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Escape room

Tips on Writing Escape Room Narratives

As far as writing jobs go, producing narratives for escape room games is a relatively new gig. After all, escape rooms have only been with us for just over a single decade...
2020.12.21.

As far as writing jobs go, producing narratives for escape room games is a relatively new gig. After all, escape rooms have only been with us for just over a single decade. Yet it represents one of the fastest-growing entertainment sectors, with thousands of rooms now being played across the globe. 

All these games have rooms that have backstories. These are the narratives that drive forwards the story as to why and what needs to be achieved by the players within the one-hour time frame. As a writer, it's going to be your job to help the escape room business maintain their 5-star reviews and keep the ticket sales flowing. Because the emphasis is on solving puzzles and riddles, then the writer needs to ask himself; how do these puzzles fit into the narrative, how can you write a story that's deep but not wide, as you're up against a 1-hour time limit, what are the plot points, and how to seamlessly stitch it all together in a coherent form without giving away any of the solutions or surprises? You're pulling together character integration, along with the story and the puzzles. So let's have a look into these factors in more depth.

Integrate Time Goals With the Narrative

Virtually every escape room game is set to a time limit of one hour. So, in some ways, this is the most important aspect of the whole game, in that no matter how well the players have progressed, if they run out of time, then it's all over. As a narrator, you're going to be telling a story that has its culmination in the players reaching their goal within this time limit. many escape room games employ the "ticking time bomb" scenario, with the players facing certain annihilation if they don't find and defuse it before the end of the game. By focusing on this diminishing factor, as a writer, you can up the ante as the end is in sight. All movies use this technique to keep the audience hooked.

Write A Clean Narrative That Drives The Action Toward The Goals

Though the actual escape room itself is devoted to finding puzzles and solving clues, don't let the written narrative of the story get bogged down with these details. As such, though they each play an important part in the game, for the story's progression, they are only of minor interest. The storyline should remain straightforwards and to the point as opposed to dealing with too much detail. Likewise, it's not necessary to introduce sub-plots or secondary characters. These will only serve to muddy the waters. The story needs to remain clean and clear and not rely on any sort of trickery. Keep the plot points in easy to understand bite-sized portions and let the beats push the story forwards.

Immerse the Players in the Narrative

Playing an escape room game should be an immersive experience. The players need to feel that the back story is real and therefore the element of time running out has meaning. One of the best ways of doing this is to have the story being constantly played out by the game master. From the first moment the players enter the building, the narrative should begin. The game master should take the lead and promote the narrative when giving clues and even after the game is complete. This way, a sense of foreboding hangs over the whole exercise and makes for a theatrical experience. If the waiting room matches the genre and the game master introduces the games with a little imagination, then the players are already immersed in the game before it starts.

Another means of creating narrative and keeping the players believing in the game is to create complex and compelling characters that appear to be playing a part within the game itself. An example would be the clues and notes left by someone whose trying to help the players achieve their aim. This person might be a previous tenant, a hostage, or a lab assistant, who's left clues to help guide the players to find the ultimate prize. Conversely, this person could also be the antagonist, who is communicating with the players as a form of teasing them, of telling them how inadequate they are with their pathetic efforts. It might be a madman, who, through the various clues, reveals a past story as to why he decided to turn and become evil.  

By adding some complexity to an antagonist, allows the game to have several different endings. If he's plated a bomb, then the players can either help him detonate it, defuse it and let him escape, or defuse it and have the antagonist arrested.  

Introduce Circumstances That Produce Emotions

For a story to work, then you'll need to introduce emotion. If you were writing for a horror escape room game, then just describing the jump scares would have much less impact than if you were able to ramp up the tension beforehand. In some characters, you might want to evoke empathy. But the main takeaway here is that the characters that you create should be complex as opposed to just two dimensional. As a game progresses, there should be plot points that change the mood or even set up moral dilemmas. Sometimes evoking sympathy for the evil antagonist can work well towards the end of a game.

Include Historic and Geographic Context

This is a perfectly valid consideration, though it does depend on where about's you're situated. Because there's always a huge interest in historic tourism, it's a great idea if your game can reflect this in either the decoration or the game-play. Sometimes you're able to better market escape room games if there's a historical context involved. These factors also provide a better immersive experience and a more life-like production. 
 

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