Somebody’s Watching Me

It might be an American thing, but have you visited an escape room where the employee sits in the room with you the whole time? Like Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me“; Clay Akin’s “Invisible“; or The Police’s “Every Breath You Take“,  I get creeped out when somebody is watching me. I’ve experienced it with two Portland, Oregon escape rooms, Labyrinth and Portland Escape Rooms. Other escape rooms usually utilize a video monitor system to watch over the players, which I greatly prefer.

I don’t know the reason for the in-room attendant, but I have a few guesses. Maybe it is to make sure the attendant follows the progress and can offer hints at appropriate times. Maybe it is to prevent people from destroying the props in search of clues. Maybe a video monitoring system is more expensive at the outset. Whatever the reason, there are problems with having someone else in the room.

  1. A foreign participant takes away from the immersive experience. Look, we know the room is fake, and it is a game. Still, it is fun to get lost in the illusion. The more things that take us away from suspending disbelief makes the experience less interesting. A person sitting there with a clipboard does not make me think I’m escaping a wizard’s dungeon.
  2. If they are not part of the game, they don’t belong in the room. Some escape rooms include an actor or participant to play some role in the game. Locked in a room with a Zombie is one example, where the zombie is essential to the story. However, the same employee who told you the rules about not touching outlets is not there to help move the story along, and only serves as a distraction.
  3. When someone is right there, you are more likely to talk to them about the room. This makes you more likely to ask for hints, ask for help, clarify the goal, and rely on the helper rather than experience the hunt. By creating a barrier between the players and the employees, people are less likely to ask for hints. Asking for a clue over a walkie-talkie takes you out of the moment, and feels like you are giving up and need help to get out. However, when the clue-provider is in the room, the barrier is gone.
  4. Watchers make you feel judged.”Pretend like I’m not here,” is impossible to do. I really don’t care what their opinion is, or what they think of my escape techniques, but I don’t want to have some silent creeper in the room, watching and taking notes.

My advice to escape room operators is to be a voyeur the old-fashion way, through a peephole or a with a surveillance camera. Watch all you want! Just don’t get in the way.

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