Part of what makes FOX-N-OTTER a unique and exciting Asheville Escape Room is that we believe in providing an organic escape game experience. Organic is a trendy, perhaps over-hyped word, but it is rarely applied to an experience, so I’ll explain. Escape games are popular worldwide because they give participants an active role in discovery, problem solving, and critical thinking. In Asheville alone there are at least 20 different variations of escape rooms, operating at seven different business locations. FOX-N-OTTER is certainly not the first, or longest lasting establishment offering the escape room experience, but we are excited about our unique niche in a fairly saturated market. We believe we offer an organic escape game experience.
Is this just Asheville health-and-hipster culture forced onto the escape room industry concept? No, and here’s why. There are hundreds of purchasable franchise props, even whole rooms available online to operate in turnkey business fashion. Romania and Russia are building assembly-line style props with electronic relays, reed sensors, RFID, laser, and motion activation built into cabinets, freestanding units, and wall sections. While these pre-fabricated escape room props can be creative, they are often incorporated into a room poorly.
Game rooms themed in the 1800’s in the “Wild West” shouldn’t be using UV flashlights, lasers, and out of place runes. There’s nothing more distracting to a gamer than non-sequitur prop placement. You can have the best four props in the world in the same room– but their randomness will throw off any game momentum. The biggest mistakes many escape experiences unintentionally make is rushing their storyline without asking the simple question; “why”? Why would you ransack a doctor’s office, snoop around a library with such tenacity, go through someone’s room with such an invasive pace? Why are novices left disarming a nuclear bomb, tracking a killer, pouring chemicals in a lab, or identifying a villain instead of notifying the local police?
Simply put, if the backstory leaves that out; if the props don’t fit the setting; and if the gameplay needs too much guidance, then all the props, set design, and game structure ends up like artificial and unnecessary fillers and additives in our food. People want an organic escape game experience. They want logic and meaning in their role-play experience more than they want a white lab coat, a funny hat, or a tactical vest. They want their role in the mystery to be necessary, valued, logical, and engaged in the solution.
When a participant enters into an escape room, they want a cohesive gaming experience that makes sense. Having props, set design, and a working lock set makes up only a fraction of the overall gameplay experience. Workable puzzles, locks, props, and cyphers should be incorporated into the storyline, and the narrative should carry the plot progression naturally. As the players engage with the room, they should be progressing the theme, puzzle-value, and weight of the experience naturally. When props, locks, set-design, code discovery, clues, hints, even the gamemaster’s role all come together and make sense– we have an organic gaming experience.
An organic gaming experience is one that naturally springs from the plot of a narrative, weaves together inconspicuous locks, engaging puzzles, and values analogue gameplay as much as digital sensors detecting prop placement. Organic gaming embraces storytelling. It transfers gamers to another time, place, and crosses barriers that require imagination. It’s our job as game designers to remove the distractions and filler that makes their imagination stumble.