The Game Theorists is a YouTube channel which analyzes digital games. In their videos, there are many tools which archaeogamers can (and should) use for their studies. By adding to the list and making these elements known, the archaeogaming community can think of these methods and new ones as a communal effort to improve archaeological methods in digital games.
While playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the scale of the ancient world and archaeological questions regarding the landscape and architecture of the Greek world have sprung to mind. The in-game waypoint markers provide a scale in meters which can allow archaegamers to ask and answer questions about the Greek world using the game itself (though I have not tried to test the accuracy of the waypoint marker scales myself). Bernard Frisher spoke at the IEMA conference on Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age, organized by Kevin Garstki, (at Buffalo, New York in April 2019) where he asked and answered questions about scale in of Ancient Rome through his game, Rome Reborn, as the model by which to answer these questions. Ancient scholars could ask and answer similar questions about the Greek world using the virtual reconstruction of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. This means that it is not only useful to create and document digital methods and tools for scale in archaeogaming but also for the study of historic sites as represented in digital games.
But for games which don’t necessarily provide specific and easily verifiable scales, how do archaeogamers provide this information? Certainly creative thinking is required to provide the proper tools for archaeogaming in terms of scale and measurements. The 2016 SAA issue on Archaeology and Games [Morgan 2016] did provide some insights into the use of different digital objects and speed as methods for determining world scale, like in World of Warcraft. But when a specific scale is figured out, how are archaeologists disseminating this information and this standard? And how are the standards being verified, if at all, by other archaeogamers and general users?
For several years, I have been a fan of a YouTube channel called The Game Theorists. Their videos cover a variety of topics ranging from deep lore theories to math and science as applied to gaming to meta-theories about gaming on YouTube and the communities surrounding games. The channel’s goal is not just to over analyze games but to open the minds of viewers to new angles and possibilities. There are countless ways in which they use different methods to measure and document scale in digital spaces, while also using lore and cannon materials external to the game as other forms of verification of their results.
Last year, they published a video on Fallout 76. In the video, they need to know about the size of the map for their theory in a game which does not provide distance in a measurable unit via the waypoint marker. Instead, the way that they calculated the map size was through using the known scale of a regulation basketball court. By running the distance of the court and then the distance between waypoint markers, they figured out the area that the map covered. They also provide the numbers to the viewer which archaeogamers can later use to ask questions about scale of spaces and objects in the Fallout 76 games. (For those who are curious, the video states that the Fallout 76 map is 29.7 square kilometers) The video also provides the information on how fast the player character runs in Fallout 76 (3.6 meters per second for those interested) which may prove to be useful information for archaeogamers.
This tool and method can (and should) be added to the archaeogaming toolbox. Not only did they figure out how large Fallout 76 is, but also they provided a useful way to measure other games in which a place or object with a known scale exists. Players in Fallout 76 have a scale by which to analyze the game’s landscape which means they can calculate the scale of other spaces and objects in game. The data and method is also accessible to anyone who wishes to evaluate the accuracy of the data or ask new questions about the game.
Similarly, the use of distance markers in games for the evaluation of scale is a tool which The Game Theorists have used and which would be helpful for archaeogamers. Their video on the scale of New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey proves that the distance markers display meters as the unit of measurement. Using a known scale, in this case Mario’s known height, they verified that the distance was in fact accurate and reliable. They then used the in game distance meter and known heights to evaluate the scale of New Donk City. This provides a simple and interesting adaptation of understanding the size of the game content by using the distance marker as a base. It is not only through the use of in-game information but also in the context as provided by the game documentation and supplementary materials, such as the accompanying game guides or lore books.
Questions and hypotheses in archaeogaming will inevitably require some interesting and creative ways to measure distance in game. In the pursuit of studying digital games, the archaeogamer’s toolbox can and should adapt methods from other sources and fields, like archaeology itself has done and continues to do, in order to better understand and evaluate the digital world and game spaces. At the moment, compiling a list of methods by which to measure and verify scale and size in video games is a start. In recognizing the need for tools, knowing that there may already be a way in which someone else has already tried to measure a specific game is useful, not only in saving time, but also in the verification of their results. Where work has been done or where a canon height has been established, it is important to note these measurements and scales as well.
This being said, it may be helpful to use these methods to determine in-game units, but preferable some sort of international standard could and should be created. When games provide archaeogamers with the tools to determine distance in “real” units, like meters, this helps us understand the scale in terms of the real world. However, there are instances where units of measurement and scale would perhaps be more valuable in their own terms in order to better understand the digital world’s scale within itself. Of course, like many issues in archaeology, the purpose of the study will reflect which types of measurements would be best in researching digital worlds.
—Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
23 August 2019