A big part of archaeogaming is actually playing an archaeologist in a virtual space. For some gamers, that means role-playing as archaeologists in games not specifically designed with archaeology in mind. For others, games provide a space for serious archaeological inquiry. And then there are those games that feature at their core a central player who is supposed to be an archaeologist, and those games hang their plots on that premise. For many of these games, the choice of casting the main character as an archaeologist seems to be one of convenience, answering the question of why someone is trapped in a hell-mouth or haunted temple. Other games use the archaeologist as a catch-all for paleontologist, gemologist, or geologist.
When I was creating this initial list of games where the central character is an archaeologist, I expected many to be white men dressed as Indiana Jones. This turned out not to be the case. Most games are played from the first-person perspective so that gamers can play as they are. If the archaeologist in a game is male, chances are high that the character is white and wears a fedora (with rare exceptions). Three of the games I found have a woman archaeologist as the central character. I was also surprised to learn that many of the archaeologist-driven games are not action-adventure games, but instead fall into the category of Myst clones, point-and-click puzzle games. Others are casual games, typically of the hidden-object variety.
My main criterion for selecting this initial list of 33 games (and four series, and one development company) was that the publisher/crator had to clearly state that the main player was indeed an archaeologist. The games in the list are from major game developers and from indie houses, and are occasionally authored by one person as a contest submission or labor of love. Most games are free to play online, or have downloadable files to install should you have some legacy hardware lying around. The list contains games from 1984 until 2014 developed for MS-DOS, Amiga computers, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows phones, in everything from Java to Flash to Unity. I have included at least one example of interactive fiction in the list.
Each game entry contains words from either the developer or other website in quotes that describes the game. My remarks fall outside the quotes.
I make no claims that this list of games is complete (but it’s a good start), and I plan on blogging separately on series such as Indiana Jones (going all the way back to the 1982 Atari game) and Tomb Raider. I also plan on playing every game in the list from start to finish, blogging my review of gameplay, of the character, and of archaeology (if any) within the game.
If you have suggestions for other games to add to the list, please leave a comment!
In the following games you play an archaeologist:
“During your career as an archaeologist, you firmly believed that the Tree of Life was simply a myth. However, once you uncover a magical artifact, you open brand new worlds of possibility. You’re whisked away to a lush world that is slowly being poisoned by a mysterious dark force. Your artifact is the key to restoring this beautiful world, but dark forces stand in your way. Protect the artifact and save this dying world in Amaranthine Voyage: The Tree of Life, a thrilling Hidden-Object Puzzle Adventure game.” This is a point-and-click, hidden-objects casual game populated by mini-games, completed from the first-person perspective. Big Fish Games for Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8.
“Retro fun game in which you are an archaeologist in a mysterious excavations are a magical bracelet . Soon mysterious forces try to kill you. Use your power and your reflexes.” Free-to-play, casual side-scrolling shooter for Internet browsers. “Arny” sports a pith helmet and matching olive drab shirt and trousers with brown boots. He uses a pick in the introductory cut-scene and finds an automatic rifle with inexhaustible ammunition in the hole he digs. Flash Games 24-7.
“You’re an archaeologist who has been assigned to study a new found pyramid in Egypt. But this time things are a little different. This pyramid is no ordinary pyramid, it’s a hellhole full of mazes, booby traps and other dangerous obstacles. Now you found yourself trapped inside a mysterious room after accidentally triggering some sort of trap… Examine your surroundings and get out in one piece.” In-browser, casual point-and-click puzzle game played from the first-person perspective. Game2P.com and Y8.com.
“You are an archaeologist of the future (1999) sent in Baal’s hideout, a powerful demon, to prevent him from putting his paws on an ultimate weapon, whose parts are scattered around everywhere.” The archaeologist is of indeterminate gender and race, wearing a red adventure suit and helmet, caring a very large gun. Developed by Wayne Smithson and published by Psygnosis in 1989 for the Amiga.
“The Ball is a first-person action adventure game. The player controls an archaeologist trapped in an underground city, armed with only an artifact that can attract or repel a large metal ball. To progress in the game, the ball must be guided into trigger the puzzle mechanisms, act as a platform in platforming or defend the player in combat. As the player progresses, the ball will gain additional abilities, strengthening its combat ability or allowing the player to progress in platforming and puzzles.” Developed by Teotl Studios (Sweden) for Tripwire Interactive in 2010 for Steam/PC platforms. First-person, action-adventure puzzle game.
Free-to-play Twine text-based, in-browser game developed by Tara Copplestone and Luke Botham for the July 2014 Heritage Jam. You actually play the role of a real archaeologist making decisions an archaeologist would make. The game is gender-, age-, and race-neutral. You can be who you want to be.
“In CryptRover, you play an archaeologist trapped in an underground crypt with a limited supply of air. You must survive long enough to reach the crypt’s exit. Be too rash – and the arachnids will nibble you to death. Be too wary – and your air supply will run out. Luckily, the ancients have left behind med packs, air cans and batteries in the crypt – use them wisely!” This is a “7DRL” (7-day roguelike) game written in 2008 by Ido Yehieli for a contest. Windows or Linux. ASCII-style game played in a DOS window with keyboard controls. No representation of the archaeologist (or any archaeology).
“You are an archaeologist working near the Dead Sea. Search among the rocks to discover and collect all of the Dead Sea Scrolls in this fun archaeology game! Delve into history and experience the adventure of looking for the real life Dead Sea Scrolls.” First-person, arcade-style shooter, Flash game played in the browser. Shoot a rock to retrieve a scroll for points. There is a zombie and a sea, so the title is a pun. Pulado.com.
Dig It! Games (8 games, will be featured in a future post)
Dig It! Games created eight titles for PC and for iOS that combine archaeology with education, and include themes such as “beat the looters”, repatriation, learning about the Maya, and learning about a Roman village. These are largely point-and-click, first-person puzzle games.
From the company website: “In 2005, Dig-It! Games founder Suzi Wilczynski began her quest to create fun, interactive learning experiences for middle school students. As an educator and trained archaeologist, Suzi had used archaeology to bring history to life while calling upon a wide range of skills, including math, science, and language arts. To make these subjects relevant to 21st century kids, Suzi set out to create entertaining, interactive digital games that could be played at school or at home. Her goal was to use games to engage children in an immersive way that goes beyond what they can experience from a textbook, film or lecture. After learning everything she could about game design and playing more games than she cares to admit, Suzi released Roman Town in January 2010 to critical acclaim from parents, educators and the education industry. In 2012, Dig-It! Games produced Mayan Mysteries, an award-winning puzzle-based adventure game about the ancient Maya. 2013 was all about math at Dig-It! Games, with the releases of math-based games Loot Pursuit: Tulum, MayaNumbers and Can U Dig It!”
“Design I started for a iphone game where you play an archaeologist.” (by Jason Csizmadi, unfinished). Dinosaurs and archaeology, together again….
“In this first-person point-and-click game, you play an archaeologist looking for artifacts in a hidden, unexplored cave. You come across a strange symbol on a rocky surface, but when you press upon it, the ground opens and you tumble inside a vast complex of beautiful rooms with marble floors and walls decorated with huge carvings of sun and stars. Deep underground in this surreal world, you will also discover diabolic mazes, hidden traps, moats, tunnels, a jewel-like cathedral and a room that appears to be carved from ice and contains Egyptian-like sarcophagi. However, the further you delve inside this amazing place, you begin to realise it was created by an advanced civilization, one that might be an ancient race – or an alien one.” The archaeologist is a white male wearing a black suit and white shirt, no hat or other props. Produced by Bluewater Entertainment and published by WizardWorks Software in 1997 for Windows XP.
“You are an archaeologist who stumbled upon an abyss in an ancient temple. Your goal is to get down as far as you can while avoiding obsctacles and collecting gems.” Free-to-play casual PC game developed by Jason Jewel. There is no archaeology, but there is gem-collection. The archaeologist is a white male dressed as Indiana Jones.
“As the Chief Archaeologist and most experienced in Mayan culture, the Embassy has sent you to investigate the mysterious demise of the last known royal Mayan family. The royal family supposedly died in 1536, yet artifacts left by the Mayan princess have been uncovered dating back to 1556 – twenty years after her supposed death. Your mission is to solve the riddles surrounding the artifacts to uncover what really happened to the royal family.” Casual hidden-object game for Windows, played from a first-person perspective. Big Fish Games.
“A xenohistorical expedition to recover artifacts of “the Ancients” takes on a surprisingly human and personal tone in this far-future sci-fi story. Simple Planetfall-like puzzles, thoughtful prose that establishes moods with parsimony. Short but not rushed.” Free-to-play interactive fiction by Nate Cull in 1997 in the style of Infocom text games containing puzzles.
“Time and money are running out and the developer’s diggers are wanting to move onto the site of a dig. Experience some of the realities of being an archaeologist by playing Hunt the Ancestor.” You play the dig director (not depicted), and make all archaeological and budgetary decisions on where and how to dig a barrow in England. The game includes archival research, aerial photography, geophysics, and more. From the BBC.
Indiana Jones (15 game titles, separate blog entry forthcoming)
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients, Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (The Action Game and The Graphic Adventure), The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix (canceled), Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, Indiana Jones Adventure World.
“You are an archaeologist and you have to explore 20 secret chambers and find the hidden treasures. Play relaxed or against the time and find the hidden treasures that fit into the rock slabs. You have three powertools to easy out your research.” Browser-based, free-to-play, hidden-objects Flash game.
NIGORO classifies La-Mulana as a “Ruins Exploration Archaeological action game,” which at first seems to be a stumbling approximation of what is usually meant by “Metroidvania,” but the archaeological aspects are essential to the atmosphere and style of play in La-Mulana. The immense titular ruins are divided into nine sections, each with a corresponding “Frontside” and “Backside” field. Published as freeware by Japanese indie developer GR3 PROJECT in 2005, which was re-released in 2011 by NIGORO for Wii and PC. Platform-style, 8-bit retro game with many puzzles and a depth of lore. Cover art shows the player dressed as Indiana Jones (including the whip). In the original game, the player is depicted as a white male in olive drab clothing and fedora. For the WiiWare update, the player is dressed more generically as an explorer.
Lego Indiana Jones (series, 2 games, blog post forthcoming)
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Advenre Continues
“Begin your adventure to explore the Lost Catacombs and the treasures locked within. In this fun addicting puzzle game you play an archaeologist who has to find the way to diamonds and artefacts. For this you have to move statues and talk to other explorers to get some clues. Enjoy to recover the hidden chambers in a challenging course.” The playable character, a white male dressed as Indiana Jones, begins the game as an intern. Free-to-play, in-browser Flash game. from Maxgames.com coded by Jason Hobbs.
“After making an important discovery, your archaeologist fiancé, Michael, is kidnapped in Prague. Clues indicate that the kidnappers want whatever it is he’s found and will stop at nothing to get it. Your search for Michael will reveal far more than you could have possibly imagined as you learn that the very fate of the world hangs in the balance! Explore richly detailed and animated scenes set in Prague, England and Mexico. Solve fascinating challenging puzzles, uncover earth-shattering secrets hidden in a forgotten mine and tap into your inner heroine in Lost Civilization, a magnificent Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure.” You play a white, female archaeologist. Developed by Icarus Games for Phoenix Online Studios, and distributed by Big Fish Games. Andoid, iOS, and PC (Steam).
“Martin Holan, a linguistics and archaeology student, finds himself enwrapped in a mystery involving Nazis, Mayans, and extraterrestrials. The full game features 20 to 30 hours of gameplay over 80 different locations.” Published by The Adventure Company, 2005. Martin is played from the third-person perspective, is white, and wears a jacket and jeans.
“In Nightfall, you play an archaeologist trapped in a tomb after an earthquake. Do you wait to be dug out, or explore? Has anyone been this way before you, and who or what lies in the chambers beyond? Based on a real myth and actual characteristics of ancient Egyptian culture, experience a depth of game play that could only come from real life. Explore a vast array of tunnels and rooms, solving puzzles which have taken months to design. At the same time, these puzzles use the best of 2D and 3D environments to provide new ways of playing as well as new types of problems to be solved. A custom 3D engine has been specially designed for this game, which can show images in thousands or millions of colors in software, and take advantage of RAVE or DirectX 3D hardware for a silky smooth performance. In all, hundreds of megabytes of textures are used to create an environment rich with detail – images on objects and walls provide critical information for your survival, and add to the feeling of actually being in an ancient complex. High quality real time lighting, dust and mist effects contribute to unique puzzle designs. Combined with ambient music and 3D sound effects these help to provide a dream like environment. Advanced VR technology gives you a virtual hand to pick up, slide, or throw objects, solve puzzles, and travel through the world in an easy to use manner. Play a game unlike any you have seen before! Coming to the Mac first, in Q2 1998, and to the PC Christmas 98.” Published by Altor Systems in 1999 for Mac. Point-and-click Myst clone.
“You’re an archaeologist in 1914, you and your crew enter for the first time in millennia team, But here you are separated from your group from a collapse and you don’t know what to expect after the hall . . . ” Indie game produced by two 16-year-olds in 2014 for possible inclusion on Steam. Survival horror played in first-person.
“You play an archaeologist, looking for treasure, as archaeologists are wont to do. Sadly, mummies are after you. To find the treasure you walk round all 4 sides of the squares while avoiding the mummies to complete. The Streets of Cairo is the theme tune.” Developed by Gem Software for Amsoft in 1984 for the Amstrad CPC, MSX, and ZX Spectrum platforms. The extra lives are depicted as white men.
“You are an archaeologist with zeal to explore the unknown monuments and your special interest in the great pyramids has brought you all the way to Egypt.” Java game for phones, published in India. Mummy-avoidance casual game. The archaeologist (white) wears matching red shirt and shorts, brown shoes, and a brimmed hat.
“The game takes place in the year 2010, where the international conglomerate “Mega Media,” headed by Hal Davis, funds a government-approved excavation of the Qin burial mound. The player takes on the role of a researcher assigned to this project. (In reality, the chamber of the terracotta army is the farthest any archaeological team has progressed.) One night, as the researcher is exploring alone, a sudden earthquake opens up the ground underneath, and the researcher tumbles into a deeper part of the tomb. While exploring the tomb, which is immense, he is privy to the observations of the ghost of a Chinese scholar, who was aware of the brutal nature of the emperor. The game eventually leads to a goal the emperor sought in life—an elixir that can confer immortality. Possessing this, the player has a choice: give it to the dead-but-not-quite-gone Qin, who will revive; deliver it to Hal Davis; or pour it into a scale model of the planet. Each has its own result—the renewed emperor will re-take control of China, Hal Davis becomes immortal in a decaying world, or kick-start the renewal of the planet itself, respectively.” Developed by Learn Technologies Interactive and published by Time Warner Interactive in 1995 for MS-DOS, Mac, and Windows. First-person perspective, point-and-click Myst clone.
“You’re an archaeologist whose colleague has just discovered an ancient scroll bearing ominous warnings that prophesy the end of the world. As you unravel the scroll’s mysteries, you’ll travel to locations as varied as the Great Pyramid of Giza, Chichén Itzá, Easter Island, and Stonehenge.”
From the publisher: “You have solved the Riddle of the Sphinx, now you can explore and solve the mysteries of the artifacts left behind by the Ancients. Discover the secret linking ancient civilizations. From Mayan codices to Stonehenge to Easter Island, from the Lost City of Atlantis to additional chambers under the Sphinx, and the mystery of Devil’s Triangle, your discovery will bring you to . . . The Omega Stone.” Published by Dreamcatcher Interactive and The Adventure Company in 2004. First-person point-and-click Myst clone for Mac and PC.
“You are an archaeologist who just struck a treasure and have to dig out as much jewels as possible. The gameplay is the same ancient one where you make three or more together and tap to remove them. Get the gems of your will before time time runs out; don’t worry, occasional extra-time and bombs are here to help you. When the time is up, you are greeted with an option to continue, worth cash and you know where these cash come from. Additional points and rubies can also be purchased using the same.” Published by Zynga Games in 2012 for Facebook and is free-to-play. The app’s home graphic features a young, white female archaeologist wearing a white, button-down blouse, suspenders, pendant on a chain, and mining hat (not a pith helmet). Other graphics have her dressed in desert gear with pith helmet and goggles modeled after Jennifer Aniston. Instead of archaeology, Ruby digs up gems.
“Samantha Swift and the Mystery from Atlantis is a hidden-object game in which you are an archaeologist who travels around the world looking for treasures belonging to Atlantis. With every hidden-object game you play, you uncover a new treasure that will be placed in the museum for exhibition.” Free-to-play on Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8, developed by Mumbo Jumbo.
“In this first-person perspective Myst-style game you are an Archaeologist working in Egypt who has made an exciting discovery concerning the location of a mysterious and powerful obelisk left behind by an incredibly advanced civilisation. If the obelisk does exist and if it falls into the wrong hands it could be used to bring about destruction and chaos on a massive scale.” Published in 1996 by Mojave.
“You are an archaeologist who is looking for a lost civilisation which lies underneath the Atlantic Ocean.” Puzzle game set off the coast of Peru for MS-DOS. French. Published in 1989 by UBI Soft.
“You are an archaeologist trying to find the ancient treasure that has sunken for many centuries. Find the chest full of gold and escape from the dangerous sea.” Free-to-play, browser-based Flash game. [NOTE: I could not find a working copy online that displayed any graphics. The audio was fine.]
“In Temple Run, the player controls an explorer who, having stolen a treasure from a temple, is chased by “demonic monkeys” who want to eat him/her. As the game is an endless running game, there is no end to the temple; therefore, the player plays until the character falls off the temple to his/her demise or is eaten by the crazed monkeys.” Published by Imangi Studios in 2011 for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. Players have their choice of “archaeologists”, men or women, and different races.
“Professor Alexander Nichols, a friend of the unnamed and silent player character, has called the player to Easter Island, where he believes he has found a link to the legendary city of Atlantis. The player arrives at the island, picking up the Professor’s Camera and Journal, only to realize the Professor is already gone. The Player then explores the island, finding the Professor’s camp abandoned, and eventually stumbles upon a cave which contains a Timegate, with the Professor trapped inside. The player then uses this time gate to go to one of three time periods; Ancient Egypt, the Maya civilization, and the Anasazi civilisation. Each civilisation is deserted or almost deserted, with the people having recently left in mass exoduses. The player may visit the three civilisations in any order, but the Professor’s journal claims that he visited them in the order listed; this is also the order of the game’s four CD-ROMs. The player encounters a robot which appears to be constructed out of energy in each civilisation; this robot is not named in the game, but is referred to as “The Guardian” in official materials. The player’s main goal in each civilisation is to collect a device known as a Gene Pod, which contains DNA from the culture, and install it into the Timegate.” Published for Mac and PC in 1996 by GTE Interactive Media. First-person, point-and-click Myst clone.
Tomb Raider (series, 16 games, to be featured in a separate post)
Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, Tomb Raider III, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider Chronicles, Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword, Tomb Raider: The Prophecy, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Tomb Raider: Underworld, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Tomb Raider, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Uncharted (series, 6 games, to be featured in a separate post)
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Uncharted: Fight for Fortune.
“You are an archaeologist, in search of an ancient underwater treasure in this underwater exploration game. The water may be more dangerous than it appears… Can you survive long enough to escape with the treasure?” Survival, browser-based Flash game created by Jasic for Ludum Dare 29 in 2014, a 48-hour coding competition. The archaeologist is of indeterminate gender and race masked by the diving suit.