Rantin' and Rovin'

The Archaeogaming Unconference

Easily the best presentation I attended at the SAAs this year was Shawn Graham and Andrew Reinhard talking about archaeogaming – a merging of games and archaeology. They spoke of virtual realities being simply another medium through which to convey archaeological ideas, and how we can even go into games like Minecraft or SecondLife and find abandoned areas that have become archaeology themselves. There was a discussion of the accuracy of archaeology portrayed in games (*cough* Tomb Raider *cough*) and how we can use games to illustrate actual archaeological concepts.

Their presentation has sparked a fair amount of conversation on twitter and various blogs over the last couple months. Actually, these conversations were already happening, but they are now on a lot more people’s radar.

So a few weeks ago, Shawn started talking about doing an archaeogaming unconference – a google hangout with a number of breakout sessions where interested people could talk about topics that interested them.

That unconference was held today, and it was a huge success! On top of the great content and great people, it was free (yay!) and allowed everyone to access from wherever they were in the world. While I’m aware that this has been a possibility for a while, I haven’t really seen it in an academic setting. Honestly, I think it’s very exciting for future conferences, making access a LOT easier.

The number of topics covered today are enormous, so I’m just going to start with one for now: whether it’s possible to present a scholarly argument in a game.

One of the big ideas in archaeogaming is using games as a medium to make a scholarly argument, but there’s a lot of speculation as to whether it can actually be done. In short, I think we concluded that it could. I know I’ve done it before, but for literature instead of archaeology.

In my high school English class, one of my assignments was to read a classic novel and convey the story in a creative way, no essays allowed. My twin brother was (and still is) very into creating video games, and we had a copy of RPGMaker that we both used quite a bit. I chose Frankenstein as my novel, and made an RPG where you play as the Creature. I presented it by playing the game myself, but asking the class what the Creature should do, which decisions he could make (in line with the general story). No matter which choices you made as the Creature, you could never win. The argument was that society’s prejudices against the Creature’s appearance had doomed him from the start, so whether he was benevolent or malicious resulted in the same thing: his own exile and eventual demise.

If I could make a game to argue that literary point in the eleventh grade, we can certainly use games to make archaeological arguments in academia. And if I could present it in a relatively straight-forward manner in about 15 minutes, we can do the same with archaeological arguments.

But saying it’s possible and actually doing it are very different things, and that’s where we’re currently getting hung up, I think. We’re wondering how to create a game that makes the point we want to make. But I also think the issue is that many of us participating in these discussions aren’t really sure what point we’re trying to make yet. We’re interested in the possibility, and we’re talking about it theoretically, but many of us don’t have a set task in our minds yet. That makes it difficult to figure out how to create a game, because the type of game created would largely depend on what we’re trying to argue or demonstrate.

Which I guess means we need to start coming up with arguments and trying to turn them into games!

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