Andrew Reinhard sat down with Bill Caraher and Richard Rothaus on the Caraheard podcast to talk about the big, philosophical questions of what it means to study material culture in an immaterial world.

Originally posted on Caraheard:

This week, Richard and Bill welcomed their first guest into the studio: Andrew Reinhard. We convinced Andrew to talk to us about his research on Archaeogaming which is the archaeology in and of video games. We became particularly interested in his assertion that “meatspace” is no different than the virtual space of games. This, as you might guess, triggered some vigorous discussion that eventually devolved into Bill citing Pierre Bourdieu and railing against capitalism, Richard interviewing his 8-year-old son and comparing capitalism and video games to religion, and the homunculus who operates Andrew’s flesh robot almost leaping out of his head. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

The opening and closing track on the podcast is 80-R’s Pacific Rim. You can listen to it in its entirely here.

Over 19 million people have bought the PC version of Minecraft.

There are only three…

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The University of York (UK) invited the “Atari Burial Ground” archaeologists to speak via Skype at the recent conference, Digital Heritage Meets Interactive Storytelling. Bill Caraher and I were able to do the call, and you can click HERE to listen/download the 67MB MP3 (which is an hour-and-a-quarter long).

Digital Heritage Meets Interactive Storytelling

Digital Heritage Meets Interactive Storytelling

Because the conference dealt with narratives, Bill and I talked about all of the different stories embodied by the Atari excavation in Alamogordo, New Mexico in April 2014. How many layers of narrative were there, who were sharing these stories, and why? The talk is less about the archaeology itself, and more about how reality becomes myth and back again, and how the archaeologists, media, and public communicated what happened at the game-burial and eventual recovery and sale of the cartridges.

Bill and I would like to thank the DHIS organizers Romana Turina and Tara Copplestone for inviting us to speak. We enjoyed it, and hope the conference delegates in York did, too.

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming


Grand Ages: Rome (Haemimont Games)

This post is much shorter than it needs to be, and over the next few weeks I hope to unpack the provocative statement that “there is no difference between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ culture.” I have been poking this idea with a stick for months now, and worked up the courage to pitch it to a roomful of my peers in Gothenburg, Sweden, in my first true, public Archaeogaming presentation as part of the Challenge the Past conference. Fellow gaming archaeologist Tara Copplestone blogged about it capably here.

My thesis that I am coming around to actually believing is that the material culture of races and civilizations in the virtual world of Tamriel is exactly the same (or at least pretty darn close) as studying, say, the Aztecs or the Etruscans. Maybe archaeogaming just jumped the shark, but maybe not. Some points to consider/discuss:

Millions of real-life humans inhabit in-world avatars of other, alien races not found on Earth in meatspace, and interact with all manner of objects that exist in virtual space, inhabiting landscapes and architecture that change over time. This is no different than in meatspace.

MMOs have their own economies/economics and system of trade, which is often driven by supply and demand for natural resources and crafted items. This is no different than in meatspace.

MMOs have their own in-game communities, tribes, cultures, and subcultures, which not only lend themselves to diverse in-world experiences, but also branch off into gaming linguistics including evolving vocabulary, orthography, syntax, and even epigraphy. This is no different than in meatspace.

Archaeogaming queries include asking why buildings and cities were constructed as they were (and who designed and built them), how the landscape affects settlement and other “human” activity, why some places were abandoned and others repurposed, and how things change over time. This is no different than in meatspace.

Mature games (those that I define as having been around for five or more years and continue to be played, and continue to be developed by both the game publisher and an active modding community) build upon an often complex, robust lore system, integrating story with world-building and action in-game, creating myths and legends as well as origin stories and religions and folkways that are eagerly explored and adopted by players. This is no different than in meatspace.

I will continue to add to this list, and welcome other suggestions as well as criticism of this leap in logic. Millions (and possibly billions) of contemporary people inhabit both “real” and “virtual” spaces simultaneously, interacting with the cultures in each. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the number of players in a video game set in Imperial Rome outnumbered the actual, historical residents? Both Romes exist, and within the genius (i.e., idea) of Rome-as-city, there are multiple iterations spread across several games, both played as single-player and as a community, as well as the many Romes that exist over centuries in the “real” world, all running in parallel.

At this moment in time, there is no difference in cultures real and virtual. There is only culture. The worlds in which this culture is found is immaterial.

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

valueVALUE (Videogames and Archaeology in Leiden UnivErsity) has officially launched as of March 30, 2015. You can follow VALUE on Twitter here and Facebook here. But what is the VALUE Project?

I received an email today from Aris Politopoulos, a PhD student at Leiden who wrote a guest post for Archaeogaming that you can read here. He said that “since the field is yet completely unexplored in the Netherlands, we [group of PhD archaeology students] are focusing for now on presenting the importance of studying archaeology and videogames.”
Please join Archaeogaming in welcoming the VALUE Project, and check them out on Twitter and Facebook.
-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

second_life_logoI’d been thinking about returning to Second Life for a while, and at the suggestion of fellow Punk Archaeologist Bill Caraher, actually did it (and blogged about it) yesterday. I was curious to see how things had changed in the Metaverse since I last logged in in 2015. I was shocked. And now I want to go back for an extended look. In April, before the Society for American Archaeology (SAA, #saa2015) conference in San Francisco, I’ll be teaming up with four other archaeologists to explore what has become of Second Life‘s Mainland. At this stage, it’s a matter of planning teleport locations (really) so we can maximize our time on the ground. In playing with time and geography between this world and the virtual one, it’s a bit like Interstellar, and I’m curious to see where we end up, and if we have chosen our locations wisely.

So what do I hope to find? (I’ll let the others on the team articulate their desires and questions once the group is locked in.) I’d like to see if the Mainland is abandoned. If it is, what has happened to the plots and sims? Have they decayed or atrophied? Have they been tagged with graffiti and advertisements, or left alone in pristine condition? Or perhaps they have been repurposed into something completely unintended by the original builders? And if the sims/plots we visit have not been abandoned, who is using these and to what purpose? Are these the same builders and residents from five years ago, or has the torch been passed to another generation of makers and users? For some of the sims (such as Roma SPQR that I visited yesterday), how does the current state of use and construction differ what I can remember from 2010? How permanent is that memory, and how accurate? Can we find images from five years ago from other sims we explore, and match the topography five years on?

I’ll begin to identify plots in Second Life for us to explore — hopefully a mix of ancient and modern sims, popular ones from the Old World when Second Life was new. I want to visit old, in-world excavations, and previous reconstructions that builders imported from Maya 3D. I want to find and talk to current Lindens to ask them about how they use the space now, and how (or if) that usage is different from earlier. Is there now sprawl, or was plot-planning deliberate? My colleagues on the expedition will come with other questions, too, and I look forward to sharing our experiences here and elsewhere. Watch this space for names, date(s), and time(s). -Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

second_life_logoIn The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson, the eponymous hero returns to The Land, an alternate world to Earth, where time passes much more quickly. An absence of a year on Earth might equate to centuries gone in The Land. And so it has been with the virtual world of Second Life. For those readers who are unaware of Second Life, this is a pre-Minecraft virtual, open space where “players” can tour public plots of land or maintain private islands. I put “players” in quotes because Second Life isn’t really a game, but is instead a Utopian sandbox where anyone can create anything from clothing to architecture to the wildly fantastical. As might be predicted, avatars created places in-world that mirrored the real, and this included reconstructions of ancient monuments and reimaginings of ancient cities.

I first used Second Life as a home for a Latin-language villa in the Roma SPQR sim when I was the Director of eLearning for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, publisher of pedagogic materials for teachers and students of Latin and Greek. I wanted to build a virtual space accessible by anyone in the world who wanted to come and role-play in Latin within the context of a Roman virtual space. In 2008, five speakers from the U.S., England, and Sweden converged to have the first oral Latin conversation in Second Life using Ventrilo, voice software, as a proof-of-concept. The villa was active from 2008 until 2010 when I left for another position at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Five years have passed since I last logged in to Second Life, and now that I am interested in archaeogaming, I wanted to return to the virtual world to see what had changed. Was Second Life even being used anymore, and by whom? What was the in-world culture like now? Were the sims and plots that I used to frequent still there, and if so, how had they changed, or had they just been abandoned? On a whim this morning, I created a new avatar, Archaeogaming, and logged in with my underclocked PC. I immediately felt at home, graphics glitches and all.

01-SL3After I composed myself, I walked to what used to be called “Orientation Island”, surrounded by about a dozen n00bs. As there is no need to buy anything or to level up in Second Life in order to explore, I called up the World Map, ran a query for “Delphi”, and then teleported there. I did not expect to arrive amidst a one-person fishing derby and a row of beach cabanas littered with advertising. There was nothing ancient here.

02-DelphiI then decided to teleport to Roma SPQR. In 2010, the sim was both public and private, with the public area set for spectacle including an arena for gladiatorial combat, a Macellum for shopping for Roman-themed goods, a triumphal arch, a dedicatory column like that of Trajan, a Senate House, and farther on, the reconstructed port of Ostia. The private space (which guests could walk around in) is teh Subura, the suburbs, which contained private, locked villas and gardens, plus small shrines. Although the space blended elements of the Roman Republic and Empire, the space still had an airy, getting-there feel to it, although much better crafted than all other ancient-themed sims I’d been to when looking for a home for the Latin House. When I arrived in SQPR Roma five years later, I was shocked to feel as if I’d left Rome in the first century B.C. (in 2010) and teleported into the fourth century A.D. (2015). Instead of abandonment and entropy, the sim had grown with obvious urban planning and extraordinary care. And there were people present. I was in for several surprises.

03-virtualhistorianThe first person I met was tagged as a “Virtual Historian”, a citizen of the sim, who seemed to be hanging about on the chance someone stopped by and wanted a tour. He was polite and was also impressed that I had come back home after being away for so long. Claudius was in real life an archaeology post-graduate in Germany, and in Second Life was both tour guide and keeper of lore and history of this sim. The fact that the sim has its own lore and history recorded in the real world was exciting to me. After a moment, Claudius was able to look up the location of my villa so we could visit the plot. He also wanted to show me the sim’s best reconstructions of ancient Roman buildings.

04-chatAs we walked, we talked about other avatars I might have known. As luck would have it, Nina Tiberia was also present in-world. When I met her in 2010, she was plainly dressed, but after five years, she wore Imperial purple and had become a mother. She had helped me build the Latin villa, and she remembered me. We shared a mutual astonishment, and the emotion I felt at seeing long-lost friends in a space I had spent so much time in was overwhelming. Nina showed me where my villa used to be, which was now a small wheat field. When I left, Second Life removed the villa, and the plot is still available to build upon.

05-bathsNina is not an archaeologist, but is instead a designer also based in Germany. She is responsible for the textures of nearly every material used in the reconstructions. She and Claudius showed me to the baths, which she said were excavated near her real-world home.

06-morechatNina and other citizens of the sim went to great lengths to be as authentic as possible in their reconstruction of the baths. For the benefit of the public, signs were posted showing the floor plan of the baths, an aerial photo of the bath complex post-excavation, and additional signage and a note card for my inventory explaining the bath’s history.

07-baths2Inside the bath, Nina explained that the mosaic was the image of the actual one discovered at the site.

08-hypocaustClicking on the mosaic revealed the hypocaust underneath.

09-baths3As I explored the various plunges, another avatar, Petrus, arrived. He, too, remembered me from 2010. Our entire group then left the bath and walked down the street to the station house.

10-streetAs I walked, I remember how the street had been lined almost exclusively with villas and houses, but that now we were flanked with municipal buildings. I found myself wondering if the old foundations still remained under the reconstructions.

11-scaviAt the station house, I learned that the floor plan was really almost all of what had been preserved in the real world. The citizens consulted with German archaeologists in order to create a best-guess as to what the structure might have looked like in the second century A.D.

12-signageAs with the bath, the station house had signage for a floor plan and a notecard about the history of the structure and its excavation.

13-storyThe reconstruction took months to build, as did the others. When I commented on how proud I was that the sim was better than when I had left it, and that they were to be commended on all of their hard work with recreating ancient structures from when the Romans were in Germany, they said, “we love this land.” We’re in a virtual space, but with so much time and labor poured into the work, and with a 7+ year history of building up Roma SPQR, I can understand why.

The sim is owned and managed by avatar Torin Golding, the Emperor, who has worked at Pompeii and at another Roman site in northern England near Durham. It is used for public and private events, and even in-world conferences, which are held in a purpose-built curia. I regretted having to leave, but know that I will certainly return again soon to continue to explore the new city, comparing it to what I remember about the old one. I was moved by the impromptu visit after having been away for so long, and it was a pleasure speaking to the citizens responsible for the upkeep of the sim. I call this the “Old World” of Second Life: the mature public lands, which are likely lost to many of the current users, yet for those who know where to look, they provide a glimpse into what the virtual world used to be, and in some lucky instances, still is.

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

Liara, Mass Effect 3

Liara, Mass Effect 3

As part of my world tour of Sweden in March 2015, I presented a 45-minute lecture at the University of Umeå, “You Call this Archaeology?” In the lecture, I explored how archaeologists and archaeology are received/perceived by video game developers and players. I didn’t have enough time to show the video clips, so I’ve created a list below. There are scores of others, but these will get you started. For those of you who are new to the Internet, click on an entry to play the video:

Mass Effect 3 (Liara)

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor (“A Lesson in Archaeology”)

World of Warcraft (“Archaeology Tutorial”)

The Secret World (“The Big Terrible Picture”)

The Secret World (Full walkthrough of “The Big Terrible Picture”)

The Secret World (Meeting the Archaeologists)

Raiders of the Lost Ark Playthrough (Atari)

Amaranthine Voyage 1

Entombed (1:30 to read journal)

La-Mulana (0:45 start)

Qin (journal/artifacts)

Tomb Raider: Anniversary Wii (toolkit): Part One and Part Two

Uncharted Waters Online (Stockholm)

Skyrim Archaeology (1:50, 19:45)

Rick Dangerous (1:00)

Roman Town

Borderlands (“Eridian Artchaeology”)

Lego Hobbit (Archaeologists Pick . . . for looting)

BONUS! Play these two archaeology games for free RIGHT NOW!


Hunt the Ancestor


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