Supreme GM Speaks: Immersion & Staying in Character
After a year with only one room, The Escapery’s audience - and employees - were clamoring for our second offering. The quality of Destiny had set the bar high, and we knew it. When we opened the doors on Ripper in late Spring of 2017, it was with a mixture of incredible excitement at seeing the work come to fruition and high hope for the audience's enjoyment. While we are not the only escape room location with a Jack the Ripper game, we knew we had something special.
The Daunting Task at Hand
In our game, the year is 1893, 5 years since the mysterious serial killer Jack the Ripper left a bloody trail of murdered prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London, before vanishing without a trace. Except now he’s back! Five new ladies have been found murdered in the same grisly fashion as the original Ripper case.
To add insult to injury, the arrogant Jack has sent a letter to his old nemesis, Frederick Abberline, Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, claiming the credit for the recent murders and boasting a sixth victim. Rather than kill her immediately, Jack has given Scotland Yard until the final stroke of Big Ben’s midnight bell to find and rescue her. If they fail, he will claim her life.
Players are a group of Scotland Yard bobbies, pulled off their normal routes to assist the local Whitechapel Detective Inspector to track down the missing girl before she is killed, and identify the elusive Ripper so he can be arrested. This Detective Inspector (or D.I. for short) is the character played by the Game Master.
The Game Master's Role
Heading into Ripper, it was known from the very beginning that it would be a different kind of escape room. Most escape rooms I’ve played, even those that are very well-done, end up feeling like a game. And that’s not intended as a negative judgment, it’s just a recognition that a big-screen TV on the wall with tense music and a timer counting down does not make me feel like I’m in, say, a medieval castle trying to track down ancient artifacts. I’m just playing a game themed that way.
Ripper had to be different. We’d proven with Destiny we could use good design and a fun hint-delivery mechanism to keep players immersed, so we went all-in on recreating an alley and tannery in Victorian London. On the design end, that included things like literally pouring cobblestone and laying a real brick wall. But on the GM side, it meant we had to take our characterization a step - a very big step - forward.
Turning the GM trope on its head, the character in Ripper interacts with the players IN PERSON. This was necessary because let’s face facts - there were no cell phones or walkie-talkies in 1893 Whitechapel. Instead, players can ring a bell and the GM walks into the room, in character, and assists them. This level of characterization presented a new challenge to us.
Now, while an accent was still appropriate, we also had to consider other elements such as costume - which also presents each GM with an opportunity to personalize their character even further. Each Escapery GM wears a slightly different combination of our costume elements to craft a unique look for themselves. Sometimes, even wearing the right clothes can help you feel like a different person!
As Officers of the Law...
But what good is an accent and a costume if you don’t commit to the part? To me, equally as important as looking the part is BEING the part. That means staying in character, even when the players make that difficult. In the past year, I have had guests asking me meta-questions (attempting to get helpful in-game information from an out-of-game source), referring to me as “Ando” instead of my character’s name of “Detective Inspector Fox”, asking me about other escape rooms in the area, and even carrying on loud, personal phone conversations in the GM area while a game was going on. In each of these situations, I have remained as determined to stay in character as D.I. Fox is to catch the Ripper.
Not that it hasn’t been difficult sometimes! I once had a player hang back as his group moved from one part of the game to the next, and offer me $20 to help them win. That one was tempting. But instead, I drew myself up and put on an air of indignation, and in my best insulted British voice, informed him that I am not so corrupt an officer as to accept bribery.
Obviously, you should always assume while you are playing an escape game, that you are being watched. Most escape rooms don’t try too hard to hide the cameras - you can pretty clearly see them if you look. But, if I’m your Ripper Game Master, don't expect to see my surveillance equipment unless you really surprise me. I’d love nothing more than for you to assume I really am “patrolling the surrounding streets” searching for clues. If that means pretending to study a map of Whitechapel intently for 10 minutes while someone talks on the phone behind me, then you will find me staring with single-minded determination for every single one of those minutes.
Does it Ever End???
The moment I can finally break character is when the game is truly over, after the final results have been given to the team, and I’ve taken their picture. That is when D.I. Fox finally becomes Ando again. This level of immersion has been called out by many of our guests as one of their favorite parts of our escape room experiences, especially in Ripper. And after a few compliments paid directly to my face, I believe my style of staying in character does what it needs to do.
Ripper helped us find new ways to create and customize our GM characters, and the level of enthusiasm that GMs and customers alike have for the fictional D.I.s that help them solve the case is likely a large factor in why Ripper remains our most popular game to this day. And it has been so much fun that I have continued to ensure that, as each room is designed, consideration is given to the GM character, and how they fit into the world. Having a good reason to be there with the players can help us keep you immersed in your adventure right up until the bitter, sweet, or bittersweet end.