Session 275 organizers (l. to r.): Lennart Linde, L. Meghan Dennis, Aris Politopoulos

The 2017 European Association for Archaeologists was held in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and the final morning hosted a session (#275) of 15 papers on archaeogaming, organized by L. Meghan Dennis, Linnart Linde, and the VALUE Foundation/Project, “In Play. Archaeology in Videogames as a Metadisciplinary Approach.” Even though the session ran for four hours (with breaks, and amazingly on-time), every seat was taken, and a stoic audience stood at the back and out the door in order to hear the talks. Hanna Pageau live-tweeted the content of the papers and photos of the speakers. Thanks largely to her efforts, #archaeogaming was the champion hashtag for the conference. Today’s post encapsulates each speaker’s argument, and I apologize in advance if I get some of the details wrong. I would refer readers to the individual authors for questions and possibly slide decks or a copy of what was presented should an author not plan on publishing.

  1. The No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey: One Year of In-Game Archaeology Reinhard, Andrew – University of York; No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey

I spoke first, and the content of my talk can be found here.

  1. Tombs & Treasure: Understanding the Archaeological Ethics at Play in Video-Game Play Dennis, L. Meghan – University of York

Ethical Consideration: Looting/Commodification (several different types, such as utility looting which normalizes looting behavior), Duty of Care, Descendant Communities, Research Design. An example of “utility looting” means looting something you need in order to complete a quest. Dennis discussed her first completed case study.

Cornelius Holtorf asked: What’s the difference between archaeological ethics in games and ethics outside of games? Dennis: It’s more important to look at how archaeologists are represented in this medium because it’s active media. How does experiential play impact behavior, as seen through the archaeological ethics lens?

  1. Entombed: An archaeological examination of an Atari 2600 game Aycock, John – University of Calgary

Aycock teaches a design course on retrogame implementation. He wanted to find an unpopular game with interesting facets to it, which meant that students could not cheat on a well known game. Entombed is a maze-based game. Comparative archaeology looks at how different games approach the problem of creating a maze environment. Aycock then demonstrated the deconstruction on how Entombed makes a maze: row-by-row, PCG. One can create a python script to reconstruct the maze. A random-number generator in the code also controls zombie movement within the maze. The random number generator exhibits code re-use (it is the same as the code used in Towering Inferno). It’s almost a linear congruential generator. A bug in the code is a distinctive feature to track code re-use. Aycock went back to interviews with the game designers. Aycock interviewed the programmer, Steve Sidley. Interviews are super-important to get a social context of the game and its creation.

  1. Wonders of Civilization: Representation of Monuments in Sid Meier’s Civilization Series

Mr. Politopoulos, Aris (presenter), Mr. Boom, Krijn, Ms. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Csilla, Dr. Mol, Angus – The VALUE Foundation

People spend as much time playing Civ games than they have in the Louvre from 1991–2016. The goal is to rule the world by leading a civilization in a progressional way: by war, diplomacy, or technology. “Playing out someone else’s political philosophy is not fun for the player” (Sid Meier in 2016). Meier wanted to make an apolitical game to experience history in the player’s own way. Civilization games are examples of 4x games (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate). Civ‘s histories are teleological and euphemistic.

Focused on Civ‘s Wonders: unique building, big investment, periodization, built heritage with historical background. 117 wonders available. Some wonders appear in many games in the series. There is a “Wonder engagement” for the popularity of what’s being built by players (or popular with player interest). The player community has created mods to add wonders for players to build in the game. Civ allows people to engage with monuments and history in meaningful ways.

[coffee break]

  1. First steps in the use of gaming engines for historical road research. Vletter, Willem – University of Vienna; University of Groningen

Logical/AI movment = believable moment. Vletter used ArcGIS and Unity for this project. The idea is to transform real-world archaeological data and import into a digital environment. He imported the data of ancient roads into the platform. Possibilities of Unity: user can change speed and can create own periods and can compare roads over different periods. It is possible to model roads in Unity. Unity = create an LCP model with a slope bias. he imported a historical route with GIS data and added missing sections in a different color. Use Unity’s standard Navigation tool which shades sections where one can walk. See for A* Pathfinding Unity mod. Users can then view with a camera mounted at a person’s height so one can see the landscape as mapped.

Advantages of Unity over GIS: more realistic landscape, can be visited through agent’s view, multiplayers with interaction in model, walking around freely, can add historical character as a component. Experiential for engaging in a modeled landscape based on GIS data. This needs a lot of computational power, and some scripting knowledge needed.

  1. Past at Play: How videogames can challenge archaeological narrative structures. Ms Copplestone, Tara – University of York

Tara Copplestone: Traditional narrative approach = problematic, trying to push complexity to something that is linear, static. The medium is the message (affordances structure narrative, see McLuhan). Games are audio, visual, physical, interactive, agency, system. Games are underpinned by code and processes. Copplestone made 40 games, and also built software to capture her actions as she made them. She is interested in the narratives and how they are constructed and what that might be for archaeology: 1. Hypertextual Histories. Tool for archaeologists to think through impact and process. 2. Object oriented narrative. Narrative is embedded in objects in the world. It’s how we try to understand our world as archaeologists. 2a. AI: neural networks. Unintended things happened (unexpected interactions between agents and objects). 3. Synchronous narrative. Two or more narratives unfold at the same time, affecting each other. Looking at relationships between people and things. Impact over time-space, causative v. correlative. To understand this, experiment and create. Plug for the 2017 Heritage Jam.

  1. Jade Dragons and Wooden Crosses: Changing attitudes to archaeological artefacts within the

Tomb Raider franchise Ms Fenton, Freya – University of Leicester

Lara Croft: worst archaeologist ever. She is rarely ever shown reading. Phase I of the Tomb Raider: 1996–2003. Irrelevant to archaeological history. Phase 2, 2006–2008. Adding more mythical elements. Phase 3, more archaeological side of the series. Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Inspiration from actual archaeology. 2013 onwards: humanized Lara. These later games base their narrative on real ancient dates and cultures. They are no longer solely about treasure hunting for Lara. Yamatai narrative and setting. Magic elements are still in the games to “make them interesting.” Players find things in boxes. Randomly. Anywhere. Objects link to areas in which they could really be found. Rise of the Tomb Raider: clear historical narrative with a mystical element woven through. Byzantine murals and mosaics are present. Distinction: historical authenticity v. historical accuracy. Monoliths and translations are also present for the first time. Inscriptions are contextually appropriate. There is, however, a shotgun upgrade in a tomb. Documents can be discovered throughout the game. Artifacts change as you progress through the game. Lara will investigate things and add questions. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is forthcoming. Archaeological detail in this game is as yet unknown.

  1. Dark tourism in ‘The Town of Light’: dark heritage, player agency and phenomenological experience Ms Smith Nicholls, Florence – Independent researcher

The Town of Light was released in 2016 from LKA (Italy) and is set in an asylum, focused on exploration. Nicholls interviewed the studio head for her research. The game is first-person. You can decide to play as yourself. The asylum was built in 1888, and is set in one place. Great visual detail was put into the game. There was a 21% mortality in the asylum in 1942–43. Players can watch the protagonist suffer. Experiences based on reality at that asylum. There is no content warning in the game. Dark heritage and dark tourism focus on death and human suffering. The game is a commodified experience. See 2013 Gonzalez-Tennant for more about that concept. The game contains concepts of phenomenology, past interaction with landscape, and player-experiences the asylum. There are really two asylums: present one, and the one from the 1940s. The player can control how much light comes into a given room. The game uses material culture in order to understand the past. Objects can trigger flashbacks. Game is an interpretation in the past.

[coffee break]

  1. Creating Plots and Authenticity: Analyzing Video Games and Their Use of Archaeology as Folklore Thomas, Katherine – HELIX Environmental Planning, Inc.; Idol, Coy – William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (Presenting author)

American archaeology bears a close relationship with anthropology. Speakers are American historical archaeologists. It pulls a lot from folklore for analytical method. On site, the play the “Degrees of Separation from Franz Boas” game. See In Small Things Forgotten by James Deetz. Use it to contextualize material culture in Assassin’s Creed 3. Pair archaeology with folklore. Don’t forget the gaming aspect of the game narrative. Look at the entirety of “folk culture,” which can help us understand video games. See Ethnography and Virtual Worlds. “Virtual worlds have anticipated the ethnographer.” —Boellstoerff. Gamers created a folk culture within themselves. Idol loved the recreation of the Mohawk Village in AC 3. Game-makers consider how things appear. See the Cult of the Mythic Dawn museum in Elder Scrolls. See V-Archaeology as a bad first example of VR archaeology gaming. There is archaeology in Civ 6 now.

  1. Social objects in the digital world von Ackermann, Megan – University of York

Meanings from multiple objects exist within a social construct. Places, people, emotion, time. There are reciprocal and dynamic processes between objects and people. “The pipe box is filled with a pipe.” Has the perception of objects been subverted in games? Von Ackerman’s focus is on “keys.” Skills/achievements are unlocked. Her case studies are from Skyrim, Kingdom Hearts, and hidden-object games (HOGs). Skyrim is based on world-building by Bethesda and has written-in historicities. The game makes cultural fantasy references, too. It feels realistic, but is understood by players to be fictional. Keys in Skyrim are intentionally archaic, which creates a sense of heritage within each object. Objects have a biography. There are elements of recognizable “keyness” in design. Kingdom Hearts: See the Key Blades. The games main narrative is to lock worlds. Hidden Object Games often contain a narrative strain but with objects removed from their original, logical contexts. Object of the games is to unlock more worlds. Subverting the object: keys that don’t open locks. The meaning of keys is also subverted.

  1. Goblins, Grave Desecration, and Grey Areas: Navigating Grey Archaeology in Gaming Through the Lens of World of Warcraft Ms Pageau, Hanna – University at Albany

Pageau set herself the project to catalogue archaeological artifacts and sites. Grey archaeology: “We throw away things.” Long-term place of artifacts in game: trade in, display, trashing. Personal gain (toys, mounts, equipment). The game gives ambiguous reasons for excavation. There is too much stuff to find, and limited bag space, which mimics real-world excavation. There is no physical way to keep everything. Visual representation method: originally tombstones, and now pottery, stone, etc. There is no longer burial-disruption (in Archaeology skill leveling). Little things in games continue the normalization of how the public perceives archaeology. To combat: archaeologists need to become more active in player communities to conduct public outreach. The Pandaria expansion has pristine-quality artifacts that can be repatriated to the culture of origin.

  1. THE ROLE OFTHE ARCHAEOLOGIST WHEN PRODUCING A SERIOUS GAME Ms. Morera, Nuaria – Universitat Auto`noma de Barcelona (UAB) (Presenting author), Dr. Piquea, Raquel, Dr. Bogdanovic, Igor, Dr. Lopez-Bultoa, Oriol, Mr. Campana, Ivan, Dr. Palomo, Antoni, Mr. Revelles, Jordi, Dr. Terradas, Xavier – CSIC-IMF, Archaeology of Social Dynamics, Dr. Arcos, Josep Lluis – Institut d’Investigacio en Intelelige`ncia Artificial (IIIA-CSIC), Mr. Cebrian, Sergi, Dr. Rodriguez-Aguilar, Juan Antonio.

Serious games are created for something other than entertainment (i.e., training). Games can be applied to the dissemination of archaeological knowledge. The team has created an as-yet untitled VR serious game based on historical research. It is a first-order didactic resource. Dissemination of first farming societies: goal. The game has been developed for a wide audience of young people. The game encodes learning and is based on the La Draga archaeological site. The site developed workshops and demonstrations. Catalonian. The game will be at the archaeological museum of Catalonia. The game was built in Unity. Gamification: countdown, obstacles. Concept art developed from landscape photos. Hut reconstruction: spatial analysis and reconstruction of remains. The game is also based on published printed research. The game will be released as Open Source.

  1. Archaeology in Czech Videogames MA ŠurinovaÅL, Miroslava – Charles University

Archaeology in games: text adventures in the ’80s and early ’90s. Czech Indiana Jones game is set in Amazonia instead of India like the second film in the series. Not all of the Czech Indiana Jones games are set in the movie universe. See the “Tom Jones” game in Mexico in 1990. None of the games set in the Czech Republic even though the games were made in the Czech Republic. See the Archaeo game as a click-adventure. See also Messenger of the Gods click-adventure game (1998). 5 chapters. The main character is an archaeologist who works in a Prague heritage center. The settings and heritage info in the Mexico chapter are accurate. “And then the alien shows up.” See also Nibiru (2005) (update of the Messenger game). This time the main character is French sent to Prague by his uncle to meet a Czech archeologist. Temples are not where they are supposed to be in the natural world. No copyright infringement with the Indiana Jones games because Communism.

  1. Videogames and Autobiographical Histories Miss Hursthouse, Rebecca – University of Lincoln (was not present)
  2. A Singleplayer, Strategic and Atmospheric, Indie Action-Adventure with Multiplayer, a Great Soundtrack and Mostly Positive Reviews: Anatomy of an Archaeogame MSc Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Csilla – Leiden University; The VALUE Foundation, Mr. Boom, Krijn, Ms. Copplestone, Tara – Universities of York/Aarhus, Dr. Mol, Angus (presenting author) – The VALUE Foundation; Mr. Politopoulos, Aris

“Archaeogame” definition. Fuzzy understanding. See Wittgenstein in Statement 67 of Philosophical Investigations (1953) on his definition of games.

Research for this project was done on Steam games. The team used Steam Spy stats service for data. 43.5M active users. 227 “historical” games as tagged. See Tara Copplestone’s Archaeogame list, and add to it. Users can data-crawl on Steam and scrape data. The data are stores in a SQL Lite database. Statistic and Network Exploration of Database. 43% of games reviewed as very positive and only 1 negatively reviewed. Look at bipartite networks: social network analysis, connecting members to groups. These can be connected via games owned by the player-group. They can also connect tags to each other. This presentation will be posted online. This is living data, always being updated.


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