1.Concept, meaning and objective

The concept of a life-size escape game appeared in Asia in 2007 according to Nicholson (2015). It has been popularized in leisure centers: in 2016, there were 4,096 life-size escape game in 68 countries according to Heikkinen & Shumeyko (2016).

To date, the concept has not yet really been explored by educational academics. The most significant investigator is Nicholson. He has proposed some guidelines and definitions. He has for instance defined the idea of interpretation level, i.e. the complexity of the enigma to be solved during the game. This level ranges from simple to complex. The recommended number of participants for a game at the mixed interpretation levels (simple and complex) is 5 for a duration of 1 hour. The minimum is 2 and the maximum identified in the literature (Nicholson, 2015) is 16. There were also identified games from 30 to 90 min. This offers several possibilities.

The puzzles are can be arranged according to 3 different methods: (1) an open structure where the players can take many puzzles at the same time without losing the thread of the storyline; (2) a sequential path where players have to answer one enigma to unlock the next puzzles in the sequence to escape the room; (3) a multi-linear path, the most commonly used, which is a mix of the others, have several different paths of puzzles at the same time.

In addition, depending on the culture, scenarios, resources and objectives, approaches vary:

  • The live role-playing approach: in which players can dress up in costumes, play the role of characters

  • The digital games approach: including interactive fiction games through textual or audiovisual commands on a computer, a smartphone or other digital device.

  • The approach by hunting for puzzles or treasure: in which players work in group to solve a meta-puzzle that the others feed.

  • The interactive space approach: in which players move from one space to another in other to escape

  • Thematic entertainment approach: based on gaming genres and experiences.

It’s possible to combine those approaches. In our case, we act on a physical space by giving way to human interaction, entertainment and clues hunting: the STEAM ESCAPE ROOM. Our main approach is by hunting for puzzles and we mainly exploited the multi-linear path.

Nicholson (2015) has conducted a survey to describe escape room facilities and their users in the world. He has interviewed 175 organizations, of which 91 (52%) are located in Europe. Based on information provided by the escape room owners contacted, about 37% of groups are groups of players over 21 years old and 19% are groups of young adults under 21. That means that an escape room is highly appreciated by these populations, especially in Europe.

2.Design the experience

The design of an escape room is both human time and purchasing, from intellectual to physical design and implementation. The budget usually used for entertainment is variable. The cost is usually estimated around 10 000 € (science-animation, 2018). The cost even be higher if designers want the user to play in total immersion and add innovative sets and mechanisms.

Designing an escape room for education and training does not require as much money. Used in STEAM project, the pedagogical objective was to present multimodality in a situation so that participants could understand how it can be implemented and initiate discussion between the users. The multimodality allows to vary pedagogical scenarios by using digital, real life or blended tools, by adopting individual, collaborative or mixed strategies. This experiment is an adaptation of the online game STEAM. The design then used some gamification and storytelling elements from the game. In addition, some clues and objects of the sets had already been used in another escape rooms in the context of a research in learning engagement.

Online game description

The STEAM online game is a serious game designed to train experts in advanced multimodality. Players have to select answers during a discussion. The number of right answers gives access to some modalities. Knowing that each modality combine a strategy, a tool and a learning environment. To give an example, a strategy can be collaborative learning, for a tool one can use a blog and as learning environment a classroom. The game suggests engaging combination whose levels vary from low to high engagement. Many scenarios and stage are given. The players have to select a combination to evolve in the game by giving right answers. The choice of the combination depends on the pedagogical objectives of the scenario. At each stage score, results and comments pop up.

Physical game adaptation

To make our adaptation of the STEAM online game, we have been inspired by:

  • The STEAM characters: Mary the main teacher and her different colleague; the name of the school (Charles Darwin) is also used in the STEAM escape room

  • The STEAM objective: the objective of our escape room is to find an engaging combination and select the best scenario by playing. The physical game with multi-linear path corresponds to the multimodality

  • The STEAM cards: we selected many combinations to show possibilities to players. The cards are not just scattered around the room for set design; they also allow players to visualize these possibilities

With the Do It Yourself (DIY) kit you will experience the STEAM life-size escape game by adopting very inexpensive equipment such as felt, paper and head-to-comb.

2.1 Several days before: preparing the equipment

Think about your pedagogical objective, take into account your budget, your target, your material constraints, the space allocated for, the deadline and a game master available the D-day.

We found the pedagogical strategies on the STEAM online game. The main tool on this case is the physical game. The strategies deployed by the players were learning by inquiry, by doing, interdisciplinary and collaborative learning. Some riddles customized for the escape room like cross word, alphabet deciphering, are to solve in group. The diversification of riddles categories represents a multimodality.

The game master was the game designer and a lecturer so he knew the pedagogical objectives. The strategy designed by the game designer, is finally fixed by players.

For the STEAM escape room we used trunk, bag, and papers for location.

We exploited a space of 50 square meters. One can make this experience in a bigger or smaller space. That implies to adapt the sets. Our target was to train teachers through applied multimodality.

In figure 1 you have the list of materials, steps, content and tools to implement you escape room.

Figure 1 : escape room operational model

2.2 Narrative plot and setting

Participants have a large space for their investigations. As in figure 2, the clues are scattered throughout the room, some are glued to the wall, others under the tables, inside objects such as the jewel box or the dictionary. Some riddles are linked, others are not. And it is the whole that constitutes the escape game. In total, more than 50 clues scattered throughout this large room.

If you do not wish to use the cards proposed in the kit, all cards you need to design the room are available on the STEAM online game. At the end of the document you have the process to take possession of game paper elements used specifically for STEAM escape room.

Figure 2 : STEAM escape room at Paris School of Business

Participants have to find an engaging combination that would help their colleague Mary to prepare her administrative interview, which happens in 45 minutes. As in the online game, we are at Charles Darwin School. It was therefore necessary to combine the cards to form an engaging combination. Knowing that there are no good or bad combinations in multimodality. The objective was to apply the multimodality and understand it. In the online game, an action we have an engaging mode and scenario that matches. So it was important to reproduce it in the physical game. Then we added some tips to orientate the participants to consolidate their learning experienc

Table 1 : summary of the enigmas

It all begins with the narrative plot. According to the narrative plot, the participants had to find 2 scenarios in the room and select the best one based on the clue and their interpretation. They also had to choose among the cards scattered in the room one engaging combination based on a logic. Some cards had a number and the others not. The trick was to understand that those numbers are linked to the code that open the suitcase. One of the important clues is the suitcase with a numbered padlock. The importance of the suitcase is noticed with the crossword puzzle, so that the link with cards having numbers is established. In parallel, the investigation allows to find words in mirror writing and words with missing letters to associate to an alphabet.

Figure 3 : STEAM game combination

2.3 Test and adjustment

It is recommended to test your game before the D-day. The kit gives you methods but you know your audience better. With a mix group you will get some feedbacks on scenario, the understanding of clues, the time made to escape, etc.

For STEAM escape room we made a test before. That allowed us to clarify the scenario, add some information on the space like the reiteration of the work to be done on board. According to the design, the test allows to visualize the space configuration and to all the game elements. For small room some elements can be abandoned. i.e.: instead of using for example 30 cards, you can just print 20.

Let us not forget that this is a pedagogical experience, so the performance of the game master as an accompanist for the learners is important. Similarly, repetition and autonomy are elements that also make sense in this type of game. The test is also an occasion for the game master to adjust his intervention during the session.

3.Journey and escape room experience: implementation

3.1 D-Day: preparing the room

  • Print all the elements and glue them in the room (scotch tape)

  • Separate the cards by cutting them with paper scissors

  • Disseminate all your clue in the room in order to occupy the space properly and create movement during investigations

The staging in a 50 square meter room takes about 20 minutes. For the STEAM escape room, we made a simulation of the staging during the design of the experience to save time and ensure that the objectives will be achieved by following this configuration.

3.2 Journey

The escape room's journey consists of moments of digging/observation/work and moments of solving puzzles. In general, everything starts with an investigation. We try to diversify the hiding places as much as possible: on the wall, on the floor, in a piece of furniture, in bag. From there, the players find: “Locked" elements (trunk, locked hand luggage...).

3.3 Game master

The game master is present in the game space, but he is as discreet as possible, giving clues when necessary. He only intervenes when all team members are on the wrong track. From the moment one of the players has started well, even if the others are scattered, he do not intervene. His intervention can be like a question, a quotation or an explicit sentence: “it is probably under the table”. The frequency of interventions also depends on the end of the game. To prevent participants from finishing early, he can let them think or multiply the clues. He can also intervene to guide the experience when participants seem blocked.

For this escape room some elements (calendar, newspapers) that were not used to solve the puzzles have been added. They supported the setting and helped to slow down the players according to the learning rhythm that the game master decided to propose to the group.

4.After-gaming: debriefing and opening discussion

For an educational escape game, debriefing is essential. This is an aspect that interests us, as creators, but also the learners, who wish to analyze their experience. It’s time to strengthen knowledges.

The debriefing session will therefore have several objectives:

  • Provide feedback to players about the riddles they would have missed, their overall path and what they could have improved (advice: stay positive with the players, "minimize" what they still had to do...)

  • Collect opinions and suggestions to improve the pedagogical approach of the escape game

  • And especially for a course or a cultural mediation: go back over the content, question the players, discuss the concepts, and let them consult resources.

  • Open the discussion to the main topic: the topic of this educational escape room is the multimodality. Highlight what has been used in the game itself; talk about their practices, how to improve them, make them more engaging or more linked to the pedagogical objectives

When you discuss with participants in real life they give a very subjective appreciation of the game. It's better to add a questionnaire to get a quantitative and objective view of the experience to triangulate with observation of the game master and oral feedback. This questionnaire can integrate the topic to measure the performance of the game master or an aspect of the topic. The fact that participants meet the game designer at the end, make the experience more special for them. So they will be more willing to memorize the message. Each feedback session took 15 minutes.


20 people tested this STEAM escape game, 10 of them answered a questionnaire. We present hereafter the main results:

The results of the questionnaire provided to the participants show that half of the participants who had not tested the online game before the physical experience, were able to identify the principles of multimodality with the escape game. For 60%, the understanding of multimodality has improved through the escape room although some did not feel that they were practicing multimodality during the game. The most interesting thing about learning is what you get out of it. It doesn't matter if the participants don't understand during the game because there is still the sharing session to make sure that the message is delivered. Not everyone learns in the same way. This leads us to add that the modality adopted to solve engagement issues complements traditional learning for greater efficiency. The escape room is one mode among others. It’s a mistake to think that games can solve everything. The immersive side, even when the design integrates learning well, can distract the learner. This kind of experience can take place at the beginning of the training to catch the attention, throughout to energize it and at the end to crystallize the shared information. For the STEAM event, the objective was simultaneously to catch attention, to energize the workshop experience and to train multimodality. At the end we got an overall satisfactory experience of 80%.

If you would like to experience the STEAM escape room with your learners contact us to get the rest of the game elements and the associated questionnaire.

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