The Psychology of Solving Escape Room Games

2020.12.28.

Without a doubt, the best escape room games are those that can ensure we are having an immersive experience whilst playing. To be enthralled in the fantasy world around you. In the same way that a movie requires you to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, so escape room games are the same. When you first enter the room, it all seems to be a mystery. The first five to ten minutes might find you stumped, unable to progress as you can't see the wood for the trees. Then, out of nowhere, you'll suddenly be struck with a blinding realization, and the first clue will be found and solved. You might be forgiven for smacking yourself on the forehead. But keep in mind, that these games are designed to make you struggle and there's a whole lot of psychology being pitted against you.  

Seeing Without Context

It's been calculated that the average person, going about their day to day business, will be bombarded with between 4,000 and 10,000 ads! That's a massive amount of visual imagery. These can be in the form of TV ads, music videos, and, of course, the internet. Despite all of this, we retain very little of what's seen. Yes, we might be aware of the visual stimulation, but we just don't remember it. Within a day all that effort spent on advertising is already forgotten. That's because the majority of what we see is without context. To be memorable, the human brain requires connections to be made. That's why if you want to remember a lot of unconnected and disjointed facts, you need to invent a story containing them.

Tune Your Brain

Escape room games have been designed to be immersive and engrossing. They are chock full of visual and tactile stimulation. The puzzles are far from being boring and the gameplay, with the clock ticking down the remaining time, helps focus the mind and keep the players immersed within the story. What's interesting is that the room is so full of stuff, that your eyes struggle to comprehend all of it and you will tend to "gloss over" many of the sought-after clues. Only by looking, again and again, will something suddenly "jump out" at you, and you'll kick yourself for not seeing it earlier.

Decision Paralysis 

Because our lives are so full of choices, many people suffer from what's known as "decision paralysis". Essentially, people become anxious about whether they're making the right decision. The idea that you might be making the wrong choice leads to a kind of nervous fear that can paralyze and lead to the decision being put on hold or put off altogether. With escape room games, you have no such luxury of time. These games require that you let your imagination help you discover hidden clues and puzzles. But finding the clues is one thing, solving them a completely new kettle of fish. We often see the player with a strong personality get fixated on but a single linear way of thinking about a puzzle, unable to move forwards or think differently about the problem at hand. Other players, might be so overwhelmed with the sheer number of clues, that they have a sort of mental breakdown and as a result are unable to choose one clear path. We see many players become frustrated at having to commit to a tactic, whilst others might be too embarrassed to speak up.

Forget Time Passing

Many players get caught up in the gameplay to such an extent that they completely forget the time factor. As a room designer, you should pat yourself on the back for this as it means the room experience is immersive. Part of the process of decision paralysis is the dreaded procrastination. Maybe a puzzle is just too hard, so you leave it meaning to return to it at a later point in the game. But in an immersive experience, time flies, and before you know it, the clock has counted all the allotted time down.

Change Your Perception

A well-designed escape room game will play with your innate perception of reality. And because your reality is now off-kilter, then the decisions you make are even more unsteady. The problem stems from having a fixed way of looking at things, only to now find that all those factors you relied upon for information are no longer reliable. Thus solving a puzzle will require a new way of seeing, instead of an automatic response. This will require a different viewpoint as well as the player making a conscious effort. It's very difficult to instantly change our perception of our surroundings. And that's the main reason why escape rooms are so difficult and challenging for so many players. 

Functional Fixity

Many people have got used to seeing an object in a certain manner, unable to conceive that it might have another use. This is known as "Functional Fixity” and it is the number one thing that stops players in their tracks. Your brain prefers the comfortable memory of what's already known. It becomes stubborn and often will refuse to see things in a new way. If, as a player, you can be truly open-minded, then you'll make your way through the escape room game much faster. But it's not easy to undo millions of years of programming.

All In Good Time

So, if you find yourself standing in an escape room game, feeling flummoxed, then don't feel too bad. You're certainly not alone. And in many ways, it's not your fault. So if you want someone to blame, then put some blame onto human psychology and some onto biology. Keep in mind that it's only natural that the human brain forgets more than it remembers. So a puzzle you're struggling with now might become clear to you, but 72 hours later!  
 

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