For anyone who’s been lucky enough to spend the majority of the pandemic working from home, the idea of escaping the room (or couch) that’s become a makeshift office is probably a relatable one. Enter this series of “escape rooms” built in Google Docs, that let you do just that, inside web software you’ve probably become far too familiar with. “Part 3” of the game was finally released Tuesday, but you’ll never fully escape using Google Docs.
“Escape: A Game” by Anthony Smith is styled as a choose-your-own-adventure game set in a series of interlinked Google Docs. You “wake up” from a mysterious dream in a cabin room filling with smoke, and are tasked with getting out. “Part 2” has you do the same thing in a hotel corridor, and “Part 3,” which just released Tuesday, I won’t spoil for myself or anyone reading this. We’ve seen other escape room games built in Google’s software before, but “Escape” has an odd, creepy charm that’s hard to deny.
As cool as this all is, Google Docs is not the best place to play a game. Clicking links in Docs can require multiple clicks to actually take you somewhere else, and the new tabs quickly add up. I could tell my laptop was straining under the number of tabs I had open for cross-referencing clues and dialing the in-game phone.
What is a nice benefit of playing in a collaborative word processor is the possibility to get help solving puzzles. Both “Part 1” and “Part 2” feature pages that pull double duty as guestbooks for people to leave their names, and help each other solve puzzles. You need to request access to edit the page for “Part 1,” but even without live edits, it’s still handy for hints.
The actual narrative early on in “Escape” is slim, but it leaves plenty of room to fill in the weirder edges with your own connections. For instance, the entire time I played, I couldn’t shake the similarities between the game’s smoke-filled cabin, and Control’s “Oceanview Motel.” That Control level featured an escape room-style puzzle and functioned as a liminal space in the game that you returned to multiple times. “Escape” lacks the cool visual aesthetics of Control, but there’s some shared heritage in their weirdness.
I spent around an hour working through the first part of “Escape” and ended it with over 50 tabs open and a pretty weird YouTube history. I learned some facts about dentistry, grew frustrated with myself for not remembering all of the 151 original Pokémon, and became increasingly concerned that this was all a trick to get me to better understand how links work in Docs. All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend some time online.