While it is established that the archaeology in and of games means digital games, it also easily expands into the tabletop gaming world (or as referred to in the academic literature: analogue games). There is a lot of material for archaeogamer to work with in tabletop gaming. For example, Magic: The Gathering, a trading-card game (TCG) established in 1994, has produced several cards with the word “archaeologist” specifically being used. Archaeogamers can look  at the perceptions of archaeology through evaluating these cards for their name, artwork, mechanic, and flavor text. Throughout the years, the evaluation of the portrayal of an archaeologist can also be evaluated.

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 1.45.34 PM.png
Screenshot from Wizard of the Coast’s Gatherer, a database of all the Magic: The Gathering cards. One result for the search term “archaeologist”.

The past few years have been considered a revival of tabletop games and gaming and there are many questions we can ask about the present, past, and perceptions through studying analogue games. Questions about the perceptions of archaeology and affective archaeology (a term created by Sara Perry) may be put to the test in a tabletop gaming. An interesting device for affective archaeology and for testing and evaluating perceptions of archaeology and archaeological sites is in that of role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons. There are a plethora of systems to use from more complex systems like Pathfinder to simpler ones like to Fate Core System. Even the most basic and freeform RPGs like Roll for Shoes can be adapted for the use in archaeology and for places archaeogaming.

Tabletop (or Analogue) Games

In this resurgence of tabletop gaming, new games are readily available to be studied archaeologically. On the @archaeogaming Twitter, I have been posting about several interesting aspects of archaeogaming in the analogue space and have learned about several archaeologically themed games. In three different instances where the term archaeology is explicitly used in describing the tabletop game, there are three unique takes on archaeology. The most interesting to me being the French game Operation Archeo which is a cooperative game about saving archaeological sites and heritage. This is especially true when comparing it to the Australian game Archaeology: The New Expedition where the players are collecting treasure.

This is just the perceptions of archaeology in tabletop games. There are bounds of other areas to study analogue games archaeologically. The idea of the physical game as being an artifact and using the materials in a game as a way to answer academic question is archaeological in and of itself. For example, Mountains of Madness shows provides two genders on each character card, with the character maintaining the same name and roles (or lack thereof as it were). How is this artifact of the player card evidence of the current culture? What can we learn from other player cards in other games in comparison? Establishing the idea that the game is in and of itself archaeological material also presents the question of materiality in tabletop gaming.

There is this aspect in archaeogaming of the physical materials of the games, like the cartridges, disks, controllers, and consoles, which can be studied. Much like the Atari Excavation, tabletop games leave behind evidence of the boom and subsequent fall in popularity of gaming and the gaming industry. This means that the tabletop games themselves are artifacts which we can study and evaluate archaeologically. 

Historic Games found in the Archaeological Record

It is in the idea of analogue games as archaeological material that the study of ancient and historical games can be studied. There have been several instances of archaeological finds of dice and miniatures. Most recently an article about a female viking warrior gained media attention. In the academic article which provided that the warrior was female (usually the tombs of warriors are considered male simply due to the grave goods and context), Hedenstierna-Jonson et al. (2017) note that the tomb contained gaming pieces. In the same article, the authors cite the work of Helene Wittaker (2008) who explores gaming in other ancient cultures as per the context of grave goods. Additionally, Greek games have been found in and around Sicily but the games themselves have yet to be studied in depth. With the archaeology in and of games, the archaeological evidence of games should also be considered in the societies of past peoples. While archaeological evidence for historic games and the study of the history of gaming indeed exists, archaeogaming’s definition should expand to absorb archaeological evidence and studies of games in the past. 

Archaeogaming can and should include both analogue and digital games. Similar questions can be asked about both types of games, specifically in the perception of archaeology in games and through games and physical nature of analogue game as an archaeological material in and of itself. Ancient gaming and historic games are also an important part of the study of gaming in an archaeological sense. While the history of games and historians of gaming exist, there is plenty of material to work with for the archaeological analysis of ancient and historic games. It is necessary to include analogue gaming in archaeogaming for not only the purpose of understanding past and present material culture of gaming but also in evaluating the various aspects of the archaeology and the perception of archaeology in analogue games. 

—Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
26 July 2019

Analogue Games Studies is an Open Access academic journal which seeks to publish various types of work evaluating analogue games. This is one of the current avenues for publishing the study of modern analogue games and provides interesting aspects of evaluating analogue games through various lenses and disciplines. 

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