Tag Archives: video games

New Publication: Afterword – The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games

I was happy to see VALUE’s volume The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage & Video Games released today. There are several fantastic, thought-provoking chapters in it, and I highly recommend you check it out, and it’s free to read online. I wrote a short afterword for it:

West of House

You are standing in an open eld west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

>open mailbox
Opening the small mailbox reveals an invitation.

>read invitation
“WELCOME TO ARCHAEOGAMING!
ARCHAEOGAMING is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No computer should be without one!”

>|

The blinking cursor at the beginning of an interactive text adventure held all the expectation in the world. A universe of words waited for you, and simple commands propelled you headlong into a maze of spoonerisms, chasing ghosts, solving puzzles; the blinking cursor could lead you to meet Zaphod Beeblebrox or get eaten by a grue. Zork – the game referenced above – seemed endlessly complex, sending you to Hades and back for treasure. It is within this breathless anticipation of fun that we find archaeogaming, a term usefully coined by Andrew Reinhard. Archaeology’s constant collisions with digital media, storytelling, and co-creation made this eventuality inevitable, and archaeologists are rapidly forming the lexicon for understanding how to speak ludology. I find Janet Murray’s germinal Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) essential to this discourse; archaeogaming and other expressive forms of digital archaeology are what Murray terms as incunabula, an infant medium, untested and unwise in methodology and scope. Perhaps this is why they are so compelling….

(read the rest here)

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The Archaeology of Far Cry Primal

far_cry_primal_test

The professors were in their places, the Twitch stream went live, and Micheál Butler, one of our MA students in Mesolithic Studies started the count-down to 10,000 BC. I am always excited when experimental play sessions come together, as it’s rare to find the right combination of archaeological and technical expertise and the will to bring it all together. We had Professors Nicky Milner (Mesolithic expert, director of the fab Star Carr excavation) and Matthew Collins (encyclopedic knowledge of all things cutting edge in archaeological science) discussing…a video game.

It was a bit quiet at first–I hadn’t heavily promoted the event as I was not sure it was going to work and I was completely frantic at the end of the term with teaching and other responsibilities, but it did, and now Nicky and Matthew were discussing the size of the cowrie shells worn by the characters, hunting in the Mesolithic, saber tooth tigers…and then the questions from the audience started streaming in.

How common was the consumption of raw meat and fat during this period? Did early humans not get sick with parasites and disease often?

Cowrie shell wrist wraps. Accurate, appropriate, fashion-forward?

How often did early humans venture out at night to hunt and scavenge? Further, did early humans operate on the same night/day cycle as we do?

Great questions! Nicky and Matthew were able to bring several archaeological examples into the conversation. I was able to chime in a bit about representation and video gaming in general. You can watch the play-through and conversation here:

Part One:

Part Two:

I am particularly appreciative of this, given that I’ve been dealing with and thinking about video games & archaeology for almost ten years (Tomb Raider & Embodiment, Tomb Raider & Angkor WatMy Game Biography, Video Game Cartography, Avatars I, II, Gone Home, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and oh god so much Second Life). It has been fantastic to see initiatives like the Value Project and Play the Past–and check out Tara Copplestone’s blog on our Far Cry playthrough, where she thoughtfully describes the relationship (or lack thereof) between academic archaeology and video game makers and players.

Further, I appreciate my colleagues here at York for possessing a quality that I’ve previously described as “being game.” That is, being open to experiences of all kinds, and importantly, letting this allow you to see your archaeology in new and interesting ways. It’s my #1 most important trait for people I collaborate with, and can be extremely rare.

So here’s to more play-throughs, gaming, and elbowing out a bit of room for fun in archaeology.

Manifest Destiny: Colonialism, Archaeology, and…Video Games?

You are the monster.

In her brilliant Story Collider podcast, Uzma Rizvi perfectly captures the rupture of graduate school, when, as she states, it becomes obvious that archaeology is “a colonial, racist, epistemically unjust system of knowledge production” and you ask yourself “how did I get here?” It is a question that archaeologists should be asking themselves every day. How did I get here? And how do I proceed?

It’s a bit of a wobbly path–unstable, uncertain, PROCEED WITH CAUTION black & yellow tape dangling in the wind. And yet, as cautious and de-centering and as sensitive as you can be, you are, often, still the monster. You are investigating the remains of the past, sometimes in another country, sometimes in your back yard, and you are navigating through your own cultural perceptions and the colonialist, racist foundations of your discipline to tell a story that might or might not be “true” or even important. This instability, I think, makes a lot of archaeologists & heritage scholars actually hate archaeology. It is actually not an entirely irrational decision, but I can’t agree. It’s too important.

It’s important that there are archaeologists who carry around the millstones of our own discipline’s past, that we have critical self-awareness and continue to engage anyway. It is our challenge to confront these disciplinary monsters and come away humbled yet still persistent. Because we need to continue to intervene in grandiose narratives, to rub dirt and stone and rubbish into histories that exclude women, indigenous people, people of color, the poor, the “othered” and to remove the props that hold up the crap politicians and power structures who use the past to justify present oppression.

And…guess what? The magical thing is that we can do this through traditional & alternative venues of publication, teaching, public outreach and…video games!

Manifest Destiny is an entry into Ludum Dare, a regular online video game jam wherein participants take on a challenge to create a game alone or with a team in 72 hours. Go ahead, fire it up and have a play and then come back.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.48.16 AM

This entry was made by Tara Copplestone and Matt Sanders and is described as “a ‘hack n slash’ with a twist.” The name, Manifest Destiny, is an expansionist impulse to conquer, to colonize, one that is associated with the spread of white settlers across the continental United States in the 19th century.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.51.13 AM

You are a towering figure with a cape, crushing tiny people and structures in your path, getting more points for your efficient destruction. And you have a trail of blood behind you. Sounds pretty accurate, right?

The game goes through four levels with different reconstructed cartoon landscapes, each corresponding to a season. You gain points and you gain dominion, partly represented by the devil horns that point out of your head. You also destroy structures and people with death spikes that come out of the ground. It’s not terribly subtle, but neither was Columbus.

Manifest Destiny is an incredibly detailed game for a 72 hour game jam. The music, upbeat but still slightly sinister, turns dire when you find out the truth of it all.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.52.46 AM

I tried to play the game a few different ways. Yes, first I blew up all of the structures and people, then I tried just exploring without destruction. Finally I just stood there, and waited through the levels. The result was the same. In this last play-through where I stood and didn’t do anything, I noticed that the small people were at first running toward you, then milling around, then finally would run away from you.

The result is the same in each case–perhaps the only way to win is not to play at all. Though this message might have been reinforced by a different result if the character just choose to do nothing.

A “Learn More” button on the final screen points toward the EUROTAST webpage, which is a slightly unwieldy match, though appreciated. It did make me think that we need more in-depth online resources that are easy to point to that are arranged around current issues. What does archaeology have to teach us about state oppression? What does anthropological study have to say about forms of marriage?

Manifest Destiny is a creative, appreciated intervention that explores game conventions to highlight historic injustices.

Post-photography and Archaeology

minecraft_death_collage

Eron Rauch’ post-photography in video games: “This panorama is made up of screenshots of every player corpse I came across while I levelled up my character in World of Warcraft.”

Last week I submitted my CAA paper, The Death (and Afterlife) of Archaeological Photography, for publication in the proceedings. It’s the second paper on photography and archaeology that I’ve submitted this month; the first was Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement and covered the analog to digital transition, with some added content/semiotic analysis thrown in for good measure. It’s nice finally submitting some of this stuff for publication, and I still have a fairly large unpublished chunk to go. Let’s hope it gets through the peer review process relatively unscathed.

The Death & Afterlife paper deals with a second “wave” of digital photography in archaeology. I argue that the first wave was essentially skeuomorphic–that it replicated composition and content from film photography, just more and faster. The second wave has moved into what has been termed the post-photographic, and I explore what this means in terms of 3D photogrammetric reconstruction, drone photography, and geomedia. Though photography in archaeology is becoming increasingly algorithmic, with more layers processed and varying results at the end, the output at the end still points toward photography. For example, your nice 3D Photoscan model is still presented as a 2D image in your report. What will be truly revolutionary is when publication no longer flattens archaeology.

Photography in archaeology is, as Martin Lister states, “a residual cultural practice…technically dead but still animate,” a trait I cite in the title of my article. Photography is incredibly useful to think with, especially as we try to understand the place of digital media in archaeological interpretation. Photography is deeply implicated in the history of archaeology, both as products and projects of modernity. In my conclusions, I discuss the post-photographic in terms of the post-digital; I cite the post-digital as a shift akin to the postcolonial, what Florian Cramer calls a “critically revised continuation” rather than a turn toward the analog. Jeremy Huggett has posted some thoughts regarding the postdigital as well.

I was still thinking of all of this when I came across Eron Rauch’s A Land to Die in, a momento mori for video games–photographs of all the corpses of other players that he came across in World of Warcraft. His photographs remind me of those taken on Mount Everest, of people felled in mid-adventure, “a constant reminder of the masses of other people and their stories; some who conquered, some who fell, a million virtual Beowulfs”. I think about this as I make avatars of past people and machinima of past landscapes that end up becoming still images in powerpoint slides. Not-quite-photographs of not-quite-right reconstructions of dead people, all coming together in pixels. Can we still ask: what does the archaeological post-digital photograph want?

My Game Biography

Greg Niemeyer guest-lectured in my Interactive Narrative class last Wednesday, giving us a fast but thorough grounding in Alternate Reality games and game research in general. It was one of those interdisciplinary moments that I really appreciate, wherein I encounter a scholar who is utterly fluent in his arena and am able to draw him out into discussion about archaeological theory and finds, gaining no small amount of enlightenment and a new perspective on my research.

He was very approachable and open, and I got the sense that was a true gift when it came to designing games. I also don’t think he was used to people pushing back a bit–he has an interesting perspective on the placement and utility of games within society that I don’t entirely agree with, but I don’t entirely disagree as well.While this is a simplified summary, he feels that games help us deal with larger societal issues and specifically referenced World of Warcraft as an arena where people can come together into teams to solve large problems, mirroring our growing need to solve international issues such as global warming. I kept thinking of some of the finds that I’ve come across over the years, specifically the large assemblage of “game pieces” that Michael House excavated at Catalhoyuk with sheep knuckle dice and black and white stones. Niemeyer asked me if I knew the rules to the game and I hadn’t actually considered the possible rules to go along with the assemblage and what these rules might tell us about the Neolithic. I also chatted with him about mancala and the prevalence of the game along trade routes, but I’ll save my thoughts about that for another post.

Anyway, my notes from the lecture are extremely useful and it was one of the more worthwhile discussions I’ve had at Berkeley. I had known about his work through Jane McGonigal and the larger Berkeley Center for New Media sphere, but hadn’t specifically checked out his papers or classes. Like a good grad student, I looked up his CV before he came to class and discovered his Game Biography, “based on the notion that we learn everything we know from playing games.” Seeing as how I’m always “game,” I thought I’d write one myself.

1984 – Hide and Seek in cornfields in Oklahoma; Soccer
1985 – Oregon Trail, still the best educational game ever
1986 – Super Mario Bros/Pitfall/Duck Hunt/Marble Madness!
1987 – Zork, Moonmist, Nord & Bert Couldn’t Make a Head or a Tail of It, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–Interactive Fiction was the best.
1988 – Scrabble – endless games with my folks
1991 – Super Mario Bros. 3 – my mom would sometimes rent a SNES from the video store
1994 – Stickmud, where I talked to people from Sweden and Finland
1996 – Ludune, the failed mud that me and my Seattle roomates tried to design
1997 – Final Fantasy 7
1998 – Final Fantasy Tactics
1999 – Civilization II
2000 – Final Fantasy 9
2001 – Dance Dance Revolution
2002 – Suikoden 3
2005 – Katamari Damacy
2006 – Neverwinter Nights
2007 – Cruel 2 B Kind
2008 – Dragon Age, Backgammon
2009 – Dragon Age – Awakening
2010 – Kingdom of Loathing

The dates aren’t necessarily all correct or all-inclusive, but these are the games that I most remember–primarily console/PC games, it turns out!  I often remark that I’m sad that I don’t have more time for games, as there are so many really incredible immersive worlds and narratives out there. I feel like I’ve missed a large cultural moment by never playing World of Warcraft, but my academic career would have surely suffered. Or at least that’s what I tell myself–maybe I would have been better suited for solving large, international problems if I would have played!

Video Game Cartography and the Magic Circle

CIV2

In partial fulfillment of my designated emphasis in New Media, I’m taking a class this semester with Ozge Samanci, the author/cartoonist of ordinary things, a web comic. I am really busy with dissertation and whatnot, but I always enjoy taking classes in the New Media department as they are truly interdisciplinary–I’ve met fascinating grad students from the School of Information, Rhetoric, and Religious Studies and they give me unique perspectives on the work I do.

So one of the students in the class is writing his thesis on Narratology and classic Japanese video games, the kind that I played years ago, like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden, and Final Fantasy Tactics. I also played Civilization II, which is where the above image came from–it’s one of the only examples I could find!

Anyway, during the course of discussion regarding Seymour Chatman’s structuralist literary theory I realized that I visualize exploring space in a way very closely relating to those early video games.  When I go to a new city or go out on survey, I think of myself as clearing a path through darkness, “mapping” the features of the landscape, illuminating them in my mind. I always have the urge to clear out all of the dark space, to explore every centimeter until it is all visible, in relief, in my mental map of the space. This is probably not deeply unique, but I find it pretty funny that these early video games gave me such a rigid mental metaphor for experiencing place. As Sybille Lammes says in her excellent Cultural Functions of Spatial Practices in Video Games, “in Latourian terms, one could state that the game space consists of landscapes as hybrids of objective and subjective spatial (re)presentations.” I’ve blogged about augmented reality before, without realizing that I already experience space in a oddly cyborgian way.

Lammes also describes the ludological term, “the magic circle,” a “membrane that encloses virtual worlds,” which Lammes states is “more about games as space than about space in games” but that it still has “major consequences for the way spatiality can be understood in games.” I’ve somehow permeated the magic circle and brought a visualization metaphor out into the real life to overlay my experience of the world.

Hmph. Maybe I should carry a sword.