What is it that instills fear into your heart?
Frequently, escape room companies make use of the idea of fear in some way to liven up the experience. For some, this is enticing: the concept of someone or something scaring the pants off them while trying to decipher codes and find clues is just the motivation they need to get out.
Fear is one of the most innate responses to adverse environmental stimuli. We are designed to be afraid of things that pose a threat to us and our well-being. We are conditioned to have adverse reactions to fearful things. It’s why various types of phobias exist in the human race. One of our more common fears is darkness, or more broadly, the unknown. A big reason why this is the case is that we are knowledge seekers, constantly striving to figure things out, make new inventions, and thus have a more complete understanding of the world around us.
A famous example of this is the movie Jaws, specifically the original. The entire film is 2 hours and 10 minutes (130 minutes) long, and the shark was only on screen for 4 minutes. FOUR MINUTES! Yet it is considered one of the greatest horror films to date. It truly takes advantage of our hardwired fear of the unknown.
The most common question we game masters get asked about our rooms is, “How scary is it?” A good rule of thumb to measure the room’s frightfulness is whether live actors are in the room with you, but this is far from an ironclad rule. You can also ask the employees what kinds of things to expect without being spoiled about the room or looking at reviews of the room. However, the best method of assessing a room’s fear factor is hearing it from someone you know. Have someone you trust (who’s willing to do so) play the room before you do, and ask them what they thought of it and if they think you can handle it.
You’ll find that those who report that they like scary rooms find much enjoyment in the experience. The Weeping Witch is one of my favorite escape rooms because of the creative puzzles and the frightfulness. But this isn’t because I lack fear; I am more often the more fearful one of the group, but I am still willing to be the first one to go into a dark space or walk through an unlit path. I’ve learned that I can’t think fear out of my head, but taking action despite my fear dispels it. Then when we escape and make it out, it’s more gratifying than a non-scary room because, despite being terrified, I pushed on, conquered my fear, and successfully escaped!
More often than not, it is worth doing a scarier room because of the atmosphere and the story the company is conveying. But people who skip out on scary rooms miss out on the fantastic puzzles, exciting discoveries, and fun times the space provides. Two of our rooms, The Hex Room and The Weeping Witch, are scary in their own right. The Hex Room has a creepy ambiance: sporadic, unnerving noises are heard throughout the game, coupled with being physically separated from one another, but not much when it comes to being blatantly scary. The Weeping Witch has a live actor inside the game, and they will be doing their best to scare you, so be mindful of that before you decide to play it.
So, what should you do to combat your fear of the unknown? Remind yourself that this is all orchestrated and purposeful. Like a scary rollercoaster, it is meticulously designed to feel scary but isn’t genuinely life-threatening. Conceptually, they are pretty similar, except escape rooms carry even less risk so that you can enjoy the space to the fullest! If you have pre-existing health conditions or are prone to panic/anxiety attacks, enter a scary room at your own risk and check with the company if they recommend you do a frightening room you’re interested in. We always want the most people possible to have fun and experience our rooms, but we first and foremost value the safety of the players for every game. Alert a staff member if you have concerns of any kind, and they will be happy to address them.