Escape Room Psychology

2021.07.16.

A great escape room experience is one where a feeling of growing intercity along with urgency has been created through both the initial narrative as well as the atmospheric rooms themselves. Your 60 minutes have just started and you find yourself in a totally unfamiliar setting, and though it's not a life and death situation, at times it really feels as though it is.

When the game starts, you'll at first try and take in the whole room, scanning for puzzles and what could be clues. You know that they are all around you. ow, if you happen to be in a good team, then you'll have decided on the strengths and weaknesses of each other and divide up the work accordingly. Though everyone who enters an escape room has visions of emerging triumphant, in fact maybe less than 50 % will beat the clock. The problem is not so much related to being able to find the clues, but being able to keep a clear enough mind in order to solve them whilst feeling the psychological pressure and challenges that come from desperation. To a great degree, success will depend a great deal on how well you work under stress.

Of course, being locked in a room is a pretty weird recreational activity. But their clever design allows the player to feel stressed. This is done by forcing them to think quickly, with many ideas flying around as team members look for solutions. Space is very limited which adds to a sensation of mental cramps. If we add some adrenaline into this already heady mix, make it an intense race against the clock, then the stressful energy produced will be contagious for all the members of the group. Every time a puzzle is solved or a clue discovered, then some happy hormone known as Dopamine is released as a reward into the brain. This gives the game its electric energy and why, for many players, there's an addictive element to these escape room games.

With thousands of escape room games opened around the world, owners and games masters are looking for new and different ways of presenting clues to players. Rather than just using a sharp eye, they want to encourage players to use the whole range of sensory powers, and thereby get the body and brain to work together in more productive ways. Not only that, but owners also recognise that making the game one of social interaction is going to help people move out of their fixed comfort zones. As teams work together, they are learning from each other. This openness is new ideas and concepts can only be beneficial in the long term. 

The Science of Escape Rooms

The Hard-Easy Effect

With enough pressure to escape, the player's mind will start to work overtime and this will tend to overcomplicate puzzles. There's a good chance that the team will miss something basic as they search for something more abstract.

Forward Planning

It's normal that as we progress through our day, we are subtly planning the next steps ahead. But escape rooms, with their constant surprises, cause players to have to constantly re-evaluate everything periodically. This forces the brain to change it's normal behaviour.

Thinking Outside The Box

If you know what needs doing, then getting any job done is easier. The escape room game changes that because we are forced to access new parts of our thing process. The more we use the creative sides of our brains for problem-solving, the more we expand our overall thought processes. With escape room games, it's not just the use of creative thinking to find the solution to puzzles and clues but also understanding the questions being posed in the form of new riddles and cyphers.

Being Stressed Out

In high-intensity situations, the brains own stress hormone, cortisol will be produced. This will affect the overall performance of the player. We all know that stressful situations are not the best does for solving complex problems. Stree can lead to impulsive actions as well as poor memory.

Availability Heuristic

In every escape room game, time is of the essence. Due to the fact that you'll need to think quickly, the brain will sometimes take a shortcut. This is known as the "availability heuristic" and refers to the fact that your hurried brain only chooses information it can think of quickly. Interestingly enough, the planning of many of the puzzles ad clues actually takes this into account, meaning that the first solutions you might think of, are actually wrong.

Survival Mode

Depending on the nature of the back story, and the way that this is communicated to the players, the story will be more or less immersive for everyone playing. The more believable the whole set-up, then the greater the need to escape will be felt. In such a situation, the body becomes flooded with adrenaline. This will help to focus the brain on what's important for the player to make their quickest escape, and so allow them to perform much faster.

Selective Perception

In this, the mind will start to make an assumption about the next clue, based on the previous ones. In other words, the brain will start to map out a clear path for the player to follow under the assumption of what the next clues will be. But part of the beauty of the whole escape room set up is that the next clue is always a surprise. This leads the brain to ignore or overlook any other more relevant clues.
 
Information Storage

With a number of clues and solutions being spread all around a room or even a number of previously visited rooms, then it's important that the players can keep all the previous answers and clues alive in the backs of their minds. This is because they will never know when a new piece of information will be revealed. Once it is, then they need to search their memory for any possible links.

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