In praise of labyrinthine game design

Mazes and labyrinths can be confusing, frustrating, oppressive, nightmarish. They are the kinds of structures videogame developers are reluctant to put in their games, because the potential for the player losing heart or patience is relatively high. But as productions, they can be strangely economical, oddly light-footed. Mazes and labyrinths, after all, twist up space and as such, discover or create additional space within space. They allow vast journeys to happen within areas that are modest when judged in terms of square footage, journeys that encompass a multitude of locations that have an inherent, automatic atmosphere: tantalising forks in the path and mocking dead ends, hubs with corridors leading in all directions, leisurely perimeter paths and gristly knots of inner passages.

As such, I think they’re useful to reflect on at a time when the mantra of growth for its own sake has conquered the heart of videogame world design: bigger budgets for grander maps in terms of both explorable area and computational resource, all the way to Armageddon (did you know that Suicide Squad’s Metropolis is twice the size of Arkham Knight’s Gotham City?). But don’t take it from me, an armchair developer with armchair socialist sensibilities. Take it from The Legend of Zelda.

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