Relic Repeatable Quest in Destiny
Relic Repeatable Quest in Destiny

On a lark, I started a Twitter conversation on the evening of January 27th to lament the fact that relics in video games are never really used for archaeology. This then cascaded into a conversation covering a range of topics from game development to intangible heritage to new achievements. Below is a transcription of the conversation. I’ve annotated it in places. When known, I use the real names of the tweeters, abbreviating later in the conversation thread. I received permission from everyone to reproduce their thoughts here on the Archaeogaming blog. A word of warning: some of the dialogue might appear out of order. I’ll try to edit this for a better chronology when I have the, um, time.

To see this thread and all other video game archaeology threads, use the #archaeogaming hashtag.

Here’s my initial post on relics and video games:

Andrew Reinhard (AR): Once again, relics are used to create weapons, just like in real life >.>

Justin Walsh (JW): why I’m an archaeologist

Annelise Baer (AB): There’s quite a problem with that in WoW too. Everyone’s trying to get ___ artifact for weaponized use.

AR:  Relics in games = weapon tech, magic, buffs, or cash.

Tara Copplestone (TC): Ye 😦 went pure collectible + uses them as core narrative – but on the whole its pretty dire

AR: One of the many things I liked about Skyrim was that there was at least one museum in one of the towns.

TC: Yes! Also loved the inclusion of non tangible heritage which is sorely overlooked in favour of tangible in a lot of

Sarah May (SM): not just in games, ask the heads of UK heritage organisations about intangible heritage and they giggle

AR:  I think there should be a “loremaster” achievement for that. Didnt Skyrim have 1 for reading X number of books

Ethan Gruber (EG): yep

AR: Hrmph. At least UNESCO takes it seriously.

TC: trying to write ICH into the protocols 4 gamedev, interesting that Sarah May pointed out it is still difficult in heritage
AB: Same. Just did a questline yesterday: final stage was to use a recently discovered/barely understood relic to stomp enemy army.
AB: WoW now has little personal museums for stuff you dig up on your own. “Pristine” artifacts only 😛

AR: Interesting! How very 19th-c German.

John Lowe (JL): judging by things I find in looter backfire IRL this seems fairly accurate

AR: achievements wish-list: repatriate artifacts; run a temple w/out looting it; turn in drops to museums; don’t damage buildings

Niels Grotum (NG): A bit older and weirder: It’s been ages, but I remember rather liking the museum in Anachronox.

AR: OOoooooo!!!!!

NG: Also features Grumpos, a scholar and former curator whose special power is Yammering. And in the game.

Space Archaeology (SA): Have you checked out Elegy for a Dead World?

AR: Tara Copplestone mentioned Elegy earlier. I haven’t played it. Now I have to.

AR: Riffing on intangible heritage, it would be fun to participate in some “ancient” traditions in-game, turning that into an achievement, too.

AR: These non-destructive achievements are no different that “stealth” achievements in other games, where conflict is avoided.

TC: part of the problem w incentivised heritage in games, no matter the incentive it ends up being reduced to a commodity of sorts

AR: True. In-game heritage never seems to exist for its own sake as part of what makes the world interesting.

JW: What about a game where you’re trying to save your own heritage from predatory colonizers/merchants?

AR: I’d buy that game in a heartbeat. mentioned that there is a Crucible match in Destiny that does this

TC:  interviews with devs showed trend towards writers wanting heritage implemented as narrative but designers wanted it as mechanic

TC:  which seemed 2 reflect on how heritage profs frame CH to wider audiences + how gamedevs tried frame that 4 player expectations

AR: I don’t see why these have to be mutually exclusive. Developers underestimate their audiences perhaps. People want story.

TC: awesome idea for a game! Might try prototype something this weekend…

TC: yah! Its mostly bet-hedging in the AAA by sticking to what they did in the past that made money, indies were better for sure

JW: Like in real life, some of the looters might be your own people; there’d be economic/pol/mil disparities

JL: archaeology game for Wii using balance board and controls. could do in semi-real time and also emphasize fitness!

TC:  this is actually a brilliant idea… Really brilliant…
AR: Time to form an indie studio. I’m being kind of serious.

Gingery Gamer (GG): If you’re actually serious, I may be able to help with that.

TC: hoping to do regular hackathons / makers sessions of as part of my phd – totally keen 4 ths
JW: Well, I’m sure student coders/designers there need projects to work on…
Shawn Graham (SG): We talked in about doing exactly that, as a co-op.

JL: I couldn’t remember what other system had Mo-Cap. Could include choices of different cultures to widen appeal

Process Archaeology (PA): I’m still disappointed that nobody came out with an atl-atl hunter game for the Wii.

AR: There is still time.

AR: Which makes the game even more interesting: Who do you trust?

JW: You might not know yourself where/what some of the heritage is; have to figure out ways to save it in situ or ex

TC:  Interesting! Thnk thr is a possibly neat mechanic in there about how to stop CH loss when alot of the time is not obv

JW: Obviously, though, I am being quite tangible-centric here… 🙂

JW: Which we do *not* shorten to “tantric,” no sir

TC: hah 🙂 I think theres the possibility to use the difficulty of identifying and preserving NTCH as mechanic too

JW: Good, because, I was having trouble visualizing how that would happen. But then, I don’t really play games.

AR: I would also LOVE it if a game could include a questchain or storyline that builds a case against a shady antiquities dealer.

GG: There was a mission in DA:Inq where a haunted mansion killed it’s looters.

AR: Have looters learned nothing from horror? Steal some ancient stuff. Die a horrible death.

JS: Sounds like John Grant’s Lovejoy

AR: Also, if games insist on having players loot something, it should take seconds instead of being instant. Sweat for that artifact!

GG: I just submitted an abstract on the problem w/instant looting and the “cryptarch” in Destiny. Cross fingers.

AR: I could hug you. That abstract is awesome.

Pre-CatLady (PCL): my daddyo organizes hackathons at MIT if you wanna do it for real 🙂

AR:  Archaeology is a physical thing. I wonder if this could be ported to Kinect for the Xbox One, too.

AB: I would play this game.

SG: we talked in about doing exactly that, as a co-op.

SG: internet of things. wire up a bunch of equipment, send folks outside to the soccer field…

JL: I couldn’t remember what other system had Mo-Cap. Could include choices of different cultures to widen appeal

JL: running with it: could add “survey” option with walking/shovel digging. Go crazy & toss in mapping/drawing/lab!

SG: your conversation reminded me of this, re heritage mechanics- totem’s sound

AR: Oh yeah! I remember this from you 🙂 I played it through (until it glitched near the end).

SG: virtual conference on archaeogaming. Use mit unhangouts, everybody finds, plays, talks games, build…

AR: Yes! Monthly heritage jam then?

AR: Romana’s York conference could totally jumpstart this.

SG: why not?

AR: Also, if games insist on having players loot something, it should take seconds instead of being instant. Sweat for that artifact!

JL: archaeology game for Wii using balance board and controls. could do in semi-real time and also emphasize fitness!

AR: Handheld controller as trowel in one square, and as a pick in another. Wii U could totally do this.

don’t forget taking your turn at the screen! Shake the handhelds forward and back

Tilt the controller up for end-of-day beers.

NG: Probably you already know them, all this archaeogaming chat just brought them to mind.

NG: Poss. of interest: Renowned Explorers and esp. Curious Expedition


1. Archaeologists need to create their own game design studio or need to lobby existing studios to improve archaeology in games, or to make some really fun and more “real” archaeology-themed titles.

2. Developers need to include new achievements that reward non-looting, non-destruction, and repatriation in games.

3. Developers and players need to pay more attention to the concept of intangible heritage in the games they make and play.

Please feel free to leave constructive comments, questions, and suggestions in the Comments area, and join this lively discussion!

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming


  1. Very interesting. I come to similar conclusions. Perhaps influencd by one of the many Posts of the Archaeo&Games community. I read so much about Game Studies an Archaeology the last 2 Years and im glad to see that’s so much happening even in the last 2 month…Im going to finish my “Magisterarbeit” (i thin eq to Master’s thesis) this Week and theres very much chaos in my brain. The only thing i know ar the moment is that i know…hmmm…ok, perhaps it’s not the right article here but let me….try it in english:

    1. Understanding Games and influence their development is an archaeological field of activity.

  2. • There is no archaeology without Media and the technologies of their creation. Games represent the digital age – in consequence , to respect this archaeologic tradition, archaeologists must use gaming technology. For their own and to reach people.

    • Archaeologists already produce tons of environmental Data. Where could they put it in? A logical consequence is the use of Computer Game environments, to let people and archaeologist’s work with it. You have to arrange the different types of data together, give them a logical structure to enable access. How? Ask the Game Design.

    • When you have virtual recreations, based on archaeological Data and if these worlds are usable as „an place of archaeological interest and research“ you need technics and methods of preservation and documentation these worlds.

    •The digitalization process of the old archives is going on for years now. Open the database for creative development and you get more „archaeologiccal proofed“ games. The focus is on indiegames and Crowdfunded projects not the invasion of big gaming companies.

    • Computer Games and Computergame Environments : The archaeological leading? medium of the future.

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