Reading Escape from the Blue Room

Trying to find something exciting to write about for this creative response, I found myself getting quite distracted exploring all manners of interactive stories and games. One puzzle game that I found particularly interesting considering our class is starting off with the idea of Platforms, was a game called “Escape from The Blue Room.” This game is one of many “Escape the Room” Games, apparently a genre in of itself, one of the most popular being “Crimson Room.” At its most basic, the goal of the game is to escape from a digitally rendered room that you inexplicably find yourself in upon the start of the game. By using the computer’s mouse (or track pad) the player clicks around the two dimensional room hoping to unveil clues through the narration that pops-up above the viewer or by finding “hidden” objects. One-by-one you gather objects and information, which you can then use (by clicking and dragging the item over another item on the screen) to find new clues, turn on items, open items, and other things. On the surface “Escape from the Blue Room” seems like just a first-person, point-and-click game, but I’d argue this is also an expressive work of new media that works to critique our culture’s views of literature and storytelling.

“Escape from the Blue Room” and most Escape the Room games rely on the assumption that the user is familiar with the structure of a story. These games have a narrator (a character), a narrative structure, plot devices, and even clichés unique to their genre. When you first start the game, you have no idea why or how you’ve come to be in this room (though this is not the case with all Escape the Room games), but simply by clicking on the screen once you can get a good idea of how to move forward through the game. The narration above the viewer will tell you simple things like “It’s a blue couch,” but it will also occasionally provide unique details like “It’s a water tap. But without a handle.” It is these pieces of narration that work with the various object you find (like the water tap’s handle) to transform them into plot devices. In this way, the game has a narrative structure, requiring you to complete certain tasks before others, such that the story unfolds fairly linearly as you get closer and closer to escaping the room (the ending). It is not necessary to complete gather all items in order, however. For instance, you can grab the aquarium net before filling the glass bowl with water to place the piranhas in, but you would not be able to advance the story (taking the piranhas out of the aquarium) without having both items.

Opening scene of “Escape from the Blue Room.”

Another obvious literary trait of “Escape from the Blue Room” is that there is a narrator, or a character. Obviously this is a first person story, with the user controlling the current view, but the narration itself has already been created and is not controlled by the user. This makes it seem less like the user is playing the character, than the user is simply unveiling the character’s words and thoughts through clicks. It would be like having a book with pages made out of scratch off ticket material and you have to go through it will a quarter scratching off narration to read the story. Analogies aside, though, just because the viewer happens to be my view, I do not necessarily feel like I as the user have agency in this story, but rather am simply attempting to piece together a story already in place.

In short, I definitely think that “Escape from the Blue Room” speaks to the idea that these game users must utilize and exploit their skills as readers to win the game. By having a familiarity with the devices used in literature (narrators, narrative structure, plot devices, etc.), and by treating the game as a piece of electronic literature to be read, unveiled, and mulled-over, the game becomes less about winning and more about finishing the story.