If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with brick and mortar escape rooms. You’ve probably played a few. Or if you’re like me, you’ve played more than you can count, desperately seek them out, beg others to join you, play alone when they can’t, and during quarantine you’re dying inside and would give your left kidney to play an escape the room game…yeah, don’t admit it if you’re like me. The point is, you probably know that in a physical escape room, you search the room thoroughly, find clues, crack codes, open locks, and then continue solving puzzles until you successfully escape – usually by busting out of a door.
But you’re probably wondering how all of this works online – without physical locks, without props, and without actually being locked inside of anything. The good news is that there are great virtual escape games out there that will satisfy even the most skeptical escape room junkie! I promise! But because they are an entirely new phenomenon (these aren’t just video games), there are several different styles of escape rooms online that all call themselves virtual escape games. Some are better than others. I’m going to breakdown what the different styles are and go over the pros and cons of each one.
Google Forms Escape Rooms
Back in March, lots of people had an unexpected amount of time on their hands (thanks COVID19) and google forms escape rooms started popping up. These are really easy to make and really easy to play. You start with one question and answer it correctly to advance to the next question. Answer that question correctly to move onto the third question. Continue answering questions and advancing until voila, you finish the game and escape! One cool example is this Harry Potter google forms escape room, made by a youth librarian in Pennsylvania!
Pretty much all of the google forms escape games are free, so they’re a perfect opportunity for anyone who’s been wanting to play an escape the room game but hasn’t gotten around to it! They don’t require game masters (those people in live escape rooms who give you hints from an overhead speaker or a walkie talkie), so you don’t have to sign up for a time slot. There’s no time limit and you can play anytime you like. Best of all, the game designers are just random people who wanted to do something nice.
These virtual escape rooms feel like they were designed by random people who just wanted to do something nice. Google forms escape rooms are not really escape rooms and each step feels more like a multiple choice question than an escape room puzzle. They’re not interactive, pretty easy, and the puzzle quality isn’t too interesting.
Note: There are downloadable online escape rooms that are very similar to google forms escape rooms. The only difference is that you download them to play later instead of playing while connected to the internet. Like the google forms escape rooms, they don’t have game masters, don’t have a time limit, and generally have the same pros and cons.
Live Avatar Remote Escape Rooms
Earlier this year when businesses across the world were forced to close, escape room owners were faced with a difficult challenge: How would they generate any revenue without being allowed to let customers into their game locations? Some innovative escape game owners came up with an immediate solution (it’s brilliant) – strap a Go Pro to their head and let people watch the action from home! Other escape rooms use video cameras around the room instead of a Go Pro, but the idea is the same.
You login from home and solve an escape by watching a live actor move through the room and tell him or her what to do. Want to examine the writing on the wall? Tell your avatar to move closer and see what it says. Want to open the combination lock on the cabinet? Tell your avatar the numbers to put into it. Though a few avatar games have been created specifically for the virtual world, most of them were normal escape rooms before COVID, with the same variability in quality and difficulty. This avatar remote escape room from Los Angeles was created by a company with rooms in my town – Las Vegas. In fact, they have one of my favorite local rooms!
The avatars are often in character and if you get a good actor, it will feel like part escape the room game and part interactive theater. The avatar is also your game master and can help you out if you’re barreling down the wrong path.
Since you’re viewing the room through a camera rather than your own eyes, it’s easy to miss seeing something if you’re not paying attention at that second. Or you can get stuck on a red herring that would be obviously irrelevant if you were there. Also, it’s a bit tedious to tell someone what you want them to do and you’ll find yourself wishing you could just jump through the screen and do it yourself. It’s also slower to give instructions than to do it yourself so it’s harder to beat the clock.
Audio Escape Games
Audio escape games are basically a combination between a role-playing game and a choose your own adventure book. You’re on a conference call with your team and your game master. Usually, it’s a video conference but there are some audio only versions. The game masters set the scenario by explaining the escape room themes – where you are, how you got there, and how long you have to save yourself.
Game masters show pictures, reveal information verbally, and ask what you want to do next. You can say things like, “Try to open the van” or, “Look under the pool table.” You might find a clue or a puzzle or you might be told you have hit a dead end. Just like in any escape the room game, your goal is to solve the puzzle and escape in time. This audio escape room from Germany (that I tried) is a great example of this type of game.
Since no one is physically doing anything – just talking about it – you can do things in an audio escape game that aren’t possible in a normal escape room. You can operate heavy machinery, use a shovel to dig a tunnel, or climb walls! There’s also often a countdown clock so you can see your minutes left.
Some games require opening attachments or leaving the screen, which is pretty clumsy and detracts from the experience. Some games require you to take notes. Worse, in an escape room location it’s fun to turn a room upside down and search for clues. Over the internet, it’s an annoyance. In audio escape rooms, you waste a lot of time asking your game master to do things like check inside a cabinet, only to be given a long response like, “You look inside the dirty cabinet and cough from the dust. It’s mostly empty and all you find are some old papers with nothing important on them.” I found myself wishing my game master would just tell me where the clues are already, or at least fast forward through the long explanation when I was looking in the wrong place.
Live Streaming Escape Rooms
Live streaming online escape rooms tend to solve the cons of other virtual escape games while retaining the pros. Our games at Escapely are designed specifically for the virtual environment. You join a video conference call with your friend group or family and from there your game masters guide you through the game from start to finish. You watch videos that immerse you in the experience and encounter puzzles that you solve by collaborating out loud and drawing together right on the screen.
Once you sign on, you won’t have to open any attachments or navigate technology – you’re just along for the ride. To mimic the excitement of racing against the clock in a physical location, your group divides into teams that race each other to escape first. If you have a small group, you will be racing against other people who sign up for the same time slot! The puzzles are very interactive and you might be surprised by some of the ways you’ll be forced to think outside of the box and interact with the real world to solve them.
Puzzles are specifically designed for virtual play. There’s no clumsy rummaging around for clues – your time is spent working fun escape room puzzles. Since the goal is to escape the fastest, no one gets timed out. Everyone finishes and at the end someone is declared the winner! Best of all, it’s extremely interactive, and a great way to connect with friends and family anywhere in the world.
You just can’t replicate that satisfying feeling of busting out of a door in a live escape room. But Escapely online escape rooms come pretty dang close – and you can easily play with people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get in one place.