Conference

Interactive Pasts

My abstract for Interactive Pasts (VALUE) archaeogaming conference, Leiden Netherlands

Conference Abstract Proposal

Topic 1: Video games in archaeological research (i.e. how archaeologists might use games for their research, perhaps as experimental archaeology or for modelling etc.)

Short Abstract

How to classify and predict the range, success and future of video games in archaeological research? I suggest a revealing way of evaluating such an area is to examine how they employ interaction. After describing exemplars of different types of interaction I will propose that an effective educational and engaging mix of archaeology and video games would be far more likely if games existed that leverage their game mechanics to help teach archaeological methods, approaches and interpretations. According to Sicart (Sicart, 2008) “A game mechanic, then, is the action invoked by an agent to interact with the game world, as constrained by the game rules.” Archaeologists don’t appear to have easy to translate mechanics for their process of discovery and understanding that we can transform into game mechanics to engage and educate the public with the methods and approaches of archaeology and heritage studies.

And yet digital archaeology as immersive virtual environments should be interactive because data changes, technologies change andinteraction can provide for different types of learning preferences while drawing in the younger generations. That said, interaction alone is not very useful, what is the point of clicking buttons if we don’t know how the changes depict and reconfigure the narrative, interpretations or other types of evidence? In this talk I hope to provide a personal overview and reflection on the types of interaction in general and mechanics in particular that could better help the design of video games for archaeological (and heritage) purposes.

Long Abstract

When we assess the impact and potential of video games for archaeological research we could classify them in a myriad of ways, for example: via their subject matter, platforms, genres, learning outcomes or interaction methods. Because I feel that most virtual heritage environments greatly underestimate the power and complexity of interaction and forget the original reason for their existence, I usually place more emphasis on interaction, audience feedback and objectives. In previous publications (Champion and Dave, 2002, Champion, 2011) I suggested that virtual environments could be usefully classified in terms of their purpose, for visualisation, to support activity, or as hermeneutic environments.

I’d like to amend this simple classification. Initially I thought there were two subcategories of hermeneutic virtual environments, those that reveal things about ourselves to ourselves and those that reveal the intentions and beliefs of others (past or present) to us. For archaeological and heritage purposes I think we need a further subcategory or division, there are activity-based virtual environments (video games) that attempt to reveal the culturally specific ways in which people created, modified and experienced past environments.

I can also see a potential conflict here between the objectives of archaeology as a science and heritage studies as a communication medium (Harvey, 2001, Addison, 2001) but there is an even more fundamental issue: do archaeology and video gaming mix? Could they work together fruitfully? In the words of Katy Meyers (Meyers, 2011):

“Archaeology is a fairly common video game theme, and why wouldn’t it be? Distant lands, searching for lost treasures, the threat of competing looters and foreign governments, the possibilities of cursed tombs, with only the lone archaeologist to right the wrongs and triumph … But this is a far cry from reality, where the only epic battles of archaeology are between the professors and the funding agencies, and the quest for relics is a long, slow, well researched one. Real archaeology involves working closely with the cultures under investigation, collaborating across nations, and detailed planning.”

I contend that an effective educational and engaging mix of archaeology and video games would be far more likely if games existed that leverage their game mechanics to help teach archaeological methods, approaches and interpretations. According to Sicart (Sicart, 2008) “A game mechanic, then, is the action invoked by an agent to interact with the game world, as constrained by the game rules.” Archaeologists don’t appear to have easy to translate mechanics for their process of discovery and understanding that we can transform into game mechanics to engage and educate the public with the methods and approaches of archaeology and heritage studies.

And yet digital archaeology as immersive virtual environments should be interactive because data changes, technologies change andinteraction can provide for different types of learning preferences while drawing in the younger generations. That said, interaction alone is not very useful, what is the point of clicking buttons if we don’t know how the changes depict and reconfigure the narrative, interpretations or other types of evidence? In this talk I hope to provide a personal overview and reflection on the types of interaction in general and mechanics in particular that could better help the design of video games for archaeological (and heritage) purposes.

Addison, A. C. 2001. Virtual heritage: technology in the service of culture. Proceedings of the 2001 conference on Virtual reality, archeology, and cultural heritage. Glyfada, Greece: ACM.

Champion, E. 2011. Playing With The Past, London, Springer.

Champion, E. & Dave, B. Where is this place. Proceedings of ACADIA 2002: Thresholds Between Physical and Virtual, 2002. 87-97.

Harvey, D. C. 2001. Heritage pasts and heritage presents: temporality, meaning and the scope of heritage studies. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 7, 319-338.

Meyers, K. 2011. The Advernturing Archaeologicist Trope. Play the past [Online]. Available: http://www.playthepast.org/?p=1635 [Accessed 15 January 2016].

Sicart, M. 2008. Defining Game Mechanics. Game Studies, International Journal of Computer Game Research [Online], 8. Available: http://gamestudies.org/0802/articles/sicart [Accessed 14 January 2016].

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