Archaeologists Making Games: A Response

Image: School of Rock, Paramount Pictures

Image: School of Rock, Paramount Pictures

On May 11, 2015, fellow archaeogamer Tara Copplestone continued to explore the role archaeologists might play in game development, and I wanted to respond to a few of the points she raised. You can read her post here before continuing.

Frameworks

I’m personally hesitant to wall anything in within any discipline, as I think that creating boundaries limits expansive thinking. However the Punk in me really does both understand and thrive within limited spaces and resources, using those limits as springboards to creativity, ingenuity, and lean thinking. Working within the character-limit of Twitter has made me a better writer and editor. Working within a limited musical studio has made me (I think) a better musician and composer. Working on a limited budget can arguably also create better games.

I would argue that I don’t need to become an architect to write about architecture, or that I need to learn how to code to write about software. But it really depends on how far you want to take things. If I want to conduct archaeology within a game, I can with the skill set I have now. If I want to write a video game that includes archaeology in it, I cannot, at least not on my own. As gaming archaeologists find their way into the discipline, they will naturally gravitate to what interests them, and will then acquire more specialized knowledge, which is true of moving from basic study to something akin to a graduate or professional level. Frameworks will present themselves. But I still like the idea of blue-sky research where there don’t necessarily have to be articulated questions, but more of “what can we do now”, asking questions of potential. This is a kind of world-building, which will later be populated by motion-capture artists and QA testers, etc., all helpful and expert in realizing the world that is Archaeogaming.

Outcomes of Events (Creative Practices)

I agree with Tara that there needs to be some sort of take-away to any event done in the name of Archaeogaming (or for any conference and unconference in any discipline). I have been to too many academic events where there is no end-publication or community interaction following the meet-up. I find this practice to be intellectually and creatively immoral, and would strive to change our bad habits.

Tara is also correct in that the current apparatus for communicating Archaeogaming, and for applying any kind of Archaeogaming interpretation on games is elementary at best, at least for now. However, the more we write, the more we can explore what it means to bring archaeology to video games (and vice versa). Our colleagues and the public, both gamers and non-gamers, will help us find our way. At present, we are making this up as we go along, and I’m wondering if we can take some advice from looking at other start-up (upstart?) fields to see what their growing pains were (e.g., media archaeology).

No one of us can do it alone, so we each need to begin to carve out what we want to do and then do it. Everyone knows how impatient I am about waiting to play No Man’s Sky. When this game comes out, I will do little else but play it as an archaeologist. This will become the Archaeogaming thing I do, and I will create documents on methods, and will record as I go until I am dead. I might take a break to meet with game developers about archaeology, though, but informed through my experience both as a gamer and as an archaeologist.

Part of building that side of Archaeogaming that can serve as a lobbying group within the gaming industry is, as Tara articulates, learning how game development and the business side actually works. I will defer to her in this area because of her native experience in that environment. I would task her (and others with similar experience) to write and speak more about how the video game sausage is made so that archaeologists can understand the . . . framework . . . in which we can operate and be taken seriously. We build the knowledgebase over time, publish it openly, and learn from it.

Should (or I might probably say “when”) archaeologists actively make games, I think the most profound part of the experience will be for us to define what archaeology actually is when introduced into the game itself. I think we will learn much from acts of creation. As with any game, we need to understand the outcome of what we want to produce: an archaeology simulator? An entertainment with archaeology as part of a world? Something else? And the more we play games with archaeology and archaeologists in them, the more we can refine our own understanding of our science and how we can communicate what we do better to a gaming public. These are not “cute experiments” but are rather a form of serious play in and of themselves. And playing is arguably the best way to learn something.

For our events, I quote Tara:

“Rather than just getting together and starting to “make things” we get together and start to ‘make things which develop and challenge the frameworks of understanding #archaeogames as part of archaeology as well as further disciplines’. In other words I think we should be seeking to foster the development of a discipline not just the use of a media form / tool.”

Concluding Thoughts

Archaeogaming is more than archaeologists thinking about and ultimately trying to make games. Game-making is certainly a branch on the Archaeogaming tree, just like epigraphy is a branch of archaeology. The core of Archaeogaming is, of course, at the center of the neologism: archaeology and games/gaming. It is our duty to explore all aspects of both, and most of us will ultimately specialize. I am hopeful that all aspects of Archaeogaming will be critiqued as well as we are seeing with the topic of archaeologists involved in the game-making process. It’s how we’ll legitimize the field and move it forward.

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

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