It’s a well-known fact that people dislike losing. It can often feel like failure or inadequacy, and sometimes people feel it reflects a poor group dynamic. We’ve been asked in the past why we even allow people to lose the game, and we always tell them the same thing; without the possibility of losing, victory is meaningless.
There’s a trend in modern games, particularly video games, toward softening the consequences of failure for the player. If you’re playing a game like Call of Duty and get blown up, the only consequence is sitting through a short loading screen with a cheesy quote before you’re plopped back into the world a few short steps before where you fell. Death is impermanent, and leaves no mark upon the player. The world doesn’t change, the level stays the same, and the player has the same equipment, experience, and health as they did before. Nothing is lost. This is not to say that a victory in Call of Duty is necessarily hollow, however, as many players have experienced that feeling of throwing themselves at an obstacle again and again and again, to eventually overcome and feel the rush of success. That being said, giving failure a consequence only serves to make the victory even more rewarding.
Take, essentially, any league-based sport. Teams that lose will be eliminated from contention, their chance to achieve the pinnacle of success in their respective sport lost, at least for that season. This gives every game a sense of purpose, a reason for being played, and it makes the competition real and fierce, particularly as the season progresses. These sports hold their value for both the fans and the players because the danger posed by losing makes every single match count, and every victory sweet.
So, why should escape rooms let you lose? If you know victory is assured, the clock counting down from 60 minutes is just window dressing, a meaningless gimmick meant to instill the feeling of tension where there isn’t any. If you’re working on the last puzzle of and watching those final moments ticking down, only to have the final answer handed to you, the accomplishment of completing the room suddenly feels cheap. The most exciting moments of an escape room, in our opinion, occur in those last two minutes. You’re close to the end, you can feel it, but the clock is counting down. If you know you’ll win no matter what, there’s no tension or excitement. If, however, you know you’ve reached that critical point when you either win or lose, then the final two minutes become a tense race against the clock. You’re scrambling to finish the last puzzle as the clock is counting down, inexorably marching towards zero, as you scream and run and try desperately to figure out that very last little thing you need, and this makes the final moment of turning the key and opening the door all the sweeter. To escape with only seconds left, you emerge shouting and jumping and high-fiving, breathless with the experience you’ve had. This is why it’s important to be able to lose – if you can’t lose, winning means nothing.
Casey and the Clue Chase Staff