September 26, 2021

Xbox One X

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Traps, treasure and ancient tomb raiders

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You’re exploring the ruins of an ancient, forgotten tomb when you hear the sudden, tell-tale grind of a pressure plate underfoot. For a fraction of a second all is calm, but you know something’s coming. The only question is what. Poison darts shot from hidden sconces in the wall? An unseen trapdoor opening over a pit of vicious spikes? A blade swinging down from overhead? Or that old beloved classic, the rolling boulder.

We take it for granted that gaming’s ancient dungeons and tombs are filled with booby traps just as much as that the torches are still burning or that even though gangs of bandits might have holed up inside, all the treasure chests are mysteriously unlooted. (Treasure chests are weird in themselves; how often is treasure ever really found in chests?) Seemingly, no self-respecting tomb-builder of antiquity would construct anything without an elaborate set of hyper-efficient mechanisms that somehow still work thousands of years later. And then there are the traversal puzzles. Only slightly less a staple than the booby-trap is the idea that forgotten ruins include bottomless chasms or hard-to-reach doorways that you can only get past with a very particular athletic skill-set. Just imagine doing that while carrying a sarcophagus, or all those treasure chests that need to be hidden in the deeper parts of the tomb.

What might be surprising is how old this idea is. It stretches back to the ancient world itself. Perhaps nowhere is more associated with these kinds of pitfalls and traps than Egypt. Its pyramids were labyrinthine and genuinely filled with fabulous wealth, at least before only-slightly-less-ancient tomb robbers got to them. The Greek historian and collector of tall tales Herodotos tells a story of a fictional pharaoh Rhampsinitos, supposed to have reigned before Khufu, around 2000 years before Herodotos’ own time.

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