My thesis in the making: archaeology in gaming.

I decided to make this post because the time has come to really start thinking seriously about writing my masters thesis. This is a somewhat daunting prospect, and really rather new territory for me. I am, by the very nature of my undergraduate training, a prehistorian. I relish dealing with weighty theoretical discussions centred around really rather ephemeral evidence. Now I am required to mentally shake myself and enter the real world. My masters is in Digital Heritage, and as such I must deal with some sort of digital media in my research.  The data I’ll be dealing with will be qualitative data provided by living, human participants.

Yes, this will be very new territory for me.

The title on my thesis proposal was as follows:

Experienced archaeologies: A qualitative study of the way in which people engage with the past in role playing games.

I’ll come up with something catchier at a later date, but for now I feel like this pretty much sums up what I want to do.

My primary focus will be on the way that people (everyone!) interact and engage with the past in video games – RPGs in particular. I’ll use my research to construct ideas about how gaming technology might be used for disseminating experiential interpretations of archaeological data.

I feel like I might be jumping on a bit of a bandwagon, as it seems that archaeology in gaming is about to become a hot topic. However it is something that I feel very strongly about, and I think that if I come up with a robust enough methodology my research could be some of the first of its kind (in archaeology at least) and potentially of use to others in the future.

All in all I think this is going to be an exciting piece of work to do, and something that I hope to learn a lot from. I’m pretty sure that my primary source for information is going to be my good old friend, teh interwebz, so I feel that recording some of my musings about it here is quite an appropriate thing to do.

Earlier this evening I tweeted to gauge interest in the research, and to see if anyone would be interested in participating. My plan is still very much unformulated, but I think that at this stage it would be wonderful to hear people’s thoughts on how this sort of research would be best carried out (I’m not afraid to ask advice when I’m completely new to something!) and if anyone has any resources that they think might come in useful.


8 thoughts on “My thesis in the making: archaeology in gaming.

  1. As an archaeology student, and an avid gamer, this sounds such an awesome subject to be looking at! Some games of note (off the top of my head) that you may want to examine; Fable 2 (there is a quest line that pretends to be about archaeology), The Elder Scrolls series, Fallout (more modern archaeology?).

    Just a thought, perhaps you could look at if people are aware of there being archaeology in games? Would you class ‘ruin exploring’ (take the Dwarven ruins of Skyrim as an example) as archaeology in a video game? Good luck with it all!

    • Hi Khinjarsi! Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the late reply. I’ll almost definitely be concentrating on Bethesda’s RPGs – Elder Scrolls and Fallout are amongst my favourite! One of my main research questions will be about the extent of people’s awareness of their engagement with some sort of ‘past’ in their gameplay. I hope you continue to follow my progress and will continue to contribute!


  2. Pingback: Daily Links – 2nd, 3rd and 4th April 2013 « The Archaeology of Tomb Raider

  3. One angle that might be interesting to pursue is just how much of the “history” in a game percolates down to the player; and whether they would be interested in more. How many people who play Skyrim, for example, pick up on the Norse origins of many of the game’s concepts? Would they be interested in more information on the topic; perhaps in an in-game Assassin’s Creed style encyclopedia or separate website maintained by experts?

    If you can establish a real demand for archaeology in games then it might be worth tackling it from the other side. Many scientists in Hollywood are establishing networks with filmmakers in an effort to make films more accurate. “Ring this agency, they’ll put you in touch with a physicist who can make sure the Enterprise could actually do that.” etc. Could do a similar thing with archaeology/history and games.

    • Hi Adam, thanks for your thoughts! I agree – on my proposal, one of the main questions I ask is ‘why do people play historical/archaeological games?’ and I’d very much like the answer to be somewhere around the region of ‘because they want to learn more/experience past worlds’. I’m hoping that they’ll want to see more specifically historical games that are designed to be accurate.

      I also love that you mentioned Hollywood – one of my big goals is to get archaeologists thinking more about communicating with and getting involved with high budget media creators. If people can’t get emotive and engaging depictions of the past from the experts, they’ll go to the place that does provide an exciting and creative view of the past – Hollywood etc!

      • With the number of historical games coming out – and the fact more detail is typically needed to create such games – I think getting archaeologists and game manufacturers talking together would be a real boon to both.

        It might be worth investigating the existing channels between the two. I know Creative Assembly are based in Britain and typically have games with great historical depth and accuracy. Maybe they’d respond to an email or two about their connections to academia; or how they feel the relationship could be improved.

  4. Your thesis proposal sounds really interesting, Emily. I’m not really familiar with RPGs but I’d say that archaeology and gaming are slowly becoming more intertwined. Developers are creating increasingly elaborate virtual worlds for gamers to explore and there’s certainly potential for using that same technology for reconstructing ancient sites and settlements for educational purposes.

    Good luck with your research!

    • Thanks, Kelly! To be perfectly honest, beyond the things by Bethesda and Assassin’s Creed, I know next to nothing about gaming. But what I do know is that the past crops up pretty much anywhere you look, and gaming is becoming such a powerful (lucrative!) tool, that it would be ridiculous for archaeologists and heritage practitioners to ignore its potentials!

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