One under-explored aspect of archaeogaming is looking for “artifacts” within a gaming environment. Think of it as a bug-hunt. The last thing players want to experience when exploring a virtual world is a bug or a glitch. These technical aberrations interfere with (or even halt) gameplay, and are unwelcome intrusions into the illusion of reality. Bugs and glitches in games are common, especially in more current titles that can be overburdened by the complexity of code, of poor quality assurance testing, or a combination of both.
Take Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for example. The game was released by Bethesda Softworks in 2011 just ahead of the holiday season (we’ve seen this movie before with Atari’s E.T. in 1982). Almost immediately players began complaining of some spectacular glitches/bugs, including things such as mammoths falling from the sky (image above), and dragons flying backwards. Bethesda patched the major bugs in early December: no more backwards dragons, non-player characters without heads, or suspended laws of physics. These massive (and massively entertaining) glitches disappeared from the game and became the stuff of game lore with evidence remaining online in images and gameplay video. These bugs are real artifacts, and the photographic, video, and anecdotal evidence are all that is left of the archaeological/archaeogaming record.
As an archaeologist and as a gamer, I am always on the lookout for something out of the ordinary, something weird, something that clearly should not be part of the game. And I hadn’t really found anything in my own explorations until last night. Last night I found my first “gamifact”.
Over the past couple of months I’ve put in dozens of hours on the Xbox One playing Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited. My level 44 toon has been cruising around eastern Coldharbour doing what one does: exploration, completing quests, farming materials, and killing stuff. I was supposed to meet a friend that evening to punch out some mini-bosses in a few delves, so I waited in the Shining Star tavern (as one does) in the Hollow City. I was early, so I had a drink and talked to the NPC clientele at the bar, a few of whom I’d seen before, but elsewhere. And then I saw Holgunn (image below):
Take a look at the image. There’s Holgunn, doing his best Snake Plissken impression, drinking an ale in what appears to be “bullet time” from The Matrix (image below):
I stood there for a couple of minutes watching Holgunn stand still while at the same time chugging ale, almost as if his still, silent self was wishing he was drinking the place dry.
It’s a glitch. It’s an artifact. In archaeogaming parlance, maybe it’s a “gamifact”? I’ll just leave that term there for reddit to get grumpy over. So as an archaeologist, what did I do? I took a picture. I took a bunch of pictures. I took video capture. I noted the date (September 1, 2015) and the time of discovery (10:12 pm). I noted the location (Shining Star tavern, the Hollow City, Coldharbour). I also noted the quest I was on (The Army of Meridia) because NPCs often wander off somewhere else in a game after the completion of one quest in anticipation of another. If any one of you reading this has an Xbone and plays ESO, I’d like to know if you can reproduce this glitch. I also need to know if this happens for PS4 players and PC players, too. And if this happens only on this quest, or is it just there all the time. I’d love to know what code is behind this glitch.
So I found a gamifact, now what? I visited several ESO discussion groups and forums, but I didn’t find this glitch reported anywhere. Either it’s new, or so subtle that no one’s noticed it yet. Because the glitch is benign, it’s likely nobody cared enough to report it. As an archaeologist, I probably should. And when an upcoming patch is released that fixes the glitch, we will be reminded that archaeology is a destructive process. Once we find an artifact, it is pulled from the earth, documented, filed away. Anyone who comes by later might not know that there was something special in place.
Now that I’ve found my first gamifact*, I’ll be on the lookout for others. I think new games, just like newly discovered sites, will yield the most of these, growing rarer over time as patches fix things. These glitches are part of the game and its history, adding to the story surrounding the media, and should be recorded. So here’s one for the books. Holgunn, you shall not be forgotten.
UPDATE: I returned to the tavern to look for Holgunn at exactly the same time as I did on the previous day, but he was absent. I then smacked myself in the head because time is accelerated in ESO. The tavern in the daytime has an entirely different clientele than it does at night. It could be that Holgunn, like some, works during the day, and then relaxes with a few mugs of ale in the tavern after sundown. I’ll try again.
-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming
*As far as I can tell, this is the first use of “gamifact” (for better or worse).