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A short ballad about our bittersweet relationship to hints

A short ballad about our bittersweet relationship to hints

Hanna Kwaśniewska |

The policy of taking hints in an escape room is an extensive topic - a doctorate could be written about it. There is no player who has never used them. Until a few years ago, they were accompanied by sundry emotions. However, are they still relevant today? What has changed over the years in the approach to hints?

As a person who interacts on a daily basis with both the players and creators of escape rooms, I have had the opportunity over several years to listen to many discussions and read many opinions on topics related to the escape room industry. One such topic is the attitude of players to the hints given by the staff during the game. Hints have a very simple, but important function - they direct the player to a particular line of reasoning while solving the puzzle, thus enabling him to move on to further stages of the game. Over the years I have received many opinions: some players never had a problem with taking hints, others had a slight reluctance (for various reasons), and among them, there were also people who could not imagine asking for any hint - even at the expense of not finishing the room.

Where does this attitude come from? And has anything changed since then? I decided to take a closer look at this aspect and contrast the state of knowledge from a few years ago with the current market situation.

A long long time ago, so about the attitude to hints a few years ago

Hints are a very important part of the whole experience of visiting an escape room. With the development of the industry, developers have started to play with them - in some rooms you can find fancy systems that even encourage you as a player to use them. Besides, hints are created for all players - so they are a completely natural and understandable element of the experience. Although in the classic rooms of a few years ago, there was not such a huge range of possibilities, the function of providing hints has not changed. These have always been, are, and will always be needed. Both for beginners and experienced players.

However, what do we think about the hints?

Asking for a hint should never be a cause for shame - it is worth constantly emphasizing this in communication. However, I have heard many opinions suggesting that this is precisely the emotion that sometimes accompanies players when deciding to ask for a hint. The fact that someone doesn't know something was capable of creating a sense of shame or a certain discomfort in the player that inhibited them from reaching for the walkie-talkie. Sometimes it was a matter of potential evaluation of our skills by the game master, sometimes we were more ashamed of being judged by other people from the team. Hence, there is often a fear of asking for a hint - many people during the game believe that this is the right time to help, but the other players still want to think for a while without it.

There have also been individual voices reaching me that taking hints can be seen as an attempt to cheat in front of oneself. Many teams go into a room with the idea of making a record. With such an attitude, one can indeed understand the reluctance in taking hints when outside help makes such a group no longer consider its own score as binding.

For many people, the hints remained a "normal" element, not arousing any emotions, and certainly not the bad ones. They had no problem asking for them and did not treat them as something negative that interferes with immersion.

And what does it look like today?

To find out more about players' current attitudes toward hints, I decided to ask players directly. Because the vast majority of opinions over the years have come from groups mostly doing rooms in Poland, that became my test group. With a quick survey, I was able to get the most up-to-date picture - an excellent opportunity to verify the current stage of the market in this frame of mind.

I asked the players to mark one option that they thought best described their attitude to hints in escape rooms. I arranged all the opinions based on player reports that came to me over the years. Here they are:

  1. I never have a problem with it: I take it whenever I need it
  2. I have no problem, as long as someone on the team asks for them
  3. I have reluctance for fear of others judging my skills
  4. I have resistance because it is a form of cheating on the result
  5. They are a last resort for me: I don't like to take them and I rarely do
  6. I never take them, even at the expense of leaving the room

The collected results are as follows:

Am I surprised? Yes and no.

The vast majority of votes were split between the option of asking for hints without problems and the one that suggests treating them as a last resort. This is not surprising - it has always been the case. However, I expected more respondents to mark either of the options related to resistance (feeling ashamed or cheated). Especially since information about hesitation due to potential skill assessment came to me quite often. Perhaps some people were ashamed to give this answer for the same reason - especially since I received two private messages from other people that this answer most represents their attitude, but they do not want to mark it publicly (I added these votes to the chart). However, this may be feedback of a different kind - players have stopped being embarrassed to ask for help in the escape room. If this is indeed the case, there is reason to rejoice.

The second option, "I have no problem, as long as someone on the team asks for it," is also interesting. I'll admit that if I had to vote in my own survey myself, I would mark this phrase. This is related to situations that I myself have in my experience because they happened inside my group - throwing a suggestion into the ether about taking a hint during a game can be met with displeasure by the other players, and in such cases, if it is a recurring situation, the player may feel discomfort. And the relief when the others find that a little hint is useful after all. This suggests that these individuals have no problem with the hints themselves, but with the reaction of the rest of the team. It's something of a division of responsibility for action among the players.

In the comments under the survey, there was a discussion about the lack of an option like "I take a hint if the game master suggests it to me." The game master's suggestion of a hint is a common request from groups and is as legitimate as possible, in addition to being popular in use. However, I have a bit of a dilemma with it in the context of this particular analysis, which is why I deliberately did not include it in the survey, although I initially intended to do so. Such a response in itself does not suggest what a particular player's attitude to hints is. Assuming the group doesn't ask to suggest an answer before the game (because, for example, players will forget), would they take it themselves without a problem if needed? Would they postpone it as long as possible? Or would they disregard it at all at the expense of completing the game? What would the attitude be at a problematic moment? We don't know, because the hint itself does not come directly from his initiative, but from the game master, who monitors the gameplay. However, I use this solution too - knowing that if necessary I would sooner take it than delay it in time. However, I don't know how others would respond.

With the development of technology, creative hint systems have also emerged that are not limited to walkie-talkies or screens with ready-made hints. There are times when players take a hint even though they don't necessarily need it - all because the hint system has gone beyond the usual standards and is tailored to the game in such a way that it heightens the immersion.

I sometimes ask for a hint even if I don't need to when there is an interesting hint system in the room and I want to test it. These systems can be very coolly related to the theme of the room and add something to the atmosphere. I generally appreciate how the hints are somehow story-driven and fit into the whole room.
Bartłomiej Chrzanowski

I am very pleased that no one marked the last answer. This most clearly shows that players have changed their attitude over the years. Yes, many people try not to take them, but they don't treat them as the worst evil, but as a last resort, and that's quite a difference.

I go to the escape room to have fun, to enjoy the story crafted by its creators, to spend time in this world, to get away from everyday life and not immediately return to it, simply: to be in a fairy tale. If something stands between me and that fairy tale, I take the hint to make the experience uninterrupted. For me personally, getting out of the room is not a priority [although I've never failed to get out] as much as having an adventure.
Marek Pacyna

Arguably, a study conducted in a different or more anonymous test group would have yielded a different result - in other discussion forums, English-speaking players are much more likely to write about resistance to taking hints, caused by a variety of factors. In the case of the Polish community, however, it is apparent that some patterns are becoming less frequent, while others are appearing more frequently.

Maybe I'm boring, but: The hints are no shame!

I have said it a thousand times in my life, but I will gladly repeat it and another thousand. Taking hints has never been, nor will it ever be, something to be ashamed of. The escape room industry is evolving in such a way that, at this point, the hint experience can be just as exciting as solving a single puzzle. I believe that if there is even one person in the room who can't break through on this subject, he or she will soon change their mind. Hints are for the player.

This perspective has changed a lot over the years - this thesis seems to have been finally confirmed. Curiosity makes me wonder what the hints will look like in even five years. Will absolutely no one be ashamed of them anymore? Or will they take a step backward? In the world of escape rooms, nothing can be certain.

Although the survey itself is short and barely touches on the topic, it opens the door to a broader analysis of the social aspect of escape room hints. This really sounds like a topic for a doctoral thesis - if it weren't for the fact that I majored in Germanic philology with a specialization in literary studies, rather than the Advanced Escapology course at the University of Escapes, I would certainly write one. Although perhaps it is indeed still all before me?

In any case, I will not be ashamed to ask readers for help then. That is, for a hint.

Hanna Kwaśniewska

Hanna Kwaśniewska


Lock.me team member. Germanist and scholar of German literature - German language is also her superpower. Besides escape rooms and board games, she loves Dragon Ball, Star Wars and cynology. After work she likes learning foreign languages, writing texts and planning her next trip to escape room, probably with rap music in the background. Totally extrovert.

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