This is the last post of a series of blog posts that discussed the idea of educational games, looking at the choices behind this project’s educational game. Post one can be found here, and post two is here.
I have yet to justify the reasoning for creating an escape room for this MA. A large part of that answer comes out of previous work I did with Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT – found here), where we developed an escape room that discussed the issue of older adult mistreatment. Outside of small personal adventure games I had made for summer campers, this was my first game design project. The project taught me a lot about the medium of escape games, opened up a range of questions, and pushed me to further explore their possibilities. Academic discussion on escape rooms, is as new as the genre. Understood as collaborative puzzle solving games, escape rooms invite players into a narratively enriched space where they connect a range of logics and clues to complete a set of challenges. Simply put, take a bunch of people, put them in a room, and don’t let them out unless they solve some puzzles. The experience has been blowing up over the past decade, with rooms constantly popping up in North America and many quickly earning profits.
Their rapid growth, has led to a gap in literature that explores the genre. While somewhat connected to LARP (live action role playing game), escape rooms, provide a less immersive but more direct relation to material. What I mean by direct, is that rooms can standalone, not reliant on many other players, nor the actor buy-in that LARP inscribes.
Game genres almost always get taken up as potential education tools, with escape rooms being no exception. While the literature on this process is extremely limited and new, escape games are already showing to be a promising way to have students apply learned knowledge, and engage with material. However, based on my own experience, we can go further. The environmental potential of escape rooms, alongside the puzzle and adventure focus of challenges makes it a strong contender to deal with serious issues.
In the previous post I touched on the notion of praxis games, where ideas are enmeshed into games. In this process, praxis games focus on 5 heuristics, 3 of which escape rooms can strongly address: situated praxis, evidence-based rules, and guided discoverability (Wilcox, 2019). Functioning as a physical space that designers can design, like a set for a play, escape rooms are effective analog spaces to situate players around a specific issue or situation. Additionally, the focus on puzzles requires players to gather evidence, and create ideological connections based on the rules of the physical space. Finally, the puzzle path design that pushes players towards a specific final goal (i.e. finding the holy grail), allows designers to guide players towards how, when and where knowledge is discovered.
The nature of play, alongside the environment, makes escape games effective educational spaces, especially for dealing with larger more complex issues or situations. In my own work, the interwoven narrative and gameplay provides the potential for designers to use metaphors, analogies, and even allegory in the game. Escape rooms all contain a narrative that grows as players participate in the game, some rely more heavily on it than others, but the narratives abstract presentation of a situation alongside, the actions which reinforce knowledge, guide players, or present new ideas, allows the game to represent situations larger than the space. Personally I am exploring the power of allegory and metaphor within the game to reflect digital systems. Attempting to answer the question of how do we show a digital algorithm in an analog spaces, the use of allegorical, analogous, and metaphorical actions allow conversation beyond the game to connect these ideas. For example, algorithmic filters sort, categorize and then discard of data to create user profiles. In a game, these actions can be presented to the players as the process needed to solve a puzzle, drawing an analogy to these systems, and further supplemented by a narrative that highlights the errors/concerns with these processes.
While part of using the escape room genre was to further exploring the educational value of the genre, I realized that the immersive experience caused players to reflect the game to their own life, presenting a potentially unique format to conduct interviews around. Among my research on digital filter bubbles, echo chambers, and general media habits, Canadian literature is almost entirely uses quantitative methods. While helpful, this creates a huge gap on qualitative Canadian media habits, specifically around how users filter content, and where user trust resides online. Using the escape room as a way to engage players around the issue, and ground the conversational debrief after the game encourages players to connect their personal media experience with the issues discussed in the game. While, this is still a hypothesis, I am interested in how this medium can be used to move beyond disseminating knowledge, to include meaningful data collection.