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Room Escape: A Secret Giant?

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Sometimes, RPS posts don’t come so easy. Maybe it’s been a slow news day, maybe some promised code (you know who you are) or developer comment hasn’t arrived, maybe it was suddenly nearly midnight and you didn’t quite know how it had gotten so late but you knew you still had to get another post up. On those days, I scour a frightening mountain of RSS feeds for inspiration. Every time, I skim right past a few feeds I don’t remember subscribing to, but offer only Room Escape games. Every day there are more of them. It’s an aspect of PC gaming we never cover, but, on the quiet, I think it might just be huge.

Take a look, for instance, at freegamesnews.com – a URL I presumably added hoping for a source of excellent indie games, but largely ignore when scouring for post-worthy material because it’s generally just room escape games. In particular, take a look at just how many games are listed if you click the ‘room escape’ tag. Jeezum Crow.

Meanwhile, the top story there as I write this is about the 101st room escape game one guy has made. They might be short, lo-tech Flash stuff, but seriously – 101! This oh-so-specific genre might even be more prolific than even the match-3, shmup or iron goat-herding genres. Casual gaming totally wins, whether we want it to or not.

I have little idea as to how aware you lot are of room escape, as it’s not something we’ve ever covered much here. So, for the benefit of those that don’t, here’s a brief description. They’re akin to point’n’click adventures, only they tend to be from the first person perspective and revolve around employing a correct sequence of actions and/or item combination to find an exit.

In fact, they’re more like text adventures than point’n’click – navigation is as much the issue as broader puzzle solving, only it’s about finding a path through graphical cues rather than textual ones. Pixel hunting tends to feature highly – these are games based around poring over static scenery for incredibly scarce areas of the screen or items you can interact with. The narratives, meanwhile, are vanishingly slight – generally a variation on “you find yourself in [this location] for an unknown reason. Find your way out.” It’s not about the story. It’s only about getting out, about beating the game.

Here’s a random example from Youtube – it’s not a game I’ve heard of, but it seems fairly representative of the genre to mine uneducated eye:

Solutions are absolutely, almost mathematically specific, while where are also, frequently, codes and passwords to decipher or remember. This is something I personally find arduous, clinical and a massive turn-off and is probably the key reason why I’ve never posted about any Room Escape games before now. So, more succinctly, room escape is the values of Myst in bite-sized, browser-based chunks. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the audience was much the same as those oft-reviled adventures. Christ- remember when Myst was the great whipping boy of PC gaming, back before piracy and sequel boycotts and DRM and all that became the focal points of gamers’ rage? Seems so long ago now.

Anyway. ‘Room escape’ slightly undersells it, as the locations/environments range from the humdrum to the fantastical, though at either extreme there’s always a degree of surreality. Some of them look laughably crude, others are delightful – check out the hand-made paper furniture of 58 Works’ Escraft.

Again, the quantity is seemingly endless, as is the thematic variety. Today alone, the aforementioned freegamesnews links to Underground Palace Escape, Escape From A Japanese Garden, Hot Dog Room Escape, Kooky Cabin Escape, Laser Escape and more. Each of these is accompanied by a healthy amount of comments, in which people chew over trickier problems and share bespoke walkthroughs.

Who’s making them? Who’s playing them? Who are all these people? And why don’t we hear from them? It’s this latter that is key, I think – these are quiet people, quietly playing resolutely non-violent videogames that tick some mental challenge box for them. Notably, a fair few of the games stem from Japan, and remain untranslated, which is no doubt another reason they stick to their quiet corner of the web.

It’s a strange, very much one-note side of gaming, but it’s also remarkably noble in its sleepy, austere way. I must confess I really don’t get on with room escape games myself, finding them too clinical and unforgiving, but I’m oddly pleased that there is this huge and silent community out there, creating and playing seemingly endless numbers of the thing, quietly loving the experience without demonstrating much trace of the usual Shouty Man stuff those of us who enjoy/document broader PC gaming have to endure. And so a paradox of sorts – I really don’t like these games, yet they make me want to celebrate the great diversity of flashing pixels and those who make them flash. Woo! PC gaming! It is legion, and it is powerful.

I don’t believe I’m alone in my relative ignorance of the genre – these are not, after all, games that tend to appear on other sites that regularly cover indie games – yer TIGsources, yer Playthisthings et al. And so, the inevitable question – is anyone here a Room Escape junkie? Please, shed some light on this quiet colossus.

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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