The Only 7 Escape Rooms in the World (Theory)

According to film theorists, there are only seven basic story archetypes, and the plot of every movie can fit into one of these categories.

Which got me thinking – is similar true for Escape Rooms? Not specific storylines, more the motive behind the game, the basic WHY? How come the team are in this space and what are they meant to be achieving? GATAPAE did some brainstorming and we came up with seven fundamental framing devices.

I. IMPRISONMENT. Someone has locked you in a room and you need to escape. Well, duh. Isn’t every Escape Room like this? Actually, no. The key points here are that you are being deliberately held captive and that liberation is your primary aim. Typically takes the form of a jail cell, a dungeon or serial killer’s lair, but can also be an asylum, mortuary or crypt, if you’re really lucky. Characterized by: locks, keypads, padlocks, more locks and probably some bars (sadly not the drinking kind).

II. DISASTER! Something terrible has happened and you only have 60 minutes to save the Earth (or yourselves). Escaping is only a secondary aim, after defusing the bomb, releasing the antidote, mending the time machine or restoring the air supply. If imprisonment makes us the victim, then disaster games let us play the hero. Characterized by: physical tasks, engineering puzzles, a countdown clock and an ominous soundtrack. And often a big red button.

III. INVESTIGATION. Play detective and find evidence to solve the case. Not limited to police procedural or Sherlock Holmes themes. Can apply to anything from conspiracy theories to who actually ate the teacher’s apple leading to class detention. Quite often the investigation plot line fades away as the game progresses, but solving the mystery makes up the bulk of puzzle content. Characterized by: document folders, computer passwords, filing cabinets.

IV. HEIST. Nick it and leg it. Another set-up where escaping is secondary, and sometimes irrelevant, as the exit door is usually the easy bit. More about breaking in than breaking out, bypassing an elaborate security system to steal an object of value makes sense of convoluted locks, traps and codes. Popular for banks, pirates, casinos and eccentric billionaire mansions. Characterized by: a safe, sirens, and a fancy prop to pose with in the post-game photos.

V. PARANORMAL. An Escape Room, but without the need for any real world logic. How did we get here? Teleported to another dimension by a demon. Why can’t we leave? Cursed. Why are weird things happening? It’s haunted. Cryptic symbols, scrambled messages, random objects arranged in specific patterns? Witchcraft, or possibly aliens. None of it has to make sense, when you can blame magic. Characterized by: darkness, mag locks, special effects.

VI. QUEST. Boldly complete a challenge where all others have failed. Quests lean towards exploration, often following a trail of clues left behind by pioneering doomed adventurers. Be the first to find the lost city, travel through time, discover the island’s secrets. It’s all about the journey. Characterized by: immersive scenery, maps, messages in a bottle, elements of fantasy.

VII. TEST. Prove your worth. The most self-consciously artificial type of game, where an omniscient character has set you a deliberate challenge, sometimes in the form of an Escape Room. Can be malignant (do you deserve to live?), pleasant (compete to win the lovely prize!) or neutral (demonstrate that you are the true heir to claim your legacy). Characterized by: a message from your mentor, very puzzlely puzzles, getting quite meta.

Some rooms can be hybrids – we’ve done several Imprisonment/Heists recently. Some can advertise as one theme but play very much as something else, when the given storyline doesn’t quite match the style of gameplay. So, what do you think? Have we missed something obvious? Can you prove us wrong? Is there a whole new concept that the UK escape room industry hasn’t yet tapped? Inquiring minds need to know.