The Rise of the Escape Room: Why We Love and Frequent Them

Five years ago, if someone would have presented us with the premise of being locked into a room with only our wit and creativity as a means to get out, we would have shuddered at the thought. Today, this setup is known as the modern “escape room” and it’s taken the United States by storm.

Why? The escaping part is only a fraction of the fun. Along the way, players have the chance to get to know each other better, build teamwork, and have a ton of fun as they solve complex challenges to unlock passageways and ultimately, get out. This helps explain the popularity of the concept, though it’s actually not as new as one might think.

The idea of an escape room was around back in 2014, yet, according to industry research, there were only around 22 of the designated spaces. Now, there are more than 2,000 across the country. What was the impetus for the growth? The answer lies in increasingly sophisticated technology that makes the games more feature-rich and interactive than ever before.

It also correlates with the fact that we’re now in the era where social media and digitization are king, and a penchant for all things puzzling, challenging and intricate is no longer seen as uncool. Rather, geeking out over your new software or your favorite brand’s new mobile app is a common occurrence. This enthusiasm has spilled over to the choices we make for our recreation. Escape rooms fit the bill because they offer us a chance to explore our surroundings, test out hypotheses, tinker with tools and engage the part of our brain responsible for in-depth problem-solving. And, we get to do it all in the presence of company we enjoy, with good-hearted spooks or laughs along the way.

A Social Experience Like None Other

Of course, those who emerge from an escape room have the opportunity for a perfect photo opp, which is also available for those who needed a little assistance to make it out. This moment of shared celebration and relief has given rise to a host of social media hashtags and posts, with trending ones including #weescaped and #escaperoom. In fact, Instagram reports that in the past year alone, the use of those specific tags has risen 13% over the year before.

While escape rooms are ideal ways to have fun with your friends on your day off, they can also serve as ideal team building events for corporate communities. From seasoned colleagues and co-workers coming together to build relationships and trust to new intern initiations, there is no shortage of ways to implement an escape room outing for the office. This concept works because the very skills needed for employees to work seamlessly and successfully at work, including clear communication, role delegation, collaboration and teamwork are also required to maneuver out of an escape room.

Moreover, the rooms can also serve as the backdrop for just about any celebration. Today, it isn’t uncommon to hear of someone having their birthday party at one. They’re unique alternatives to traditional party fare, offer guests a chance to interact with one another, and are a rewarding group activity. With online booking capabilities, it’s easy to plan today for your next fete.

Tech-Savvy Elements That Deliver

While some of the earliest, most rudimentary escape rooms consisted of a series of spaces isolated by physical locks and keys, the contraptions and characters used are quickly evolving. Now, many room companies will employ actual people to make story settings come to life. They’re also relying less on concrete materials and more on tech-heavy interactive elements that give each room it’s own “theme.”

For instance, you may have a nautical-themed room wherein the environment is designed to mimic that of being on a boat. Players might even feel the room vibrate, move or sway back and forth to replicate the feeling of being on the ocean. Adding digital touches and special effects such as these is a key way to improve the customer experience and helps differentiate and elevate some escape rooms over others. From sound effects to special lighting design, the possibilities for creating an immersive and sophisticated escape room are virtually limitless.

The Human Element of Accomplishment

While we can wax poetic about the technological features that a certain escape room has to offer, the massive success of the industry as a whole comes down to one factor: They offer us an unmatched sense of accomplishment. As humans, we’re driven by risk and reward and these rooms have both of these concepts at their crux. While we work together to solve the problems, crack the cases, and elude the obstacles, we’re facing risks in a more head-on manner than most of us are used to doing in our real lives. In this sense, escape rooms can even be cathartic, allowing us to more clearly focus our energy and align our efforts.

Then, whether we emerge by our own accord or even if we fail to complete the challenges within the given timeframe, there is still a shared sense of relief. We did it together, or at least we attempted it. The photo opp alone is often photographic evidence of the collective sigh of relief felt at the conclusion of this journey, though it’s one that most of us can’t wait to tackle again.

The Future of Escape Rooms

There’s no denying that our world is inching closer and closer to a more digital future, though even against this backdrop, escape rooms still have a place. How? They offer us the best of both worlds. We have access to cutting-edge technology and dynamic special effects, but at the end of the day, this is a human game. It’s one that requires us to speak to, listen to, work with and learn from others. And, that’s something we’ll always crave, regardless of how automated the world around us becomes.