Publication: An Archaeogaming Grand Challenge

Book
Sample book/journal from the Uncharted series (Naughty Dog).

Introduction

The diverse archaeogaming community of practice shares one grand challenge that stands out over all others: publication. This brief post breaks the challenge down into three major points: 1) what to publish, 2) where to publish, and 3) copyright/DRM. As with most academic pursuits, one must publish one’s research, but (video) game archaeology faces some fairly unique roadblocks. As more people conduct serious work into the archaeology of games (and for some, this will migrate into the archaeology of any software), this work will need to be published. Authors and publishers must work together to find the best way forward for releasing this scholarship while keeping lines of communication open with game-creators/developers.

What to Publish?

The archaeology of games and game-play provides a well of ideas that will never run dry, and all of these ideas—once thoroughly researched and reviewed—deserve to be published as a starting point for dialogue. Depending on the topic and game(s) in question, a journal article will require media to support and illustrate the underlying synthetic text and data. Because games are kinetic and are designed to be played, illustrating gameplay—either completely or isolating relevant in-game events—is key.

When writing about coins found in the Athenian Agora, most specialized journal articles will briefly mention the site of the Agora itself, plunging into a narrative of findspots followed by a catalogue of coins and then one or more images of excavated coins and (possibly) comparanda. The journal might print the article as well as making a digital edition available (typically in PDF or better yet, TEI XML), and the digital edition might link to an online database, to related publications, or to high-resolution images, interactive maps, and maybe even 3D scans.

When writing about a game, the archaeologist and the audience are both immediately at a loss: while many people might have heard of the Athenian Agora and many of those might have actually visited the site, it is entirely possible that the audience reading the game archaeology article has never played the game (or even heard of it). We must begin at the beginning then, introducing the audience to the game, and later to elements of the game that relate to the article’s argument(s). To do that, authors must include descriptive text, and, at the bare minimum, screenshots. Moving beyond the basics, video-capture can demonstrate gameplay in real-time. Perhaps the game is open-source and/or an orphaned work, in which case the author can freely share that game with the reader. But it is more likely that the game is in copyright, which makes that kind of sharing difficult (see below).

Game archaeologists operate from a position of privilege in that we have access to our subject matter, whereas the readers likely will not. It is absurd to ask the reader to pay upwards of US$60 (or more for a rare game) in order to get the most information out of an article. Images and video must suffice, plus snippets of code if appropriate, or even copies of files of various types to share in order to illustrate a point. At this writing, archaeologists can export gameplay (even 3D) to share, and can record live playthroughs via platforms such as Twitch, but Twitch is not an archive.

Once authors have determined what to write, they must then determine what supporting materials they need to illustrate their points, at which point they may need to secure permissions from copyright-holders to publish. Most importantly, authors must collaborate with their publishers not only to determine how to best share non-text supporting materials, but also where to archive these, granting them digital object identifiers (DOIs). As digital archaeology continues to grow, publishers will be under pressure to provide solutions on how to best present blended articles (text+media) to their readership, and ideally to the public at large via Open Access. Games (even 2D side-scrollers, and even interactive fiction) are not two-dimensional, and publishing work on these as text-only does the research, researcher, and reader a disservice.

Where to Publish

As of this writing, there are only a handful of venues that might consider publishing articles on (digital) game archaeology. As ours is a relatively new field when compared to other branches of archaeology, there is no dedicated, peer-reviewed publication dedicated to the work. Until that publication exists, authors must look elsewhere in an attempt to shoehorn their work into an archaeological journal with a fairly wide/liberal mandate/mission. Possible venues include: Open ArchaeologyEpoiesenAdvances in Archaeological Practice, and Internet Archaeology to name a few (all of which offer some kind of non-predatory Open Access option). Games and Culture is another suitable journal, albeit with limited Open Access options (which I hope will change). MIT Press’s monograph series, Platform Studies, is a possibility for publishing book-length work, and Berghahn Books published my introduction, Archaeogaming.

I would recommend that games archaeologists blog about their works-in-progress as a public-facing way to get instant peer review and support from colleagues. Twitter also provides invaluable support through the community of practice via the #archaeogaming hashtag.

Copyright/DRM*

One of the greatest obstacles to publishing research on games media is copyright/digital rights management (DRM). Although one could spend lifetimes writing about games in the public domain, many scholars will want to write about the archaeology in/of popular, commercial and indie titles. Most of these games will be under copyright by the developer or independent game-creator, and it is up to the author to secure rights/permissions to use image, video, files, code, etc. of the game(s) being written about. It is not enough to claim that for a non-profit scholarly article, that screenshots and video capture fall under the rubric of fair use/dealing. Authors must read through the Terms of Service for each game being illustrated, or must check the rules of media usage as posted on many developers’ websites. For smaller games and individual game-writers, authors much exercise due-diligence by emailing/snailmailing the rightsholder to ask for permission to publish. If permission is refused, that media cannot be used. If a games company has become defunct, but the games are still under copyright, effort must still be made by the author to secure permission, or to demonstrate that attempts were made to contact the last known rightsholder.

The rights/permissions issues are not limited to archaeogaming. Entire countries such as Greece and Turkey have copyrighted their patrimony, meaning authors must get permission from culture ministries and museums in order to illustrate archaeological examples. Games developers (especially AAA houses) operate like these countries, and it is next to impossible to use legally one’s own gameplay captures. These companies go so far as to forbid any kind of archiving, preservation, or reverse-engineering of abandoned titles, which makes it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to save games from disappearing. Until rights-holders agree to loosen their regulations on their intellectual property for approved scientific and educational purposes, authors of works about games media publish audio-visual supporting materials at their peril.

*Please note that I am not an intellectual property lawyer, and the above text reflects my own personal experience with academic publishing about games media. Researchers should consult and adhere to corporate guidelines and should, wherever possible, contact rights-holders for permission to publish audio-visual materials and code.

Conclusion

2018 marks a turning point in archaeogaming scholarship with the eponymous book now out, but more importantly with several post-graduate students about to complete their doctoral-level work on video game archaeology in its various forms (ethics, authorship, excavation, etc.). There will be a surge in the next few years of academic articles written and submitted on games archaeology, and authors, publishers, and developers must work together to find the best, ethical, and fair way forward to distribute the fruits of our academic labor.

—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

 

 

 

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