Interview by Laura Hudson
Laura E. Hall wants you to get out; she really does. As an escape room designer, she’s created numerous live-action mysteries where teams of intrepid players sealed in a real-life room must rifle through clues and solve puzzles in hopes of getting out before time runs out. Although she’s created escape rooms for franchises like Resident Evil and Adidas, she’s also the co-founder of 60 Minutes to Escape, a company that runs an award-winning escape room in Portland, Oregon where you uncover the truth about a missing spy. Her work isn’t limited to spaces with four walls, either; she also designs games for computers, tabletops and even streets. She talked to FREQ about the unique challenges of building puzzles that people inhabit, what happens to the people who enter them, and where they intersect with the world of virtual reality.
FREQ: Who do you imagine as your audience when you’re designing escape rooms, and how does that influence the way you make them?
Laura Hall: It’s actually very diverse. We’ve had families coming through, corporate team-building, teenagers’ birthday puzzles. We get really hardcore puzzle-solving people and people who have no puzzle-solving experience whatsoever. It really is difficult to balance it for everybody, which is why we have hints. You can challenge people, but ultimately the goal is fun and if they aren’t having fun, then what’s the point? There’s an art to hinting people, and what we teach our staff to do is direct people’s attention towards something, but never to tell them the answer, because it’s so much more satisfying if they get it themselves. I also try not to put a proctor or helper in the room because that changes how people behave—they look to the person for permission before they touch or move things, and if there’s no one there, they forget they’re being observed so they’re much braver. Sometimes that means they break things, but that’s a given.
FREQ: Both video games and escape rooms can be interactive puzzle-solving experiences—escape rooms were even inspired by video games. So what makes the real-life version different, both for players and for designers like you?
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