Mechanics Monday: What do we mean by role-playing?

For our younger readers, this is from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, from a time called “the 80s”

It’s a pretty common view amongst both players and experts that the future for escape games lies with better stories/narratives. What exactly that means and how it might be implemented isn’t quite as clear, but for me it’s simply about a more engaging experience. I’m already tired of “here’s a flimsy pretence to get you into a puzzle room” and with the sheer number of games now available, if that’s all you’ve got to offer I’m unlikely to visit. But if you can tell me “here’s an intriguing scenario for you to explore” then I’ll want to play through it. Thinking about the bigger picture, a logical progression for any gamer is: any game > other local game > attractive sounding game. People aren’t going to drive two hours each way without offering something more (I really must get down to @EscapeQuestUK soon).

Possibly at the far end of the immersive spectrum you’ll find Live Action Role Playing (LARP). It’s not something I’ve ever done or know a great deal about, but understand it enough to know that players get fully into character, from how they dress and act, through to how they tackle the challenge/play the game. If you’ve got the right mind set, then surely this is as engaging at it gets?

But it’s another pretty common view that escape rooms want to distance themselves from LARP and other similar activities. I don’t know exactly why this is, but perhaps they think it’s ‘too geeky’ and it would discourage big parts of their audience. And I can certainly see that it isn’t for everyone. But surely these two viewpoints are somewhat at odds with each other?

A simple starting point is to look at some of the ways LARP suspends reality and make that available to players, if they want it. If you want people to forget the contrivance of the situation, surely the use of costumes and related accessories can only help? In a recent review I said how the use of walkie-talkies as a hint device during a SWAT team-based game felt awesome. Add to that a helmet, bullet proof vest, torch and whatever else a SWATter may have and I think it would have been even better.

As I said earlier, I don’t think everyone would want to, but it doesn’t really effect the game either way, so it’s just an option for those who are interested. And the additional costs of the gear must be negligible (particularly if your rooms can attract a higher price due to being ‘better’). Similarly it doesn’t require much more from your gamemaster to be ‘in character’ than it does for them do it as themselves.

I predict a theme that will crop up again in future MMs is options available to players on a room-by-room, game-by-game basis. Operators that provide an excellent ‘norm’ and support individual players’ requirements and desires is surely going to be popular with everyone.

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