Which comes first, the puzzle or the plot?

Do you prefer a game where you are given a role to play, however briefly defined, so you can “suspend your disbelief” for a while and immerse yourself?

Or do you want a pure puzzle game where there is no distinction between yourself and your role in the game?

In our pop-up escape games open to the general public, which we create on demand for exhibitions, conferences, gaming events and conventions, we have created a story-world around time travel and Time Agents, and we aim for individual players to experience arcing plots for themselves should they go on to play a few of our games. Happily the nature of Time Travel means individual players can participate in each scenario in any chronological order.  (We also have a plot mechanic/believable in-character reason that explains why so many people do the same Time Mission, and yet the “canon” outcome may not be effected by your actions in game.  More on this later.)

As a player I appreciate that it’s impossible to create deep story worlds in a hour-long game that will be run hundreds of times over, however I sometimes feel quite discomfited by being suddenly in a place full of puzzles with no logical reason behind it.  Bath’s “Six Locked Doors” is a case in point. No reason to be there, a bizarre set of locations including a half out-of-bounds airing cupboard and a toilet, with a series of puzzles linking across the locations that are fun to solve individually whilst not quite linking together as plot. Other escape rooms work hard to at least “theme” a game, and design all the puzzles in keeping with it.

I suppose this could be seen as the ludology versus narratology debate in physical terms. What do you prefer?

And would you choose your escape game based on whether ludology or narratology was marketed more strongly?




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