The Immersive Effect of Live Avatar Online Escape Rooms

2021.03.25.


We've all experienced that occasion in the cinema when we were deeply immersed in the movie, only to have someone open a bag of crisps next to us and by so doing, break our concentration, and by default ruin the whole movie. It's interesting how we can be so involved with the film, so lost within its narrative and characters that we lose all sense of time. Yet if we are somehow pulled out of our trance-like state, we struggle to re-engage with the movie. It just goes to show that to be truly immersed means that it's essential there are no distractions.

Using the cinema as an analogy brings us to how immersive remote escape room games can be. Playing in a real brick-and-mortar escape room, the whole experience does depend on a number of factors. The first is the story or narrative that sets the scene, so to speak. It can be totally outrageous, just as long as the "feeling" within the rooms backs it up. In other words, with the room design and activity within, and in keeping within the narrative, then the story becomes plausible enough for the players to become immersed.   

Avatars in Remote Escape Room Games

Today's generation has been bought up playing console games, like PlayStation and Xbox. Many of these games will have been First Person Shooters (FPS) where you are the protagonist and the screen shows your view of the world. They also would understand the use of avatars. These are images or characters that we use to represent ourselves in the virtual world. Browse through any social media platform and you'll see how many people use an avatar as a representation of themselves. In the escape room scenario, the avatar is the game master. technically, the players see through his eyes and hear through his ears as they play the game in real-time. But this isn't the whole picture as the avatar is much more than this.

Creating an Emotional Response

If you've played in an escape room before social distancing put an end to taking part as a group in a real room, then you'll be aware that all the senses are on "high alert" as you enter the room for the first time. Part of this is the narrative you've just been told. And another part is the fact it's a completely new situation for all players. The idea of time running, along with unknown activities that will need to be performed correctly in order to secure victory, imparts a notion of stress and pressure. Though you might be forgiven in thinking that this cannot possibly translate across the internet, you'd be absolutely wrong. Playing online manages to create the same feelings. In the same manner that you'd get by playing an immersive video game. 

And a huge amount of credit should go to the avatars who are situated within the rooms. Though the sets and the room design cannot be properly represented on a video feed, the real surprise is how essential the game master is for the over-arching effect of the narrative and gameplay on all the player's present, gently guiding them into the story-line and somehow keeping everyone focused on the goals. 

Different Styles of Avatars

Some remote escape room games employ avatars who remain neutral within the game itself. They are not playing any roles or characters, but merely waiting for instructions from the remote players. They try to stay out of the game and remain as quiet as possible. Ideally, they should be invisible. It's as if they want you to experience the room as if you were playing a real game back in the days before lockdowns. Unfortunately, this takes away an important element, the addition of drama. These games will feel almost clinical, that is, without emotion, as if the game has been reduced down to its most basic parts and stripped of all that could lead to a player's reaction.  

The Wrong Approach

Another equally frustrating approach is the game master who waits for every instruction before making even the tiniest move. They are totally relying on the player's instructions, and this quickly sucks all the excitement from a game as all the intuitive tasks become mundane. Perhaps the idea here is to slow down the game. But for whatever reason, an avatar who serves no other purpose than to act as a complete robot will frustrate all the players, leaving a dry and barren game with no emotional input. 

The Avatar is Also a Player

At Exit the Room we take the role of the avatar seriously, in that we've given the job a huge amount of prior thought. We believe that the role is best achieved if the avatar is also a member of the team of players participating in the same game. They become an integral part of the game in that their character is fully imbibed in the narrative, yet acts as a bridge for the players to enter the story completely and get fully lost in the plot. This can turn even the simplest of escape room games into an immersive and exciting adventure.

Playing the Role of an Avatar

Playing the role of an avatar is far from easy. On the one hand, the avatar needs the help of remote players. But on the other, he's not helpless and has an active role to play without the need for step-by-step instructions. He also gets to control the pace of the game but without deliberately holding up the proceedings. For this, they can use any number of techniques including confusion, humor, and any story-driven reason, to engage the players for a couple of minutes here and there. In some ways, the character of the avatar can also play the part of a puzzle within the game itself. In other words, the players might need to understand how to motivate or handle this player who's stuck in the room, in order to get the best results from him. The avatar will have his own personality, as part of his character-driven player. 

Increasing Immersion

In the regular escape room game, played by a group of players all together within a real escape room, the narrative is given at the beginning, and then rarely touched upon during the game as the players rush to complete their escape within the allotted time frame. Once the story has been explained, then it's up t the roomsets and decoration to continue the theme. In other words, the narrative takes second place to everything once the game starts in earnest.

Here and Now

With a remote game, the avatar will first explain the storyline, along with the characters and their individual motivations. But as the game progresses, the avatar can keep bringing the players back into the narrative by reminding them of important factors within the story that are driving the players forwards. Whilst in a regular game the pre-game story gets lost as the game progresses, with the remote games, the avatar is able to keep the original narrative alive throughout the gameplay. This helps to create a much more immersive atmosphere, as the information isn't just given in one helping, but served in smaller portions over the period of the game.

The Narrative Stays Fresh

Because the avatar keeps the game in the present, with constant updates of the narrative and other information as the game is being played, it keeps the story behind the game in the forefront of the player's mind. Having an avatar excited about their latest find within the context of the running story is going to be much more immersive than if players were discovering things for themselves. By fully describing what they see and hear, the avatar can set the tone of the story. A feeling of being watched, or faint scratching sounds, or hearing distant screams can all add to the ambiance and create emotions within each remote player. To this end, playing remote games with a live avatar can certainly offer a great deal more than the traditional escape room gameplay approach.
 

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