Archaeogaming is the archaeology in and of games. This post explores the archaeological and historical documentation of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Discover Tour as a modern artifact and interpretation of literature, acting as a time capsule of current understandings of Ancient Greece
While running through the landscape to different point of interests, I had time to think about the implications of recording and presenting history in an interactive format of digital games. The beautifully detailed landscape is constructed with the current understanding of Greek history and archaeology. Additionally, the Discovery Tour itself is crafted based upon this modern information. This opens up several questions and notions on how Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and the Discovery Tour, acts as a time capsule in the modern interpretation, understanding, and analysis of Ancient Greece.
Landscape and Interpretation
The Assassin’s Creed Odyssey landscape, as learned in the Discovery Tour, was created through procedural generation. The specific parameters of the generated landscape are embedded in the code (Andrew Reinhard established that procedurally generated codes can and should be studied archaeologically in a way to better determine how virtually built environments are created). The most interesting aspect of this to me is specifically which parameters were specifically imported to generate the landscapes and how much of the landscape was procedurally generated. In digital heritage, there are instances where entire archaeological cities have been created using procedural generation, such as at the work of Heather Richards-Rissetto at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and Bernard Frischer’s Rome Reborn. If parts of the towns were procedurally generated, it could be worth investigating the documentation of such a code. Even the parameters for the environment, which is most likely created in large part by procedural generation, would be interesting to look at further in a full-scale archaeogaming study.
It’s just the code and procedural generation that is interesting. The landscape itself as it was created, regardless of the use of procedural code or those assets that were built using more manual methods, represents a snapshot in time of the information and analysis in terms of Ancient Greek history and archaeology. Based upon the current known information about the Ancient Greek world, the landscapes were created. The cities were designed and painted. The characters were developed, some of them named and some of them general citizens. Narratives surrounding Greek mythology and events were written and are presented. These all become artifacts of the time during which they were created. Take, for example, the way that Odyssey presents the painted temples and statues. If a game presenting Ancient Greece had been created prior to innovations in archaeological science which allowed researchers to discover traces of paint on the statuary in museums, then that game would look entirely different to the one we see today. It would present a view of the Classical world as much less colorful than it really was. This hypothetical game created prior to the discovery of Greek statues being painted would serve as an artifact of that period.
A Historical Document and Archaeological Artifact
In this way, game of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey encodes our own modern cultural values and understandings into its built environment. Ideas about how Ancient Greece was or should be presented documents these different decisions. Much like how if we look at older Assassin’s Creed games we see these aspects similarly. Regardless of whether or not new research changes the state of information about Ancient Greece, the 2018 understanding of historical and archaeological paradigms are documented in Odyssey. In future historiographies or archaeological investigations, perhaps Odyssey will serve a similar purpose to archaeological reports or academic publications.
In this way, the Discovery Tour itself becomes an artifact and, simultaneously, a historical document. The aggregated and curated information about Ancient Greece available in the Discovery Tour suggests several aspects of the current paradigms of theory and interpretation of archaeology and history. Since the consolation of an archaeologist and historian of the Ancient world was present in the development of the Tour, the presentation of the material can analyzed through the lens of trained 21st Century academics. For example, there is a moment in the Tour regarding the Minoans where the landscape’s early physical restoration to a specific period in time. The Tour comments that the restoration of the physical space was problematic in that it only shows a certain period of the site’s history, rather than presenting the entirety of the site’s complex historical value. This is something which has not necessarily been seen as problematic in the past, but has become and issue to be aware of when looking at physically restoring an archaeological site. This moment is presents the modern conversation around restoration and interpretation of materials and spaces which will be preserved in Discovery Tour like it would have been the academic literature and discourse.
The game of Odyssey and its Discovery Tour is an artifact to be studied archaeologically in terms of the game’s physical materials, code, and assets and as documentation of the current understanding an interpretation of Ancient Greece. It will be interesting in the future to see how much analyses of the Classical world may change, and the Discovery Tour can be used to document such a change. The Discovery Tour is a valuable resource of public archaeology and history as well. It shows a larger public Ancient Greece in a way that they may not necessarily have seen before and allows them to discover the truths in the game’s narratives and to learn about Ancient Greece in a way unique to the gaming experience. It is safe to say that this will likely be one of those games that encourages people to engage in the history and archaeology of Ancient Greece as other games like Rome Total War and Civilization have done previously.
–Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
18 October 2019