In the previous lesson, we have been over the basic structure of an Escape room puzzle and discovered the different types of puzzles. In this lesson and in the next ones, we will see the different possibilities to organise a puzzle sequence together, in order to create a well-functioning Escape Room.
Nicholson proposes three types of paths that will be explain in this grain and in the following.
First, let’s discuss the linear path.
The name expresses the content well. The organisation of the puzzles follows a line, a sequence, each one comes after the other. Resolving the first puzzle leads to the second one, the second to the third and so forth until the last puzzle, which unlocks the room. Nicholson (2015) reports its use in 37% of surveyed facilities.
The following infographic from Wiemker et al. (2015) might help you visualize what we mean by linear path.
The first puzzle is a gated door. Success in opening it reveals a chest (puzzle 2). We can imagine that the chest contains the key to open the door (puzzle 3), behind which lies the box (puzzle 4). One last puzzle enables to open the box, which itself contain the key / code to exit.
It is the simplest and most straightforward solution when it comes to structuring an Escape Room. As teachers beginning in the creation of educative rooms, you will probably start with this scheme. It is optimal to use with young and novice participants, to introduce the principle and the game, avoid overwhelmingness, misunderstanding and discouragement. Linear paths give a clear structure. The participants know where to start, what they need to do, and where it ends.
An additional advantage of the linear structure is that the puzzle sequence is predetermined. Possibilities are limited, which allow the designer to check the succession thoroughly beforehand and avoid glitches. Unfortunately, these pros are followed by several cons, that you might encounter in your journey. It will be up to you to decide if they outweigh the pros, based on your experience and the students’ perception.
First, it reduces the possibility of working through it as a team. Educative escape rooms will often group 8 to 10 people, which is a higher number of players than what is usually encountered in professional facilities around the world, which involve around 4 players per team in Europe (Nicholson, 2015). While 4 people might be able to work on a single puzzle, the linear path structure will not be able to accommodate 8 or more. This means that, more often than not, in the context of this puzzle path, some students will be cast aside out of lack of tasks to complete, whether it comes from their own volition or not. As a consequence, this will reduce the feeling of accomplishment and could lead to boredom (Escape Rooms on Social Entrepreneurship, 2020). Additionally, you might find that one or some students stand out and unlock most of the puzzle without requesting help from their classmates (Linear vs. Multi-path, n.d.), resulting to a downgrade of the possibility for collaboration.
However, collaboration and cooperation are the essence of Escape rooms. Team players must communicate, think collectively, exchange and share (Escape game, 2018). Adding up clues, ideas, and information together with sharing tasks between participants is essential to progress in the game and solve it. It fosters collective intelligence. Pierre Levy (2018, as cited in Fenaert et al., 2019, p.27, Translated by the author from French « L’intelligence collective est l’art de maximiser simultanément la liberté créatrice et l’efficacité collaborative ».) describes it as “the art to simultaneously maximize creative freedom and collaborative efficacity”. You might notice some variations in the quality of the collaboration, whether students in the groups know each other or not, for obvious reasons.
Furthermore, if participants get stuck on one puzzle and the hints are not helpful in resolving it, the game will either end or the solution will be given by the game-master / educator, which defeats the purpose of the game and of the overall educational process. It might also lead to frustration.
In this context, we advise that you use the linear path at the beginning of your creation journey, but to gradually move away from it as you gain in confidence. You might encounter these cons as you try your scenario with your students. Try to consider these drawbacks as room for improvement. Use them to make your next puzzle sequence better.
After having examined the structure, the advantages and disadvantages of the linear path, we will detail additional paths in grains 14 and 15. This will give you further solutions to avoid the problems mentioned above and create a puzzle sequence on which all students will be able to collaborate.