Why Our Brains Betray Us

The Puzzling Psychology of Solving Escape Games

The best escape game is the one that you lose yourself in. You become fully enthralled in the world built around you. Continuously suspending your disbelief for the sake of mystery and fun. Stop me if this sounds like something you’ve felt before… In the midst of playing an escape game, you are stumped. You spend a good 5 minutes messing around, not really getting anywhere, seemingly missing the one thing you need most. You then receive a clue that has you smacking your forehead with the palm of your hand. Obviously, that is the solution. How could you be so dense? Normally someone would say “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!” However, in this case, you might actually be able to blame yourself a little bit. The psychology behind solving an escape room may sometimes be stacked against you.

We are constantly bombarded throughout our days with visual imagery. Seeing messages in the form of advertisements, music videos, television shows, and much more. Much to the displeasure of the creators, when we see all that visual stimulation, we take in and remember almost none of it. The human brain needs a little more than that to make a connection, take action, or create a memory.

By design, Escape games are immersive and engrossing.  

We want there to be a lot for you to see in there, our build out is realistic and tactile. If it wasn’t the game would be easy and boring. But, on the other hand, because there is so much inside the room for you to see, your eyes naturally gloss over exactly what you are looking for. And you look past it again and again.

Another plague of the human brain is decision paralysis, a phenomenon that plagues us every day. With so many choices in our lives, people will often become anxious over the idea of choosing something, for fear of choosing incorrectly. They might decide to put off the decision to a later date because choosing right now is just too difficult. A piece of advice we give to first-time players is: keep an open mind.

Escape games require you to think outside the box, so if you really let your imagination run wild, there are endless ways a puzzle could be solved.

Sometimes, this manifests itself in the form of strong personalities over-complicating a puzzle, and refusing to budge on their method. More often, people are so overwhelmed with the number of clues they find, they are unwilling to pick a train of thought and go with it. Some might get frustrated at the idea of committing to a tactic, or some might even be too embarrassed or shy to voice their ideas, for fear of being wrong.

Because of the realistic quality of our escape games, it is very easy to forget you only have a certain amount of time to get things done. This causes the procrastination aspect of decision paralysis to set in. You become stumped by a puzzle, decide you will come back to it later, and later never comes. Before you know it, 60 minutes has gone by, and you realize you completely forgot about that puzzle you left on the other side of the room.

Your perception is your own reality, and that perception is what you base your decisions on.

Any object in an Escape Game might have a very specific and unusual function, but you will not know what that function is because you have spent your entire life perceiving it in a different way. Puzzle solving is a form of problem-solving, as it requires more than your automatic perception. It requires somewhat difficult mental activity and conscious effort. It is very difficult to change your perception of your surroundings, and that is why escape rooms pose such a challenge. “Functional Fixity” is a term used to describe the tendency for humans to see an object as having one, and only one fixed function. Your brain is stubborn and blocks you from looking at a puzzle from a different perspective. People who are very talented at escape rooms know that one must keep an entirely open mind because things are not always as they seem.

So, when you are completely drawing a blank while solving puzzles, don’t feel so bad! It’s not your fault. It’s biology’s fault. It’s psychology’s fault. And here’s a little something to ease your mind: human brains forget more information than they remember. You know that puzzle that you think is the bane of your existence? In 72 hours it will be the furthest thing from your mind. Take solace in that.

On the other hand, if reading this made you frustrated about our baseless assumption that you could possibly get stuck on one of our puzzles, come prove us wrong. Book your tickets here and leave all that woo woo psychology to the birds! But don’t say we didn’t warn you.