What is archaeogaming?

Archaeogaming is a relatively new sub-discipline of archaeology that uses video-games and online worlds to study material culture — the objects and buildings that tell us about past peoples. Because video-game cultures are created by people in the real world, there are connections between real world culture and objects, and the culture and objects within video-games. Archaeogaming researchers study the cultures of the real world, the cultures created within video-games, and the objects and artifacts of those video-game located cultures.

Some of us are in critical studies, some of us make games, and some of us conduct excavations, both in games and in the real world.

What is the goal of this project?

The project looks at archaeological ethics via how it comes across to the public, specifically through depictions of archaeology and archaeologists in video-games. It asks, what impact does interacting with the past through virtually looting artifacts and destroying heritage sites have on game player perceptions of archaeology in the real world? Does it make players of video-games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted more likely to buy and sell artifacts? Does it make them value heritage more, or less? Are they aware of the differences between real archaeology and archaeology in games? Do they care that there is a difference?

It also looks at the ethics of digital archaeology via how it comes across to the archaeologist, specifically through examining the ways in which archaeologists are, or are not, considering the ethical implications of the digital components of their work. It asks, how are you using technology within your work in ways that are scientifically rigorous, but also mindful of issues of privacy, safety, and public engagement? Does your work replicate past ethical mistakes in archaeology? Does it use digital methods for the advancement of science, or just for the sake of using digital methods?

Where the two parts come together is in the creation of a proposed standard of practice for archaeologists that combines what we as a discipline view as important, so we’re behaving ethically in our work, with what we need to consider, going forward, as our work becomes more and more digitally based.

Where is the project based?

The project is run out of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. It’s overseen by L. Meghan Dennis, a PhD candidate, and she’s overseen by Dr. Sara Perry.

Are you using emulators?

While emulators (suites of software that mimic original gaming hardware, like 1980s-era computers or no longer in production video-game consoles) are important for preserving game code, and for making abandoned or old games available to modern audiences, this project is trying to avoid their use. They have a place in archaeogaming research, just not in this endeavor.

The influence of experiential play is very much at the heart of the project’s research focus, and playing a game on its original hardware changes how that experience occurs. So unless it’s not possible to get a game on its original hardware (an issue that hasn’t come up yet, but may in the case of one arcade game) all video-games are researched without the use of emulators.

When do you estimate finishing?

Currently the project is due to end in December of 2018.

What kind of job does someone with this research background expect to get?

Ideally, a tenure-track placement immediately upon graduation! I haven’t made a decision as to whether I want to continue in academia post-PhD, or re-enter the private sector. I love teaching, and I love research, but I also love the applied nature and immediacy of consulting work.

My research touches on field archaeology, archaeological ethics, digital ethnography, digital archaeology, archaeological theory, media studies, game studies, antiquities trafficking, and the antiquities market. There’s a lot of avenues available.

Do you really get to sit around playing video-games and call it work?

It is work! (But yes, I do.) A typical day is from 7 to 5, either spent writing and editing drafts, or playing one section of a game over and over while taking notes, collecting screen shots, and filling in data forms. The game play days are actually more difficult, as they require juggling multiple forms of technology and data inputs, while trying not to be bored with the same puzzle or sequence that I’ve been looking at for days.

What makes you qualified to do this?

My background is in field archaeology, where I worked for many years in the private sector. It’s also in video-game creation, where I worked in narrative design and community management. The combination of these two areas led me to research in archaeological ethics, specifically the ethics of digital archaeology and archaeology in digital media. Other than that, it’s down to lots of study, hard work, a truly fantastic amount of reading, and being in the right place at the right time just as archaeology in video-games started to become a “thing.”

How do I get a project like this?

Figure out what you you want to do, determine if someone else is doing it, and make a case for your project. That’s how I came to York.

The University of York currently (as of February 2017) has three PhD candidates in the Department of Archaeology looking at issues related to archaeology and video-games. There are also recent York undergraduate and MA students who have explored issues around the topic. Researchers apart from those at York are based out of the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, and Germany, among other places. If you’re interested in talking to any of us about archaeology in video-games, we communicate on Twitter via the #archaeogaming hashtag. You’re also welcome to email and I’ll point you in the direction of someone who shares your research interest.

This seems fun, how can I help out? (Updated 30 January, 2019)

As this project is winding to a close, the best thing that you can offer is moral support during the final writing-up and the viva! Thanks again to everyone who contributed their time and input to this project.