Reflecting on The Murk: Our First Virtual Escape Room5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
The Murk was our first big event as a team. And it was daunting. From the time that the idea was proposed to the day of the event, there was a certain uncertainty that crept into our zoom rooms. Were we up to the task of putting up a show? Could we capture the imagination of all these young kids who are constantly bombarded with online information and games? Do we even know our audience?
Well, turned out that all that fretting was definitely worth our while. After about a hundred iterations The Murk took the form that our audience saw. We started with an Alice in Wonderland escape room that we assumed would appear just as magically as the mythical rabbit hole. Of course, we soon realised that making a virtual escape room like that would be almost impossible without a team of coders and a sophisticated game plan. So we thought we would just put up puzzles and let people solve them at their leisure.
But, that wasn’t very different from the puzzles we already put up every Saturday. Sure, we would write down a narrative but we ran the risk of people simply skipping to the puzzles and solving them with no sense of the plot or narrative. It was important to us that the whole experience was immersive.
The Event takes shape
So, we took the hard-working route and decided to create a narrative that had to capture people’s attention. Most importantly it had to be fun. We already had a story on Misinformation and so we milked it. What’s an escape room without some good misdirection. Soon, we were letting our imaginations run wild. No sooner had the lab of lies and the perilous pitch taken form in our minds than we were readying our partners for promotions for the event. The Murk had materialised and we had created the perfect identity for it. Well to be honest our direction was –something like stranger things.
Strategizing the labyrinth of puzzles, riddles and games that would create the perfect sense of entrapment was an escape room in itself. But somehow after several rounds of deliberation and some patchwork, we seemed to have a rather decent maze of puzzles. However, there was a sense of confusion and slight disappointment that lingered at the back of our minds. How would we coordinate the whole thing? Could we time it?
The magic of Breakout Rooms
Then, all of a sudden, as great ideas often strike, one of us remembered a game we once played. It was the beginning of lockdown and everyone’s spirits were hopeful. So, in a fit of naive hope and the delusion that this would all be over soon, a group of friends organised a treasure hunt over zoom. To do it, they used zoom’s hidden gem: The Breakout Rooms. Suddenly, Live Team Play became a reality for us too. What if we used zoom’s magical feature to organise our game? We could even bring in characters and make the whole ordeal even more immersive? Now, our excitement was bubbling over. We were most definitely immersed.
When the event finally transpired, we couldn’t have been more glad that we chose to use breakout rooms. Being able to interact with people as they played gave the event the life that it needed. Besides our puzzles and riddles were definitely not easy, so our constant nudges kept everyone pushing themselves.
What we learned
The event of course didn’t transpire entirely glitch or snag-free. But there were a few signs that hinted at success. Firstly, the teams were getting heated. Rather than giving up and quitting, each room was bursting with determined energy. I even chanced upon a room where one of the team members had burst into tears over our notorious cryptogram (despite its inherent notoriety the cryptogram was in fact a roadblock. It tediously indicated that the team had been misled, and they had to return to the previous puzzle) Of course it was never our intention to make people cry but the passion with which people tried to solve the puzzles was heartening. The remarkable part was that this was after we had declared the winners of the event.
So, the only incentive to escape the room, was the challenge that the puzzles posed. This was re-assuring as one of our major concerns was the difficulty of the puzzles. We had considered simplifying them but decided against it. In my opinion, the challenge was perfect for team play. It made sure that no single team member could take over while others simply watched on. Everyone got the chance to play. And it sure seemed like everyone wanted to.
Owliver’s Post is a bit of a necessity
The second cause for optimism was somewhat indirect. We noticed that as the escape room proceeded the teams of children from the US were outperforming the Indian Teams. That was until we arrived at a later round where a slightly detailed knowledge of Indian politics was necessary.
The quizzes and puzzles didn’t require memory or cramming. They didn’t require kids to be acquainted with the news. But rather they were created so that kids would get acquainted with some of what is going on. They required quick thinking, some creative thought, and strategy, but most importantly the ability to work as a team. This gap between the American and Indian kids made evident something we suspected. The Indian education system doesn’t focus on critical thought or co-operation but is often presented as a competitive place where you must cram to succeed. The focus is only on exams and learning is somehow left behind.
I know everything I said sounds negative but what it brought out to us was that Owliver’s Post can fill a gap that our system clearly has. We are not a news magazine that simply presents the facts but rather a magazine where you can learn to interact with information. How do you translate the facts you’re presented with into action and thought? Our puzzles are designed not to test what you already know but to make learning what you don’t a fun experience. Indian education is often competitive and brutal but Owliver’s Post is here to make it creative, empathetic and most importantly fun.