. I grabbed the key and used it to end our game. We had 30 seconds and zero patience left in the game.
You can probably tell that I was a little peeved by this experience. We spent almost a third of our game trying to find hiding places, and it turned out that (in our opinions) those hiding places were out-of-bounds. In both cases we felt that it was almost impossible to find the necessary objects and that the average person would not be capable of retrieving the keys even if they knew exactly where to look.
At that point, the game is no longer fun anymore, because the promise of the game world has been broken. I’m not allowed to stand on furniture, but the game basically requires it. It’s unfair and extremely frustrating to players.
It doesn’t take much to overcome this problem. Designers and game masters need to be aware of how people are different physically, and they need to allow for it. They need to make sure that a kid won’t get stuck just because an object is out of reach. They need to make sure than an older person with sore joints is not going to be penalized just because he can’t spend much time low to the ground. They need to make sure that various states of color-blindness are not going to make a puzzle impossible. A well-designed room is ready to handle people with all sorts of different physical (and mental) attributes, because the designers think about the game from many different perspectives. Of course, not everything can be anticipated, which is why we have game masters. The GM should be trained to recognize when a group is having problems due to external factors (like height) and be prepared to get the group unstuck. After all, it’s never fun to be stuck as you watch your time tick away, and it’s even worse when you find out after the fact that there was nothing you could have done to improve your situation. I mean, you paid for this experience, right…?
Now, I’ve gone on for far too long about a key that frustrated me. I’d love to hear from you, though! Have you ever gotten stuck in a room and felt like it was physically impossible to get unstuck? Have you ever been in a situation where a room felt unfair because of physical attributes? Or maybe you’ve been through an experience where the designers really excelled at anticipating the physical needs of escapees? Throw us a note in the comments, and maybe I can finally get that silly key off of my mind!