Archaeogaming is an archaeological framework which, broadly speaking, includes the study of archaeology in and of video games as well as the use of video-games for archaeological purposes. To this end, the study can include, but is in no means limited to: the physical excavation of video-game hardware, the use of archaeological methods within game worlds, the creation of video-games for or about archaeological practices and outcomes or the critical study of how archaeology is represented in video-games. Virtual and augmented reality applications in archaeology might also be subsumed within its rubric.
M. Dennis states that archaeogaming is “the utilization and treatment of immaterial space to study created culture, specifically through videogames” which “requires treating a game world, a world bounded and defined by the limitations of its hardware, software and coding choices, as both a closed universe and as an extension of the external culture that created it. Everything that goes into the immaterial space comes from its external cultural source, in one way or another.” Taking this into consideration the archaeogaming framework indicates that there is no functional difference between studying archaeology in the physical, material world, and implementing it with regards to the study, critique and creation of video-games for and about archaeology. As such it is said that archaeogaming “requires the same standards of practice as the physical collection of excavated data, only with a different toolset. It also provides the opportunity to use game worlds to reflect on practice, theory and the perceptions of [archaeology].”
The first recorded use of the term “archaeogaming” appears on June 9, 2013 on Andrew Reinhard’s blog, in which he discusses the archaeological underpinnings of World of Warcraft and extrapolates that there is the potential to explore the gameplay and construction of these worlds using an archaeological methodology. The term went on to be retroactively applied to work previously carried out within the umbrella of video-games and archaeology, for example, the ethnographic investigations conducted by E. Johnson in Skyrim. The term has been developed by various academics since the first inception and development is ongoing. Though Reinhard is credited with first applying the term to this study it is noted here that many other academic enquiries have previously tackled the topic under different names such as gaming archaeology and game-archaeology.
Types of Archaeogaming
There are many forms or sub-categories within the wider archaeogaming discipline, ranging from the study of the material culture of video-games through to the creation of video-games as a means to think about or represent archaeological practices, processes or outcomes. The core categories will be discussed in turn below.
Archaeology of video-games (real-world excavation)
The archaeology of video-games in the physical world entails the excavation of material culture using conventional and specialist archaeogaming methodologies. Excavation of the Atari video game burial, which uncovered E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial cartridges from the New Mexico landfill site, is an example of this form of archaeogaming.
Archaeology in video-games (digital excavation)
The archaeogaming sub-category of digital excavation refers to using archaeological methods to dig into how video-games operate. An example of this method can be found in J. Aycock’s use of computer-science methods to explore the construction and implementation of features within video-games. Douglas Heaven wrote about the archaeology of rubbish/garbage within virtual worlds for New Scientist. The June 2016 release of No Man's Sky (Hello Games) will also see the launch of the No Man's Sky Archaeological Survey, the first formal archaeology project undertaken within a procedurally created universe.
Critical Examination of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in video-games
The critical study of how archaeology has, could and should be used in video-games is perhaps the broadest and most widely represented sub-category of the archaeogaming group in academic and popular literature. Proponents of this sector discuss how archaeology has been represented in externally produced games and construct frameworks which aim to develop better representations of archaeological material, practices and outputs.
Cultural heritage is also explored in an archaeological way via archaeogaming, from critical reviews of games such as Subnautica and Never Alone, to online playthroughs of games such as Far Cry Primal by professors and students of archaeology.
Contributors have also explored aspects of game design and creation in relation to the discipline of archaeogaming, exposing parallels in the development of titles like Day Of The Tentacle Remastered to the archaeological process.
Creating archaeological video-games
There are two key branches within this sub-grouping: the practice of creating video-games which represent archaeological material, practices or processes or the creation of video-games to serve archaeological needs. The former of these categories can be seen in the production of games for museums, exhibitions or online sites, usually with the express aim of educating or informing an audience. The latter of the categories focusses on how video-games, as a media form, can be used to supplement, overcome or provide novel methods for recording, expressing or communicating archaeology for academic purposes.
Archaeogaming began receiving global attention upon the publication of an August 2015 article on Vice Motherboard by Kathleen Caulderwood, "The Archaeologist Who Studies World of Warcraft". The story received wider circulation courtesy of a follow-up piece on the video game site Kotaku, "Actual Archaeologist is Digging through World of Warcraft, Skyrim". Guokr, a Chinese science and technology news site reported on archaeogaming shortly thereafter, followed by German technology site Technology Review.
Archaeogaming has been the subject of two national radio broadcasts in Canada and Ireland, first on CBC's Spark radio program with Nora Young, "We're Kind of making it up as we Go Along": What it's like to be a Video Game Archaeologist" and then on Ireland's Lyric FM Culture File with Eleanor Flegg, "What is Archaeogaming?"
In April, 2016, a group of academics gathered at Leiden University, Netherlands, as part of the VALUE conference on interactive pasts. The purpose of this conference was to present current research, engage in critical discussion of archaeology and video-games and to develop a manifesto for the development of the necessary theoretical, methodological and practice based frameworks involved under the broad term of archaeogaming. The core tenets of the first draft of the manifesto (1.0) are as follows:
- To create a common language for describing the intersection between archaeology and video-games
- To develop the methodological, practice-based and theoretical paradigms required for effective analysis, critique and development
- To develop effective methods for communicating with the game development industry regarding the use of archaeological entities
- To develop ethical frameworks for engaging with archaeological material within video-games
- To curate and provide data-sets, information and modes of communication which are accessible to developers wishing to access archaeological material
- To develop platforms whereby the public can access integral archaeological information about and for video-games
- To preserve games, game culture and game history using appropriate archaeological method and theory
- To approach the study of the public perception of archaeology in / of video-games as well as their surrounding culture (including conventions, cosplays, fanart etc.) with due care and appropriate methodological approaches.
- To engage with the development history, the developer culture and the impact which this has on the game development practice through an archaeological lens
- To develop the field of archaeogaming on an academic, public and industry level through effective knowledge sharing, centralization and open information.
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