Embracing Technology in Escape Rooms
Incorporating technology into a library escape room program doesn’t have to be difficult. Sure, there are elaborate uses of technology at many commercial escape rooms. For example, at 60 to Escape, located in Gurnee, Illinois, part of the museum-themed game involves entering the correct code of floor combinations on a rigged elevator (created just for the room) that opens a door to yet another room. Of course, such high-tech puzzles can add to a bigger experience but it likely involved quite a bit of expertise to create. Finding ways to utilize technology as part of an escape room doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or time-consuming. In fact, you’re probably already using technology in similar ways at your library!
What Is an Escape Room?
To give a brief background of escape rooms, if you’re not familiar, they started in Japan about ten years ago and the first came to the West Coast about five years ago. Thousands exist today in the U.S. (and worldwide) and the market is still growing, according to a July 2015 article with MarketWatch (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-weird-new-world-of-escape-room-businesses-2015-07-20 ). At commercial rooms, participants pay around $25-$30 to be voluntarily “locked in” for an hour. They work together to look for clues and solve puzzles in order to “escape.” Rooms are often themed around a particular storyline which helps explain what the ultimate goal is in solving the mystery.
Escape Rooms and the Library
Your wheels are likely already turning to see how escape rooms can be a great fit for a library program or maybe you’ve already brought this to the library for years. Escape rooms create an environment of collaboration and problem-solving, especially if participants want to be successful. It is an engaging style of storytelling where participants reveal the narrative as they discover the content.
If you’re just getting started, it’s recommended to try out several commercial opportunities first to get a feel for how they work. You’ll also likely gain ideas for how to do your own at the library. Staff at commercial escape rooms can also be a great resource for giving recommendations about how to make yours more successful, including planning for difficulty level, timing in regards to the number of puzzles to have, and more.
You might also like what Breakout EDU (BreakoutEDU.com ) has to offer. You can purchase a kit which is ready-made for the classroom environment; organized by age range with minimal setup, this is a great place to start. The ios app also brings it to the next level of integrating tech.
Why Incorporate Technology?
- It can make for a more immersive environment.
If you’ve ever been to a spa for a massage, you’ve probably noticed calming music such as peaceful waterfalls or birds gently chirping. It can be a great way to transport you from the hustle and bustle of the every day into a more relaxing environment. Escape Rooms are no different. You want the storyline to be believable even if it takes place in an environment teens use during the week such as a library or their classroom.
- It can level up a players experience.
Sure solving a code using pen and paper can be satisfying but what if the difficulty of a puzzle slightly increases because players need to go online or find clues hidden on a screen?
- More variety can be achieved.
If you’ve already done several escape rooms and are looking to do something different or even draw a more diverse crowd to either help create or participate in the room, technology might be the answer.
- It’s already a language many teens speak’’
It’s a no-brainer that tech is already part of everyone’s lives, including the content for library programs. Using the devices we already have to incorporate them as part of an escape room is a natural fit.
- It goes hand in hand with the “unplugged” clues
Using technology is not meant to replace the puzzles that rely on opening locks or involve writing with pen and paper. It’s intended to enhance one’s experience and reflect the way stories are told now–by using a combination of media.
Great! Now What?
Hopefully integrating technology sounds intriguing enough to want to try it with your escape room. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Add sounds. Queue up a YouTube playlist to help create a more engaging environment. If your escape room is organized by stations, you can have different sounds play at each, depending on where the characters are at in the game. Sound can also be a great way to substitute what you don’t have in props. Sounds can also be songs where clues might be embedded in the lyrics.
- Create an introductory video. This can be a great way to explain the rules of the game to players before they start in the room. Drawing them into the theme of the room through a video which can incorporate simple special effects and other visuals can be an easy way to set the scene. Escape rooms are part theatre. A video can be a fun way to unleash your inner actor/ress
- Utilize light. Not all escape rooms have a scary theme but light can be used to set the mood. Giving players flashlights to see the clues better if the lights are dim or a UV light to decode a clue with invisible ink are simple ways to further engage players.
- Use a countdown timer. Players only have a limited time to solve the puzzles, locate the clues, and escape. Try using a prominent timer such as one online with voice reminders at various intervals. This can give a heightened sense of needing to escape quickly and set the record for shortest amount of time it took to complete. YouTube has quite a few. Search for how many minutes long you want it to be. Typical rooms can be anywhere from 15, 20, 30, or 60 minutes in length.
- Take photos at the end. Capitalize on teens and your library as well, using social media. A “Wall of Winners” is a surefire way for players to celebrate (and brag) about their successes. It sets the bar for others to compete against and helps build competition into the program.
The more complicated the technology, the more chances for something not to work. Keep it simple and your participants will thank you for it.
Kelly Czarnecki is the manager of the Loft in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has written extensively on teens and technology in libraries and teaches online classes for American Library Association. In her spare time, she enjoys learning how to grill, watching the Chicago Bulls, and training for her next triathlon.