Everyone is wired a little bit differently. That’s part of what makes being human so great. Everybody has different ideas, different experiences, a different way of looking at things. Some people are visual thinkers while other people are auditory thinkers. Some people are better with numbers while other people are better with words. Some people think linearly while other people…are a little more outside the box.
As an escape game designer?
BEWARE THE OUT OF THE BOX THINKER.
For instance, imagine that you have a four-digit number lock as part of your game. Players are supposed to collect different game pieces that each have a different equation on them, which gives them the four numbers in a certain order. Collect all four pieces and complete the equations correctly, then the code is correct and the lock comes off.
It’s a great trick, and you usually don’t have any problems with it. But every now and then a group gets the lock off after only collecting three pieces. That’s understandable though. One digit of a lock has to be something between zero and nine. If you know which digit you’re missing, that’s only ten possible combinations. If they guess without finding the last piece, it’s not too much trouble.
Next level? Sometimes they get the lock open with only two game pieces. That’s a hundred different combinations. But if you’re quick and systematic, that doesn’t take too long to check either.
But is guessing the same thing as cheating?
Or maybe another example. Your new game has a fish tank in it with a magnet at the bottom. Players have to complete another task in order to retrieve a chain, which allows them to fish the magnet out from the bottom of the tank. Later on in the game, they have to use the magnet to retrieve a key.
Most people complete this no problem. But during one game you have a woman take off her necklace and use it to nab the magnet. Another time, someone used their shoelace to hook the end of the magnet and pull it out. And another group used a completely different magnetic piece to get the key without looking inside the fish tank at all.
Are these people cheaters? Or are they simply MacGyvers?
There’s no clear cut answer to this. Since I’ve started working in at LI Escape Game, my answer changes day to day. It’s different depending on which puzzle the players skipped. It’s different depending what kind of people are playing—kids, adults, etc. It’s different depending on how many times I’ve seen another team do the same thing.
We try and make our escape rooms as air tight as possible. But no matter how hard you try, people are always going to do things differently. It’s not cheating to think a different way. But sometimes it can feel discouraging—anything will when it doesn’t go according to plan. It’s so easy to say, well, they cheated the system! That’s not how the game is supposed to work! It’s supposed to go like this!
I find that, hard as it may be sometimes, the best thing to do is to roll with it. Congratulate people on doing what no one else has done before, or being one of the few to figure out a way around the game. Everyone likes feeling special, and knowing they’re part of a small percentile.
At the same time, take it as a lesson. If you’ve got two magnets in play, make sure they only work for their intended purpose. If people are usually bypassing a particular trick, maybe rethink the flow of your game. Or you can decide that it’s so few teams to leave your game as is. Accept it, and do better next time.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to design a game that everyone in the world plays the same way. Until it is, it can be pretty amusing to observe people’s little differences, and the awesome problem solving skills people show when they have a deadline.