The Great Houdini Escape Room detail

Are Escape Rooms Scary?

So, you’ve been invited to join a group to play an escape room – and it’s your first time. Maybe you’ve heard of them before, maybe you haven’t, so you do a casual internet search. What is the deal with these “escape rooms” you’ve been hearing about?

And you turn up some…interesting…results.

Trapped in a serial killer’s basement? Illegal experiments in an abandoned insane asylum? Sacrificial rituals in a demonology temple? The movie called Escape Room where not all of the players even survive?

Which makes you ask the obvious question: Are escape rooms scary?  Or, Just HOW scary is this going to be?

We get asked this question pretty frequently. And the answer is…well, it depends! Some escape rooms are scary, but many are not!

Escape Room Options in Storytelling

Escape rooms are generally built by creative teams exercising their imaginations, and they aren’t going to limit themselves to a single genre. Horror is not the only option. There are many different ways to tell a story with puzzles in it! 

For example, Palace Games escape rooms are not horror themed. They are historic adventures based on the World’s Fair of 1915, exploring the challenges and secret missions of some of the most famous innovators of that time – Harry Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Edison.

In other companies, rooms have explored themes of science fiction, time travel, detective fiction, comic book heroes, and art theft. Of course there are also options for horror, but that’s what they are – options!


What Makes an Escape Room “Scary” to You?

When you ask if an escape room is “scary,” you are really asking is it going to be scary to you. And that depends on what you think is “scary.”

You might know somebody who finds the idea of a time limit to be anxiety-producing. When Target announces “The store will be closing in 15 minutes,” she makes a bee-line to the exit. So for her, ALL escape rooms are scary, because they all have a time limit. The presence of a countdown timer makes her acutely aware of the looming deadline, and that’s enough to make the experience frightening!

You might have another friend who yawns through “Saw” movies, and prides himself on never reacting in haunted houses. There is literally NO escape room that will scare him!

For those of us who fall in between those two extremes, there are plenty of options! In fact, except for the rooms that are specifically horror themed, most rooms won’t be frightening. But they might be something else….

Escape Rooms Are Surprising!

(Or they should be.)

While many escape rooms do not want to scare you, most want to at least surprise you. That is the point of a puzzle after all! If the opposite of “surprising” is “obvious” – most escape rooms don’t want to be obvious, or there’s no challenge! What constitutes “surprising” may vary.

You can expect these kind of “surprises” from most escape rooms.

  • Something that looks innocuous turns out to actually be a puzzle
  • Solving a puzzle triggers something in the room to move
  • Doing something innocuous (like turning on a floor lamp) causes something dramatic to happen (the lights go out and glowing words on the wall become visible).

A door that you expect to open is not surprising. Having a wall turn out to be a door – and it opens unexpectedly – is a surprise!

Is that scary? Probably not, but it might be startling! Just because an escape room isn’t “scary” doesn’t mean it can’t be thrilling, dramatic, exciting, and surprising!

Do you WANT to be scared?

So – what if you WANT a scary room? You read all the “Goosebumps” books by R.L. Stine, and your favorite author is Steven King? Your dream is to live in that house in Amityville – or at least visit it? Or you simply want to celebrate Halloween with a scary experience?

Oh yeah! Jump scare junkies have plenty to choose from! Some escape rooms cater to haunted house fans. There are plenty of horror themed rooms, and rooms that hide actors to jump out at you. “Escape From A Room With A Zombie” is literally an option.

Some rooms are designed with themes that use common fears to ratchet up the stakes of the room and make the experience more intense. This list of “The 11 Scariest Escape Rooms” might be just what you are looking for.

Or, this might be the list of 11 escape rooms you will want to steer very clear of!


Find Your Escape Room Bliss

In the end, escape rooms are supposed to be fun. Escape room owners want you to have a good time, and come back again! They don’t want you to be unpleasantly surprised, so they generally try to give you a good sense of the kind of experience you are going into. It doesn’t require more research than a quick look at the company’s website to understand if a particular room will be scary or not. If you still aren’t sure, reach out to the company directly or check some reviews.

Think of it like another kind of entertainment – like movies, for example. Escape rooms are in many ways like movie theaters. You go into a room and have an experience, but there is literally no limit to the kinds of experiences you could have, and you get to choose which ones you want.