Escape Room Game - A Constitutional Kidnapping (Part 3)
But the student will find that experience is the best teacher. The reason why I get along with comparative ease now is because I know from experience the enormous number of things that won’t work.
Hello Failure, My Old Friend
I was excited to run this game for the first time. So excited, in fact, that I invited my principal to come in and watch it in action. Or, as it would turn out, to watch its inaction. Students stalled for quite some time on the first puzzle. This is the one that unlocks access to ALL OF THE SIGNIFICANT PUZZLES for the entire game!
Thankfully, I have an understanding principal who doesn’t hold it against me if something new I’m trying flops. Plus, he could see that the students were engaged in what was happening, even if it wasn’t going as planned. Things went better once they solved the first clue, but they burned up too much class time to beat the game. This early lesson is a helpful reminder of my philosophy behind these games for when I make another one.
Puzzles are meant to be solved.
They should be challenging, but they shouldn’t be impossible. When I ran my escape room game for the first time, I was as bummed as my students that none of them solved it all the way through. Some classes came very close, but none made it.
So what did I learn from doing an escape room game for the first time?
As with all games, playtests are essential. It was hard for me to playtest this one, but I did have some family members work on one of its puzzles. They had to find a secret message on a Federalist paper. The message was a question that, in order to answer, they’d have to read the paper again at face value. The playtesters who solved it took about 5-7 minutes to do so. This is what I wanted. But after seeing a class of students play through my game, I had some big flashes of understanding that hadn’t occurred to me before.
One of these big revelations highlighted the flaw in the mini-playtest I had my family members do. I learned that there’s a huge difference in solving a puzzle in isolation and solving one while surrounded by other unsolved puzzles. I was caught off-guard by that. When a group is facing 4-5 puzzles at the same time, the chaos of the additional tasks added to the solve-time considerably. Lesson learned.
My other big revelation was the importance of useful hints. The breakout kit comes with hint cards that students can turn in when they want. It’s a great tool to leave in their hands, as it empowers them to get to whatever level of frustration they want before seeking help. I created some hints for the various puzzles that I thought were quite clever. They were rhyming, riddle-like hints that I was sure would point them in the right direction to find the answer.
Hints in the form of riddles ended up just being new puzzles to crack. But still… lesson learned. In my revision, I kept the rhyming nature of my hints, but they are FAR more explicit now. When students finally give in and use one of their two hint cards, it’s better not to hold back from them at that point. I want to keep them in the flow of the game, and the hints should streamline that as much as possible.
The final big revelation I had needs some more playtesting. The main puzzle for them to solve involved groups of students trying to match documents they discovered during the course of the game with documents that are posted around the room. I later thought that it’d be better to not post any documents around the room and instead include them with the ones discovered by the students.
With this method, I’ll be able to break them into smaller groups and it would require more collaboration among students to solve. One group would need to understand its own document, and rather than search the walls for its matching counter-argument they’d have to talk to other groups. I wanted collaboration to be essential to beating the game, and this revision cranks the collaboration dial up a bit more.
Until Next Constitution Day...
So that’s the current iteration of this game. I’m excited to try it again with these revisions—and I’m really looking forward to making another escape room game with a more modern setting (where I let myself use all of the nifty gizmos in the Breakout kit). For now, I happily accept my failure to design a beatable game and rejoice in the experience I gained in the process!
If you’d like to playtest this game, fill out the form here. Note that it was designed to be used with a BreakoutEDU kit. If you don’t have one, you could always be the lock yourself and simply distribute to the students the things they “unlock” when they solve the puzzles.