I was never a huge “gamer” before this class! I took this class because I love escape rooms – I love everything about them! It’s awesome that they encourage you to work with friends while also having fun with them, that different types of thinking and skills are supported, and that they are so immersive, in a way video games are not. I would get easily frustrated with most video games, partially since the culture surrounding them sometimes seems like it’s not particularly welcoming towards people that look like me, and also because it took me a long time to understand things. However, this class changed my view about what a game is, and I realized that I like playing games a lot more than I thought I did!
Our first project was to create a social or “party” game. These are my favorite type of game, since they usually give you the chance to get to know new people and get closer to old friends. I knew off the bat that I wanted to create a game that was more based on humor and conversation (like Cards Against Humanity) than a strategy-based game (like Werewolf). We learned about the 8 types of fun in class, and thinking about exactly what types of fun we wanted to achieve in our game helped us narrow down our direction and orient ourselves whenever we made a design choice. We focused especially on fellowship and fantasy in our project 1 game – we wanted people to talk and get to know each other as much as possible while also imagining different life paths for themselves. That is how we created “C’est La Vie”. One of our most satisfying moments for Project 1 was watching our playtesters, who started out complete strangers, laugh with each other and make jokes during our game! We knew we accomplished our goal at that moment.
We had a lot we wanted to work on going into Project 2 – our physical escape room. We first learned about the importance of narrative and story in games and how it enhances the player experience. By trying games like Edith Finch, we saw how even the act of exploring and walking could reveal a lot to players and how the stories mattered more than the puzzles sometimes. Keeping this in mind, we modified our escape room from being simply “scary” to having a reason for being scary. This was how we came up with an idea to have a twist in our escape room’s narrative: the professor, who was originally supposed to be in an evil cult, wasn’t actually in the cult; instead, he was trying to bring it down after being falsely accused for his daughter’s death.
At first, we felt constrained by the space that was given to us. Unlike the commercial escape rooms that we tried, we did not have full control over the space and no budget. We couldn’t decorate the entire room to carry the “dark academia” theme we based our mood boards around, and we couldn’t actually install locks and trapdoors around the rooms. We got a lot of good ideas in class from the lecture about the use of space in game designs; one important thing we kept in mind was to work with the space, not against it! Since we already had an office space with desks, chairs, whiteboards, etc., we could center the game around office hours to limit the amount we’d have to change the room to reflect the professor’s living space. For the professor’s office, we used cheap lamps and boxes from Goodwill; the oldness and dustiness actually contributed to the atmosphere we were trying to create! We were also able to make use of lighting (such as having a UV light puzzle in the professor’s office, which allowed the hardest room to decorate be in darkness) and audio to complete the theme, all without spending too much money or spending extensive amounts of time on setup!
Our next task was to build, playtest, and iterate on our puzzles. Upon testing our puzzle for the first time, we were surprised to see that our puzzles were actually much harder than we thought. The video we watched on hint systems by the creator of Plants vs Zombies, in addition to the lecture on hints, was super helpful in adjusting the difficulty levels of our puzzles! We wanted to make sure our puzzles wouldn’t frustrate our players, since I know firsthand how quickly fun ends when I get frustrated at a game! On the other hand, we also wanted to make sure we weren’t making the game insultingly easy for anyone who is very experienced at puzzles and escape rooms, and having predetermined hints based on the actions players took in the escape room ended up being a pretty good solution! We had two groups of playtesters – one that was very experienced with escape rooms and another that was mostly people who had never done one before. The hint system we devised allowed both groups to solve puzzles and have fun in different ways!
Overall, my view of what a game is and what makes it fun grew during this class. I collaborated with friends, both new and old, to build some pretty fun games and had a huge amount of fun in the process! I learned a lot about what it means to work in a team and play to each other’s strengths. My teammate Jason is my longtime partner, and we love to play games together in our free time – we learned a lot about each other and the things we’re interested in by fleshing out the execution of the puzzles together! Ricky was also my very good friend coming into the escape room, and we enjoyed brainstorming puzzle ideas and thinking about the design of the room together! Ben was someone I met the first time through the team formation activity for P1, and we decided to keep working together for P2! As an artist, he had great ideas for the aesthetics of each room, in addition to the more visual puzzles (like a diagram and maze one). David was also someone I got to know for the first time through P2, and I really enjoyed working on the chessboard and mirror puzzles with him!
In the future, I would love to continue building escape rooms and making activities fun through immersion! If I were given a set of puzzles with no context, I would honestly dislike it (even though many others would have a ton of fun with it). But the immersion and story tying the puzzles together motivates me to solve them and makes the challenge so much fun instead of frustrating! I want to design puzzles that are more accessible the next time I try to build an escape room, which was something that was more of an afterthought this time around. I would also love to play with the idea of education through immersive escape rooms (such as teaching someone how to code or how to write a compelling story or what it’s like to navigate a foreign city – anything, really!). This class really made me believe that the best types of learning – whether it’s a concept or about each other – comes from fun, and I can’t wait to do more with that knowledge in the future!