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Talkin' 'bout my generation

Talkin' 'bout my generation

One thing I frequently see Escape Room designers talk about is a hierarchy of “generations” to Escape Rooms. See for instance, or

In this, depending on the author, there is something like two to four “generations of Escape Rooms, where locks and safes are the first generation and as the technology in the room grows, it goes up on the “generations” scale.

While I don’t disagree that the amount of technology in an Escape Room does affect both the experience and what is possible inside an Escape Room, I think this framework misses a key point. Technology rarely, if ever, by itself generates a different experience. It is the designer, that generates a new experience, sometimes with a new technology.

Let’s look at the invention of Escape Rooms. The technology to build a simple Escape Room has been around for decades, if not centuries. Why did it not exist?

My guess is that without gaming becoming more prevalent, the inventor wouldn’t think of the possibility. In addition, the customer wouldn’t have any idea what it was, were it not for puzzle games previously. These puzzle games were largely a digital concept. Also, how would a customer find out about an Escape Room without the internet? Imagine trying to explain the concept of an Escape Room in 1980, say in a mall. It’s pretty tough.

Fast-forward to now. The assumption is that the technology of the future, or at least the bleeding edge, is what will make one generation turn over to another. In this view, it is the designer's responsibility to blend in bleeding edge technology into an Escape Room concept to make it really pop.

I don't agree with this. For instance, TVs or monitors, are a very old technology. They can provide a lot of information in a small space and the information provided can easily change from triggers. You rarely see this technology integrated into an Escape Room (except for hints) in any kind of meaningful way. Is integrating a TV generation 2? If not, why not?

What about The Hex Room from Cross Roads Escape Games in Orange County? The creators made a room where people are largely alone in their own room, only able to transfer objects from one room to another or through difficult conversation. Is this a generation 2 idea? Gen 3? There is nothing in the Hex room that is bleeding edge when it comes to technology (in the digital sense) but that doesn’t mean that there isn't innovation in the room. The innovation is born from human ingenuity.

Escape rooms are still young and improving all the time. There is plenty of innovation to be done before they need to turn to bleeding edge technology to do more.

Do you like thinking about “generations?” Do you have another framework?

Brian Hacker, from a generation so old he'd rather not reveal, has been in the games industry for over 20 years, first as a professional Magic player. He went on to become a professional poker player and game designer. In an effort to understand obscure technologies and lose what remaining free time he had, he opened Enigma HQ!