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Unlocking Accessible Escape Rooms: Is Technology the Key?


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Escape rooms are popular recreational activities whereby players are locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles in order to ‘escape’. Recent years have seen a large expansion technology being used in these rooms in order to provide ever changing and increasingly immersive experiences. This technology could be used to minimise accessibility issues for users, e.g. with hearing or visual impairments, so that they can engage in the same way as their peers without disabilities. Escape room designers and players completed an online questionnaire exploring the use of technology and the accessibility of escape rooms. Results show that accessibility remains a key challenge in the design and implementation of escape rooms, despite the inclusion of technology that could be used to improve the experience of users with disabilities. This presentation will explore the lack of accessibility within Escape Rooms and the potential for technology to bridge this gap.

Dr Rachel Menzies is the Head of Undergraduate Studies for Computing at the University of Dundee and is the current SICSA Director of Education ( She co-directs the UX’d research group ( and her research interests include user centred design with marginalised user groups, such as users with disabilities, as well as exploring novel interfaces, data visualisation and CS education. Her most recent work focusses on accessibility is in escape rooms, in particular how users with varied disabilities can access and enjoy the experience alongside typical users.

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Unlocking Accessible Escape Rooms: Is Technology the Key?

  2. 2. ABOUT ME ➤ Research Focus: User-centred design methods, accessibility, CS Education 2 ECHOES II BrightLights Situational Visual Impairments
  4. 4. 4 Who has been to an Escape Room before? Who escaped from the Escape Room?
  5. 5. WHAT IS AN ESCAPE ROOM? Escape Rooms are “live-action team-based games where players discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to accomplish a specific goal (usually escaping from the room) in a limited time” Nicholson, S. (2015). Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities. White paper available at THEME / STORY-LINE 5
  6. 6. EXPERIENCING AN ESCAPE ROOM Briefing De-BriefingThe Experience 6
  7. 7. EXPERIENCING AN ESCAPE ROOM Briefing De-BriefingThe Experience Set Design Psychology Marketing / PR Product Design HCI Game Design Engineering Legal Software Developer Logistics 7
  8. 8. ABOUT ME First Escape Room: June 2016 Total Escape Rooms: 12 across Scotland 8
  10. 10. PUZZLES “A game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge.” (Oxford English Dictionary) “In-room" knowledge ‘only’ 10
  11. 11. CODES AND CIPHERS ➤ A code uses semantics. It requires a codebook where words or phrases are assigned other meanings. ➤ A cipher operates on syntax or symbols. They are usually performed on individual or small chunks of letters. 11 b a g a b c d e f g h i Example cipher:
  12. 12. PUZZLE ORGANISATION In reality, a pyramid structure will evolve that includes multiple organisational structures within it. 12
  13. 13. REPLAYABILITY ➤ How will you encourage players to return? ➤ Are there different paths through the experience? ➤ Can you change the difficulty level? 13
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  16. 16. ESCAPE ROOMS IN THE MEDIA ➤ Critical thinking ➤ Teamwork ➤ Personality ➤ Time management ➤ Lidl and Assotel: Recruitment company in Lille, France ➤ Survey of 684 American companies: 70% of companies and 66% of job seekers would like escape rooms to be part of the recruitment process 16
  17. 17. PREVIOUS RESEARCH ➤ Flow (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996) ➤ Engagement with the game (mental state) ➤ Spatial Presence, i.e. immersion ➤ High level of involvement ➤ Suspension of disbelief ➤ Richness of the environment ➤ Consistency of the environment ➤ Player characteristics 17
  18. 18. PREVIOUS RESEARCH ➤ Student recruitment ➤ Nursing (n=7), not yet widely used (Connelly et al 2018) ➤ Team Dynamics - evidence that Escape Rooms are good places to conduct this research (Pan et al, 2017) 18
  19. 19. PREVIOUS RESEARCH ➤ Clarke et al (2017) created a framework for developing Escape Rooms, based on previous lessons in Game-Based Learning and Serious Games (Arnab & Clarke, 2015). Participants Objectives Theme Puzzles Equipment Evaluation • User type • Time • Difficulty • Mode • Scale • Learning objectives • Sole/multi disciplinary • Soft skills • Problem solving • Escape mode • Mystery mode • Narrative design • Stand-alone / nested • Puzzle design • Reflect learning objectives • Instructions/ manuals • Clues / hints • Location space / design • Physical props • Technical props • Actors • Testing • Reflection • Evaluate learning objectives • Adjust • Re-set 19
  20. 20. PREVIOUS RESEARCH BreakoutEDU ➤ https:// ➤ Approx $300-500 to access ➤ Buy ready-made or create your own 20
  21. 21. A HOME-MADE ESCAPE ROOM … ➤ High-School pupil created an Escape Room to investigate how people engage with the room and puzzles within it. 21
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  25. 25. STAGE 1: ONLINE SURVEY 25
  26. 26. STAGE 1: ONLINE SURVEY To gather baseline data on: 1. What technologies exist in Escape Rooms? 2. What accessibility issues are there in Escape Rooms? 26
  27. 27. QUESTIONS - PLAYER Technology ➤ What percentage of rooms have you played have included some computing technology? ➤ Outline the best use of technology you have experienced ➤ Outline the worst use of technology you have experienced Accessibility Think about escape rooms you have played. Describe an experience where someone with the following impairments may not be able to engage fully with the room: ➤ Visual ➤ Physical ➤ Hearing ➤ Cognitive 27
  28. 28. PARTICIPANTS ➤ Recruitment via Twitter, Facebook, r/SampleSize, r/EscapeRooms. ➤ n=69(35 male, 32 female, 2 didn’t say) 28
  29. 29. PARTICIPANTS 42 18 5 1 29
  30. 30. PARTICIPANTS 70% 30% Designers Players ➤ 10 participants disclosed a disability ➤ 9 players / 1 designer TOTAL DISABILITY 3 ADHD 2 Arthritis, Anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia 1 Deaf, Dyspraxia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Trigeminal Neuralgia 30
  31. 31. ANALYSIS ➤ Affinity Diagramming ➤ 289 affinity notes ➤ 50% by 3 participants with expertise in qualitative research methods and / or Escape rooms ➤ 50% by researcher ➤ 267 notes (92%) used in final affinity diagram 28 y.o Psychology researcher 8 years qualitative exp 33 y.o Research manager 12 year qualitative exp Played 9 Escape Rooms 37 y.o Government consultant Played 19 Escape Rooms 31
  32. 32. RESULTS: THE AFFINITY MAP Four affinity groups were created, and contextual insights were generated over these areas: 1. Lack of Accessibility 2. Situational Challenges 3. Role of the Game-Master 4. Immersion 32
  33. 33. 1. LACK OF ACCESSIBILITY Lack of accessibility Perceiving feedback during play Physical access to the room Single modality Communication Collaboration Relying on others Business case Retrospective considerations 33
  34. 34. 2. SITUATIONAL CHALLENGES Situational Challenges Environment Visual Colour Physical 34
  35. 35. 3. ROLE OF THE GAME-MASTER Role of the Game-Master Room reset Breakdown Communication Single modality 35
  36. 36. 4. IMMERSION Immersion Use of Technology SurpriseBreakdown Room reset 36
  37. 37. ACCESSIBILITY CHALLENGES IN ESCAPE ROOM Paper materials, use of colour, poor lighting Morse code, feedback, e.g. door opening No map of progress, no scaling of difficulty Access to / around the room, fine motor control 37
  39. 39. STAGE 2: INTERVIEWS 39
  40. 40. METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS ➤ Targeting players with a wide range of accessibility needs: ➤ Face-to-face / online / messenger ➤ Preparation time ➤ Commercial sensitivities: ➤ Owners don’t want to share their designs for free ➤ No photos, recordings of experience 40
  42. 42. STAGE 3: DESIGN AN ACCESSIBLE ESCAPE ROOM 1. Design an accessible Escape Room to cater for visitors with a variety of disabilities. 2. Evaluate the User Experience in the Escape Room. 3. Provide outcomes to designers to support their design process (aim is to create more accessible experiences) 42
  43. 43. IN SUMMARY … 43
  44. 44. IN SUMMARY The use of technology within Escape Rooms is increasingly commonplace. This is a good thing because it aids in spatial presence / immersion. However, there are accessibility issues with current escape room designs, which are affecting individuals with accessibility needs - limiting their access and experiences. The solution: Technology can be used to mitigate these challenges… if we can get designers on board with the idea. 44
  46. 46. REFERENCES ➤ Arnab, S. and Clarke, S., "Towards a trans-disciplinary methodology for a game-based intervention development process," British Journal of Educational Technology. 2015 ➤ Borrego, Carlos et al. Room escape at class: Escape games activities to facilitate the motivation and learning in computer science. Journal of Technology and Science Education, [S.l.], v. 7, n. 2, p. 162-171, june 2017. ISSN 2013-6374. Available at: < 247/253>. Date accessed: 28 mar. 2019. doi: ➤ Connelly L., Burbach B., Kennedy C., Walters L.(2018). Escape Room Recruitment Event: Description and Lessons Learned. J Nurs Educ. 57(3) 184-187. doi: 10.3928/01484834-20180221-12 [link] ➤ S Clarke, DJ Peel, S Arnab, L Morini, H Keegan, O Wood , “escapeED: a framework for creating educational escape rooms and interactive games for Further/Higher Education”, International Journal of Serious Games, 2017 ➤ Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1996), Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-092820-4 ➤ Nicholson, S. (2015). Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities. White paper available at ➤ Rui Pan, Henry Lo, and Carman Neustaedter. 2017. Collaboration, Awareness, and Communication in Real-Life Escape Rooms. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS '17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1353-1364. DOI: 10.1145/3064663.3064767 46