Creating escape games is interesting because in a lot of ways it’s like creating microcosms of the real world. Sure, there’s a specific objective and storyline, but fiction is symbolic of our own greater life objectives and narratives. There are problems to solve in the game-world, like there are problems to solve in real life. There are team dynamics and individual traits that affect the likelihood of your success in the game-world, just like there are variables that affect the likelihood of success in your real life obstacles and challenges.
We’ve learned a lot from creating these experiences for people, but there are three traits that have especially stood out among the rest that predict success in our games and beyond.
1. Effective Communication
This is the unseen killer that sneaks up behind smart teams to dash their chances of escape. A lot of very clever people, both in game and out, don’t know how to effectively communicate. Words can be ambiguous and confusing, especially when they seem the most simple! Consider this example phrase:
“Joe still needs to find the second half of his puzzle. Tell Matt that he should keep looking for it.”
So, are we supposed to tell Matt that he should assist Joe in finding the second half of the puzzle, or should we tell Matt that Joe should keep searching for the second half himself? The ‘he‘ is ambiguous. A simple misunderstanding could mean that two people could unnecessarily be stuck retreading the same task.
Communicators, be very clear with your words, and listeners, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification from the person communicating. Ignoring your potential misunderstanding to save face is silly, because in the long run, saying “you don’t understand” is the road to actually understanding.
The worst offender to communication however, are teams that put down or don’t entertain everybody’s ideas as credible. It’s too often that we’ve seen clever, but quiet, players, not share their ideas because their other team members are being abrasive, belittling or mean.
The search giant Google did a company-wide study on what makes “the perfect team,” and their key findings were the strongest performing teams were those where everybody spoke in the same proportion and felt their ideas would be listened to.
An equal playing field of ideas, where everyone feels like they can contribute without being ridiculed and put down means more ideas can be tried. Of course, some ideas will end up being more correct than others, but don’t count out any one idea without first at least discussing it.
Teamwork requires unification of goals via mutual understanding across all parts of the team. Effective communication ensures this. When you’re sharing ideas, actively discussing and trying any and all suggestions casts a wider “solution net,” and chances are, one of those ideas, or even a combination of them, will be the correct way to go.
2. Task Division
In games, there are a variety of tasks to accomplish within a time limit. This is true for life as well! We’re swamped with deadlines all the time, and escape games can teach us a lot about effective triaging of tasks. Imagine walking into a room with multiple puzzles and clues scattered throughout. You’re in a team of several clever people, all with distinct skills and life experience. Do you:
a) Go about each task all together in a linear fashion? or
b) Divide your tasks, allocating groups of people to work on many things at once?
For expediency and efficiency, we’ve found that teams that divide up into smaller groups and work on multiple things befitting their individual skill-sets make for the most successful teams. This ensures that everybody is participating maximally, as opposed to just standing around as bystanders while only certain people focus on one puzzle at a time. With everybody “owning” their own task, there’s a lot more agency and accountability. It also makes maximum use of the time allotted, making sure multiple things are being taken care of in parallel.
This combined with frequent effective communication is an equation for success.
A lot of times, players don’t escape not because they didn’t solve something, but because of the simple fact that they didn’t find a key component that was hiding in plain sight. Scour every clue, corner and puzzle twice, thrice, even four times to make sure nothing has been missed and people have viewed the same thing from multiple angles. As unique individuals, people see things from different perspectives, so one person may clue into things that another person hasn’t.
Attention to detail is hugely important for success in our games and beyond. You can see the big picture but if you don’t stop to analyze the individual parts leading up to your end goal thoroughly, you’ll never reach it.
Any one of these three things is good practice, but if you combine them, you’ll be unbeatable, in-game and out of it! Split up and divide your tasks, communicate clearly and effectively, and practice thoroughness throughout, and escape will be in reach! At the end of the day, escape games tell us a lot about human team dynamics – apply these tips in our games to win, and also in your everyday life, to avoid mistakes and achieve your goals!