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The history of mazes and labyrinths is a maze itself. The first recorded labyrinth was commissioned by the Egyptian king Amenemhet III thousands of years ago: unlike the Minotaur labyrinth of Greek myth, this was built to be lived in, with banqueting halls, temples, and offices. Since then, mazes have been cut from turf, mosaicked on cathedral floors, stamped on coins, hacked into cornfields, formed by parking tourbuses, and fashioned from hedgerows as dallying spots for English aristocrats.

Mazes and labyrinths generate a surprising range of emotions. Partly, this is because the former isn’t quite the same as the latter. The associations of the noun ‘maze’ are largely negative, referring to bewilderment, deceit and worldly distraction. A labyrinth is a similarly confusing structure, but the word has acquired more positive senses over time – it can serve as a place for reverie and contemplation.

Psychotherapists like Dr Lauren Artress have even prescribed labyrinth-walking as a form of meditation. Integral to this distinction is the idea that while a maze may have many paths, a labyrinth has only one, however winding.

“Getting people to feel comfortable in their navigation of complex digital spaces is already quite difficult”


For a time, mazes and labyrinths were central to videogames. The original first-person shooter was arguably (1974), created by students on Imlac computers at a NASA laboratory. While not the first of its kind, Namco’s spawned a wave of 2D arcade maze-chase games in the 1980s. “I think a lot of how we understand moving through 3D spaces in videogames today comes from maze-like experiences,” notes Holly Gramazio, game designer, curator, and scriptwriter for , who once organised a maze exhibition for London game festival Now Play This. “Even going back to the Windows 95 screensaver maze, right? A lot of early 3D, even if it wasn’t explicitly labelled a maze, is something that we would now consider maze-like.”

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