Breaking the Fourth Wall in Escape Rooms



While most escape room enthusiasts appreciate the immersive aspect of escape rooms, thespians tend to be the most critical bunch in regards to “breaking the fourth wall.” So if you’re not an actor or actress, you might be thinking, “what is this FOURTH WALL you speak of”?


A term originating from theatrical stage performances, the “fourth wall” is the invisible wall that separates the actors from the audience. Although the audience can see through this wall, the actors cannot. In modern usage, recognizing the fourth wall is more of a convention that maintains the audience’s immersion in the performance. Do you ever notice that actors and actresses never look directly at the camera? Looking at the camera, or speaking directly to the camera (or audience) is an example of “breaking the fourth wall.” Violating the fourth wall convention can be done on accident or on purpose.


It is important to remember that in escape rooms, you (the customer) are the actors. In regards to the “fourth wall,” only actors and actresses can break the fourth wall. It is not something that the audience does.


This means that in an escape room, the moment you ask for a hint, you effectively break the fourth wall. In this respect, maintaining the fourth wall would mean pretending that there is no hint button and failing the room entirely. But that would not be very much fun.


Game masters provide hints because most people want to finish the game. However, pressing the hint button and having someone provide help momentarily breaks the immersion of the experience. We do our best to lessen this effect.


There are two main ways of providing hints. The more traditional method is to have a game master physically go in the room and provide the hint. The other method is to provide a 2-way radio (walkie-talkie) to the group. To maintain immersion, game masters will stay in character whether they physically walk into the room or speak to the group via radio.


The latter method, via radio, is generally perceived as a less intrusive way to provide hints. This way the immersive aspect is better preserved. However, the walkie-talkie hint system also has its drawbacks. There is the occasional customer who does not know how to operate a walkie-talkie. Rectifying this means adding a “how to use a walkie-talkie” step in our introduction process. Although this seems minimal, simplification is always better in a business process. We must ask ourselves-- does the added complication and chance of malfunction add or subtract to the overall customer experience in the long-run?


Additionally, walkie-talkies also present another challenge. Sometimes the customer still needs help even after a hint is given through the radio. So, even with the 2-way radio system, a game master may still need to physically go in and show the customer what to do. This sort of defeats the purpose of having the radio system in the first place.


Here at The Exit Game-- we are always listening to what our customers have to say. Some have mentioned that when a game master physically walks into the room, it interrupts the immersive aspect of the game. Because of this, we have tested various 2-way radio systems. The simpler radios (with less buttons) tend to be not as strong. The stronger radios tend to be bulkier, have more buttons, and are more complicated to use. We are constantly testing and refining our process to provide the best possible customer experience. Drop us a comment on Facebook or Instagram, we’d love to know your thoughts! Which hint system do you prefer?


The main takeaway is this: if you really want to maintain the fourth wall, then do not ask for a hint.

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