By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Game designer and meaningful gamification scholar Dr. Scott Nicholson, associate professor at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), will be the keynote speaker for the MIT Game Lab’s first-ever Escape Room Game Jam.

In that address, he will discuss some of the findings from his recent research on the design and development of escape room facilities. He recently released a white paper on that topic, “Peeking Behind the Locked Door: A Survey of Escape Room Facilities” [PDF]. The research represents a survey of 175 escape room facilities and provides information on the history of game rooms, varied inspirations for starting them, descriptions of different types of facilities used to host them, the kinds of games played, themes and narratives used, and a breakdown of player demographics.

“Escape rooms” are a type of physical adventure game that keeps people in teams confined to a room, where they must use the elements available to them there to solve puzzles, find clues, and exit the space within a set time limit. The game “jam” provides a purposefully fast-paced design challenge where teams create puzzles and games.

The weekend MIT Game Lab event takes place March 27 – 29 at the Stata Center at Whitaker College in Cambridge, MA. Nicholson’s keynote address is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 28.

The goal of the MIT-Game Lab-hosted challenge, according to its web site,is to bring participants together to create a video game or non-digital game with the theme based around a moment in an upcoming film.

This is an exciting times for escape room experiences, Dr. Nicholson noted, because there has been a significant uptick in interest and events. As a scholar in the field of game design and the value of play in learning, Nicholson said he sees the escape room experience as providing “an interesting connection point” with interactive learning activities. “Escape rooms are great opportunities to interact with original resource material…and having that closely aligned with information resources, or historical resources, can be a really exciting way to get learners engaged with content. I think there’s a lot that can be learned from escape rooms in creating more engaging learning activities in libraries, museums and schools,” he added. 

“We at the iSchool are very pleased that Scott has been selected to give this keynote,” said iSchool Interim Dean Jeff Stanton. “Over recent years, Scott has made a powerful impact at the school in alerting us to the many possibilities of using gamification and game-like features to enhance teaching and learning. Escape rooms represent a wonderful example of this: a group of people engages with information in the environment to solve a problem together. The resulting learning really sticks.”

Working with the Game Designers’ Guild of Syracuse, Nicholson is also leading the design efforts for a pop-up escape room at Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, NY, that will run in early summer.  In that escape room experience, participants will enter a room at the Fort to engage in historically accurate challenges, including learning how secret messages were conveyed during the time of the Revolutionary War, the professor said.

Dr. Nicholson also directs the Because Play Matters Game Lab at the iSchool.

Interested participants can register for the Game Jam event here.  More details about participation are available at this site.