[Note: This post was written for the Blogging Archaeology Blog Carnival hosted by Doug’s Archaeology during January 2016. Learn more about the carnival here.]
[UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2016: Read Tara Copplestone’s companion archaeogaming blog post here.]
I define archaeogaming as the intersection of archaeology and video games, and created archaeogaming.com in 2013 to use it as a sketchpad for ideas on this nascent subdiscipline of archaeology, prompted by the MA work of Emily Johnson on the subject at the University of York (UK). I quickly learned that I was not alone in considering seriously how video games can be archaeological sites/artifacts, and how archaeology and archaeologists are perceived by game developers and players.
As 2016 begins, the University of York continues to be at the fore by formally offering a graduate-level digital heritage track, which now includes a handful of post-graduate students researching aspects of archaeogaming. The University of Leiden’s ARCHON Research School of Archaeology has an archaeogaming working group, the VALUE Project, which is hosting the world’s first archaeogaming conference (in meatspace) this April, “Interactive Pasts“. The first archaeogaming virtual unconference was organized by Shawn Graham on June 1, 2015. Over the course of 2015, I participated in a few podcasts and did a lot of interviews with national and global media who mainly wanted to know the answer to the question: “what is archaeogaming?”
That leads us into the topic of 2016’s archaeology blogging carnival: What are the grand challenges facing YOUR archaeology?
Because archaeogaming is so new (at least in the formal, academic sense), we have a number of mountains to climb, or, to keep this on-topic with video games, we have a lot of achievements to unlock. Here are a few, in no particular order):
Legitimize Archaeogaming (10 points): The more archaeogamers publish in peer-reviewed journals (both print and online), and the more post-graduate degrees are awarded to those who work seriously on archaeology and video games, archaeogaming will make the steady climb into legitimacy in academia. If that’s important. On the other hand, archaeogamers should also continue to publish their work wherever they can (blogging of course, and other venues) regardless if they are inside or outside academia, for public and professional consideration.
Get Beyond the First Question (10 points): A few years in, and the first question that comes to most people’s minds remains, “what is archaeogaming?” This is a great conversation-starter (and a necessary question), but perhaps one day archaeogaming will be known widely enough that there will be other big questions to ask, and will be asked first.
Publish an Archaeogaming Excavation Report in a Traditional Archaeology Journal (10 points): Archaeological surveys, excavations, site reports, end-of-season reports, etc., for virtual worlds need not be relegated to journals focusing on media archaeology, game studies, and the like, but should qualify for inclusion in many of the journals that appear in this exhaustive list posted on Doug’s Archaeology.
Create Archaeogaming Tools, Methods, and Best-Practices (10 points): Several archaeologists work daily on archaeogaming topics, and we continue to steadily identify and clarify and create tools, methods, and best-practices for the subdiscipline. These will (or should) be collected and published, serving as a benchmark, which can later be revised/rewritten, something no different than what happens in contemporary dirt archaeology.
Work/Communicate with Non-Gaming Archaeologists (10 points): At present, all archaeogamers (known to me anyway), are archaeologists enrolled in post-graduate study or are working professionals. We each have one foot in meatspace, and the other in virtual environments. One of my hopes is that archaeogaming can learn and apply methods and theory from dirt archaeology (and other archaeologies conducted in meatspace), and vice versa: archaeogaming can lend its methods and theory to its meatspace counterparts. Archaeogaming must remain interdisciplinary.
Build Bridges with Game Developers (10 points): One of the criticisms archaeogaming receives is that it is perceived that we (or at least I) do not communicate with game developers while we write on the games they produce. One big reason this happens is that developers are busy making games and have little time to talk with archaeologists. Additionally, developers are looking for a quid pro quo: how can archaeologists help developers? More conversations need to happen between developers and archaeologists. One could also argue by analogy that scholars of literary criticism and literature and art history majors can continue to do good, valid work without speaking directly to authors and artists even if those creators are still alive.
Keep Pushing Forward (10 points): I made a map (visualized by Shawn Graham) on archaeogaming branches and topics. As detailed as it is, it is only a starting point for what archaeogaming is, and what it can become. One of the challenges of any discipline is to continue to inject new life into itself, new thinking. Based on the work being done now by my colleagues, the future (and the present) is in good hands. We’re just getting started.
-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming