Archaeogaming 1 – What is Archaeogaming?

Welcome back to another Coffee Break Archaeology blog where we will be examining Archaeogaming.

Those of you who have seen my Let’s Plays of the C14 dating simulator on my YouTube channel, and followed my blogs on the lead up to Christmas, will no that I love gaming. A particular interest of mine are video games that feature archaeology, or say they do, and looking for some of best archaeology themed games out there. This also peaked my interest in the relatively new field of ‘Archaeogaming, which is not just about games featuring or including archaeology, but about all video games. So it is my intent not just to look at these games in how they represent archaeology, but in the broader sense of Archaeogaming.

So, what is Archaeogaming? In his 2018 book ‘Archaeogaming – An introduction to archaeology archaeology in and of video games’ Andrew Reinhard defines ‘Archaeogaming as the following:

“Archaeogaming, broadly defined, is the archaeology both in and of digital games. Archaeology is the study of of the ancient and most recent human past through material remains in the pursuit of a broad and comprehensive understanding of human culture. In archaeogaming, archaeology is not just used as an anthology or metaphor for a certain kind of analysis. As will be described in the following chapters, digital games are archaeological sites, landscapes, and artifacts, and game-spaces held within those media can also be understood archaeologically as digital built environments containing their own material culture. ” (Reinhard, 2018).

Games can be understood on two levels,: In game (synthetic worlds) and extra gaming (natural world), existing at the same time, using hardware as the nexus connecting the two (Reinhard 2018). Archaeogaming also examines the gaming industry and its culture, the development and creation of games and the broader aspects of gaming culture.

Reinhard also sets out his book five broad themes of Archaeogaming as he sees it, reflecting the work he and his colleagues are currently doing in the field. They are:

  1. Archaeogaming is he study of the physical video games as well as the metadata surrounding the games themselves. This is the media archaeology approach, which views a game as physical artifact, looking a the box, the manuals, the disk/cartridges, exploring its history of use on a personal level as well as a commercial level and everywhere in between. The Atari excavation in 2014 too this idea literally. The video game archaeologist can now study hardware and software and how they combine for gameplay. Archaeogamers can compare gaming on a physical media to downloading the same content from places such as Steam, a computer based video-game-delivery platform, store and community. We can explore modding communities (creating modifications for games) and how games change through ownership. We can explore how a games change within a series and how they influence other games in a long tradition of flattery and theft. We can reverse engineer games to understand the underlying code and structures and the materials that house them..
  2. Archaeogaming is the study of archaeology with video games. This is the reception studies approach where we see how games, game developers, and players project and perceive who archaeologists are and what they do. We can explore the phenomenon of looting and the emerging field of archaeological ethics within games. We can see how games actively enable players to conduct archaeological study. We can examine the tropes of popularized archaeology and how they contribute to the archaeology experience.
  3. Archaeogaming is the application of archaeological methods to synthetic space. This where we do our in-game fieldwalking, artifact collecting, typologies, understanding of context, even aerial/satellite photography. Instead of studying material culture (and intangible heritage) of cultures and civilizations that exist in “meatspace” , we instead study those in the immaterial world.
  4. Archaeogaming is the approach to understanding how game design manifests everything players see and interact with in-world.
  5. Archaeogaming is the archaeology of game mechanics and the entanglement of code with players. Video games are multi-sensory collections of interactive mthenath, so what deeper meaning(s) can the video game archaeologist infer from new kinds of archaeological sites and how players engage with them? (Reinhard 2018)

So it is my intention to use these five themes and guidelines outlined in Reinhard’s book to evaluate the the three games I am currently looking at, which are: C14 Dating (the first Let’s Play of this can be found on my YouTube channel), Archaeology X and Barrow Hill Curse of the Ancient Circle. A slightly longer project will also apply these to the game that I usually play to relax, World of Warcraft. This will also give me a chance to review the book and test frameworks and methods that that it outlines. This will take the form mainly of Let’s Plays on my YouTube channel, and blog posts on here. I have not set a firm timescale or timetable for this yet, but I am working on it and will let you know when this finalized.

As mentioned above, probably one of the most extreme examples of the idea of Archaeogaming was the 2014 Atari Excavation. I do not want to go into much detail here, but it may be the subject of another article. However, if you want to find out more before then, I will link some useful links to articles at the end of this article. Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Crowshaw of The Escapist Magazine’s Zero Punctuation series has also produced a very good and funny article on the lead up on the matter. I also think that beyond on that video, the way that Yahtzee approaches his videos is very much in the spirit and theme of Archaeogaming and I would highly recommend his videos certainly for the entertainment value. Warning they are not family friendly. I will also link to his Atari video at the end of the article.

But how is Archaeogaming archaeology and is it real archaeology? Well you will have to wait for my thoughts on the issue in Part 2!

Please let me know your thoughts on Archaeogaming and whether you have any suggestions for good games that we can apply these methods too, Or have you tried? Please let me know,

Sources:

Reinhard, Andrew. 2018. Archaeogaming An Introduction to Archaeology in and of Video Games. Bergham Books.

Useful Links:

Atari Excavations:

https://www.archaeology.org/issues/139-1407/trenches/2189-new-mexico-atari-dump-site-excavation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_video_game_burial

Disclaimer: Please note that I have no affiliation with Andrew Reinhard or The Escapist Magazine. This blog was not sponsored. I am an an interested amateur and not a professional, and do not present any professional body or organisations or their views.

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