Earlier this month, Archbishop McNicholas High School’s Game Design class taught by Ms. Jolene Esz visited Houdini’s Escape Room in Montgomery. Esz arranged the trip to that students could experience an escape room and interview the owner regarding this business model.
Real-life room escape games are a type of physical adventure game in which people are locked in a room with other participants and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within a set time limit. For the field trip, students were locked in Houdini’s Escape Room and tasked with finding Harry Houdini’s lost straight jacket and handcuffs and the code to get out the door before his performance in one hour. After learning the rules, the team had one hour to escape. They could ask for three clues during that time frame. All of the challenges and puzzles in this room were based on games, and after a lot of hard work a few stressful minutes on the last puzzle, the students were able to escape with :30 to spare.
After their escape, students were able to spend some time interviewing the owner John Kennedy. Kennedy developed the idea for Houdini’s Escape Room after a visit to an escape room on a family vacation. He was impressed that everyone in the family, teenager to adult, had an excellent time. Kennedy designs all or the rooms at Houdini’s Escape Room himself.
“I think students found the interview insightful,” Esz said. “They heard about the thought process of a game designer when designing games which is something we have talked about in class. It was also interesting how much of it was about matching the frustration of the challenge versus the sense of success from succeeding—too much frustration and people quit, not enough and the solution doesn’t feel satisfying.”
Students also learned that the rooms are constantly being tweaked as elements that are too hard, too easy, or too fragile are replaced. The design actual design of the rooms themselves turned out to be quite extensive and expensive.
“The trip worked out to be a good culmination of the class,” Esz said. “It was a great chance to experience a new type of game and to learn about all the behind-the-scenes aspects that make it successful.”