Data, data, everywhere data!

I’m just posting to say thanks to those readers who participated in the Skryim and Cultural Heritage survey, or otherwise spread the word.

Thanks to you guys and a very jammy retweet from the Rock, Paper Shotgun Twitter account, I got  huge response in a very small amount of time. Over the course of three days, I got 333 responses (wait, I see a pattern!). I was aiming for somewhere between 50-100 responses, so I thought perhaps once I’d tripled my goal I ought to close the survey to answers.

So now I have a HUGE amount of qualitative data, and around a month to complete my dissertation. It all feels extremely daunting, but I quick read through some of the responses, and I am confident that I have lots to work with and once the work is underway, hopefully I’ll steam ahead.

Anyway, a huge thanks once again, and I’ll be back with more musings soon, I’m sure!

Advertisements

Archaeology and Skryim: a Qualitative Survey

I’ve been holed up for the past few weeks, frantically reading, thinking and writing!

Finally I’ve reached the point where my deceptively simple survey is ready to be released.

For those who haven’t been following my previous posts, I’m a masters student studying the significance of the past in videogaming and videogaming culture. My case study is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The main aim of my research is to find out whether or not people are aware of the historical aspects of Skyrim, and how they view these elements of the game.

A large part of the qualitative evidence I will use in my dissertation will be ethnographic data collected on online discussion forums dedicated to Skryim. However, this information will be supplemented by the views of as many Skyrim players that I can reach through the web.

The survey will take 5 or 10 minutes to complete, and you can go into as much detail as you want with your answers, but any thoughts you might have would be extremely valuable to me and my research. Please take a minute to read carefully the information that is provided at the beginning of the questionnaire.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of archaeology and Skyrim being in any way connected, by all means take a look back at previous posts on this blog to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

If you don’t want to fill out the survey but would like to contribute your own ideas or opinions, replies to this post would be equally appreciated. Similarly, if you could share the link with anyone you think might be keen to contribute their views then I would be extremely grateful!

Click here to complete the survey! 

What is Archaeogaming?

An excellent post by Andrew Reinhard on ‘Archaeogaming’ – Andrew organises his thoughts on archaeology and gaming most eloquently, and articulates some of the fuzzy, thought-shaped notions that have been bashing about my head for the past 6 months or so. This new blog is a must for anyone interested in the intersection of archaeology and games!

Archaeogaming

Let me begin at the beginning, a Level 1 n00b, but an archaeology “Master.” I was once a reluctant gamer who was dragged kicking and screaming into World of Warcraft (vanilla) and ended up losing myself in the virtual world, leveling to 70 the hard way (on my own, pugging instances, and without any mods). I played through Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm. I quit before the release of Mists of Pandaria dropped. Why? Because I had a problem with the lore, the underlying story-history of the game-world.

As an archaeologist (B.A. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Evansville, M.A. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Missouri-Columbia), I am interested in how the game-world is built. This includes everything from architecture to humble pots. This also includes the story of the races within whatever game I play. Playing WoW was extremely…

View original post 813 more words

Why playing Skyrim makes you an Archaeologist

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to get my head around just what it is that makes me so adamant that historical RPGs are somehow important to archaeological discourse. Something inside me is quite sure that gaming is this huge, untapped resource for knowledge-making.

A lot of this pondering  has consisted of me trawling through online forums and trying to figure out what kind of interactions people are having with the past during their gameplay.

I’m far from figuring out just what it is that makes people engage with the past in videogames (or if they are even aware of doing so) but I’m definitely getting to grips with the kinds of interactions people are having. Obviously, these interactions are multiple, but I’ll summarise the jist of it below.

Before I started digging about in the forums, I expected people to proclaim a desire to experience ancient, culturally rich lands – essentially taking on the role of one of their ancestors. Instead I found that the role people took on was more that of the archaeologist themselves. This approach to dealing with the game has been expressed directly by different individuals on different threads and forums.

The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. The aim of RPGs such as Skyrim is to solve mysteries and act out narratives – to follow material trails that lead to answers and cause stories to unfold before the player. Some gamers have a surprisingly in-depth knowledge of the extensive Elder Scrolls lore (fellow players will know that there is a whole plethora of historical and biographical books spread accross Tamriel, just waiting to be picked up and read by brave adventurers just like us). There are whole essays and discussions about human origins, heritage and descent, politics and race to be found, meticulously researched and written by players from across the globe.

Just some of the books that can be read in Skyrim. Image: elderscrolls.wikia.com/

As an archaeologist, I think I can safely say that what these players are doing is distinctly similar to scholarly archaeological practice. They’re engaging with the material culture within these digital landscapes, amalgamating and synthesising knowledge – they’re interpreting their findings. Not only are they doing that, but they are sharing their thoughts and knowledge with other players online, and engaging in meaningful discussions about their theories concerning the past.

Research is like art.

I’ve decided to create a hashtag for my thesis topic. I already said that I plan on blogging about my research as I go, but I think tweeting it could also be really interesting. I’m really interested in the way that research happens.

Click above to go to the #archgames twitter feed

Click above to go to the #archgames twitter feed

I always thought research was a lot like creating a piece of art. Drawing or painting, for me at least, never quite goes as expected, and I never end up with what I envisaged right at the start. That doesn’t mean I’m never satisfied with the fruits of my labours, but it can sometimes mean that I lose sight of how I managed to get to the point I ended up at.

I have no doubt that being able to look back at my blog and a series of potentially incoherent, panic-stricken tweets will be enlightening. I also hope that anyone wanting to contribute to the debate/research will use the hashtag. If I feel the need to use your comments in my thesis I will, of course, ask your permission before doing so!

Anyway, tomorrow the second week of the ten-week-long summer term starts, and with it comes a thesis writing workshop, and the deadline for a 50 word abstract for the assessed lecture that we are to give on our chosen topics. I’ve always struggled with words counts, for I am the queen of rambling. I can’t help it, I’m just an absolute slave to scholarly jargon and sentences so long they could kill a (wo)man. 50 words is absolutely nothing. It’ll be a good exercise though, I’m sure.

I’ve been thinking some more about my methodology, too, and have come to the conclusion that my best bet is to conduct a sort of digital ethnographic study, focussed on players of one particular game. You guessed it… SKYRIM!* By using different data collection methods (online surveys, interviews, observation and participation on online forums, social media – the possibilities are endless! I love teh interwebz) I think I can get a really good idea of how people interact with the game and with it’s culture. A brief scan of the official Bethesda forum for General Discussion on the 5th Elder Scrolls game informs me that the words ‘archaeology’ and ‘history’ feature somewhat regularly in people’s conversations. Of course there are some other very interesting trends in topic, which I suspect play an important part in the identity creation process.  My whole research premise rides on the idea that the past can be used as an arena for identity creation. 

These are subjects that really excite and interest me, and whilst it might look like they’re very vague, I am sure that archaeology and ideas about the past play an important, albeit subconscious part in most interactions of this sort. I have so many little tangents that I want to go off on in this post already, but it’s almost 1am, and I promised myself this would be a short post and that I’d save the juicy stuff for longer, more involved posts.

As always, thoughts and contributions are welcomed with open arms.

*I think my next post is going to have to be a justification for this particular choice

Why archaeology needs Game Developers and Other Nerds*

I recently discovered the wonderful online magazine, Love Archaeology, created and run by postgraduate students at Glasgow University. This discovery in itself merits the creation of a blog post (I strongly recommend checking it out, the thing has a wonderful feel – a mix of enhusiasm, knowledge and general good spirits!), but it also links nicely on to a little archaeology rant that I’ve had brewing up inside for almost a year now.

The third issue of Love Archaeology considers how the study of material culture in imaterial worlds – that is, fictitious creations such as novels and popular games like the Elder Scrolls arc that have their roots firmly placed in our own, human archaeologies – can contribute to archaeological thought. This sort of thing has been hovering on the edge of my brain for god knows long, but I never quite took notice. Clearly I am preoccupied by the past, and that preoccupation has made its way into my hobbies in the form of nerdalicious pursuits such as the playing of Skyrim for really quite unreasonable amounts of time, and the perhaps more honourable act of reading great works of fiction such as George R. R. Martin’s epic political medieval fantasy. I’ve always maintained that I’m an archaeologist for the sole reason that I am also an escapist, and I very much enjoy pretending that the real world doesn’t exist by immersing myself in other worlds, populated by our ancestors. I suppose it just didn’t occur to me that this is exactly what a very large percentage of the population in most developed countries is doing as well.

Does this make us all archaeologists? I certainly believe it means we all think like archaeologists. Or does it mean that archaeologists think like humans? And I suppose that is indeed the goal – to get inside the heads of our human ancestors.

Anyway, I digress. The above discussion is a very interesting one, and one which I might attempt to pursue and perhaps somehow twist into something resembling a thesis. My main point for this post was, however, why the world of archaeology needs game developers and other hardcore gaming-type nerds in general.

This is an opinion that I’ve been brewing ever since somewhere around the middle of my third year studying for an Archaeology BA at Cardiff. I shall illustrate it with this beautiful piece of artwork that I stumbled across whilst surfing the web. Okay, I didn’t stumble across it at all, I was actively seeking out epic bits of concept art for the aforementioned Skyrim.

Image

(c) Bethesda Studios 2011. Art by Adam Adamowicz. Cross section view of a long hall built by the fictional race who live in Skyrim, the Nords.

This wonderful piece of art was released in 2011 previous to the release of the actual game, Skyrim, the fifth in the Elder Scrolls series. The games are set on the fictional continent of Tamriel, of which Skyrim is a northern province (imagine mountainous landscapes filled with viking-esque settlers and warriors). More images belonging to the same collection of concept art can be found here.

Anyway, I digress once again. My point is… my point is just look at the above image. It looks like an archaeological reconstruction. Or rather, the best archaeological reconstruction anyone has ever seen, ever, in the history of archaeological reconstructions. The image clearly shows both the interior and exterior of the building. It shows the different stages of the build, and the contents of the building, the way it would look if it was occupied by people. The attention to detail is absolutely stunning, and the skills with which is was drawn are undoubtedly phenomenal. This is the sort of digital art that the archaeological world desperately needs.

The people who develop games like this are clearly extremely creative individuals. They’re also clearly hugely talented. We need them.

We are living in an increasingly visual world. In general I think people don’t read as much as they used to, and engage with their real and virtual environments in an increasingly  visual and visceral way. I feel like one of the main things holding archaeology back (don’t get me wrong, archaeology is definitely going places,  just a bit slower than the rest of the world) is our lack of ability (or reluctance?) to represent our findings and our theories in a visually creative and accessible manner. Although deeply rooted in academic scientific knowledge, archaeology is also fundamentally linked with the imagination, and in order to communicate the results of our imaginings, we need to use creative means. I’m interested in the way that archaeology has been artistically represented in the past and, although I’ve barely scratched the surface, what I’ve found has been pretty dire most of the time.  I’m not saying that there are no archaeologists who are good at drawing, definitely not. And I’m not saying that there aren’t some instances of really great visual representation in archaeology. What I think is probably the case is that most archaeologists are so preoccupied by their own research that they cannot bring themselves to spend huge amounts of time representing the things that they simply want to know more about. Or perhaps more realistically, and more depressingly, we simply don’t have the means to fund the creation of such effective images. I know if I was as gifted as the person/people who drew those images linked above then I’d be letting Bethesda pay me handsomely to do their concept art rather than trying to get penniless archaeologists to pay me for interpretive drawings.

Something that I’ve found during a large amount of the class discussions for my MSc in Digital Heritage at York has been that there are so many ways in which archaeology could be headed, making the digital dissemination and preservation of archaeological knowledge more effective and more widespread, but there is this one, terrible looming factor that holds us back. The ever-essential financing that would make such endeavours possible.

So what I would suggest, then, is that we communicate more with the people who have got all the skills and resources to produce such inspiring and imaginative creations. They’re already doing an archaeology of their own, what’s stopping them from getting involved in our archaeology as well?

*By ‘Other Nerds’ I mean ‘Other Hugely Specialised and Talented People’. Obviously.