Library Escape Rooms: Keeping Your Patrons Captive

May 26, 2016

Memori Logo

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In the past ten years, Escape Rooms have emerged from obscurity into the mainstream. Largely inspired by video games and interactive theater, this new form of live, participatory entertainment has been growing in popularity and revenue since its inception. Like the Human Library events discussed previously on Unbound, Escape Rooms have great potential to cross over into library programming.

Players of an Escape Room typically begin the game locked in an enclosed environment, and must solve puzzles as a team in order to make their way out, usually within a set time limit. These puzzles can take many forms and many difficulty levels. For example, players might have to decode a secret message from a poem, or use a blacklight to reveal a hidden key code for a lock.

Some Escape Rooms are heavily themed, with complex plots and costumed actors. Others leave players to their own devices. While Escape Rooms often take place in literal rooms like offices or military bunkers, settings can sometimes be much more expansive or abstract. Both private companies and public institutions have run these games, and they’ve taken place all over the world.

There have been a couple of Escape Rooms held in libraries. In November 2014, the State Library of Western Australia hosted an Escape Room called Memori as part of the library’s 125th anniversary celebrations. The game was created by a local film, television, and gaming institute partnering with a game design consulting company. The game was themed with a sci-fi premise: a secret lab under the library had invented Memori, a device that could digitize memories from historical peoples’ brains. The game’s creators used this conceit as a jumping off point for exploring Western Australia’s history. The game’s story incorporated historical documents from the library’s collection to educate players about three different stories from Western Australia’s past. During the game, players solved puzzles to uncover information about these stories. Successful teams were rewarded with epilogues about the eventual fates of the historical figures involved. At the end of the game, players encountered the creator of the Memori device and made a climactic moral and philosophical decision about whether to destroy the device or use it to erase all negative memories from history. (Kirk 2014)

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