Technology in escape rooms

Singapore players seem keen on technology use in escape rooms, and some companies use it as an explicit selling point. (One obvious exception is Escape Hunt, which is pretty defensive about its lack of high-tech frills.) Speaking of ‘technology use’ in general, however, obscures the variation in how technology is used. Not just in terms of the specific mechanisms — those do vary greatly, but elaborating on them would mean lots of spoilers — but also the purpose to which they’re put.

Mere special effects. These are most common in scary rooms, and are completely unconnected to puzzle-solving. Great if you’re into an escape room for scares, but pretty meaningless otherwise, although they do contribute to atmosphere.

Triggered effects. These are what happen after you punch in the right number code or perform the right action. They can work as special effects in their own right (again, especially in scary rooms) but are more meaningful because they represent the room’s response to the players, and aren’t random. They can be as simple (and thus rather boring) as a door automatically unlocking, or as dramatic as parts of the room doing unexpected things…

Answer input or execution mechanisms. The alternative to code locks. These may or may not be part of puzzles themselves. At one end of the scale are things like digital number-pads, which are flashier than code locks and could be good for creating a sense of setting, but are not inherently more interesting.

At the other end are mechanisms that are fully integrated into the puzzle-solving process — in other words, the solution to the puzzle isn’t a string of numbers, but pressing buttons in a certain order, connecting wires, etc.

These may be combined with triggered effects. In the now-closed Fallen Star room at Phantom Joker, for instance, one of the puzzles required you to arrange books in the right order on a bookshelf (answer input), which caused a cabinet at the other end of the room to burst open dramatically (triggered effect).

Puzzle-solving process. This includes the use of gadgets to execute tasks, something that’s particularly common in Roomraider SG rooms. It can also go beyond simple execution and include puzzle aspects, as in the now-closed Chairman’s Office room by Think Your Way Out. There was a puzzle in which you had to play two cassette tapes simultaneously and then do a little more thinking for the solution.

Puzzle presentation. Very broadly speaking, the alternative to just having puzzles on scraps of paper. These are high-tech ways to convey puzzle components, which may or may not be involved in the actual puzzle-solving. This could be as simple as the use of video screens or recorded audio.

My personal preference is for everything in an escape room to be puzzle-relevant, so I’m most fond of technology use that’s integrated into the actual solving process. But I also enjoy exciting triggered effects because they create a sense of room responsiveness, which is (in my opinion) one of the best ways to make a room immersive.

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