A Week of Interactive Pasts! (recap)

The beginning of September was a week full of archaeology and video games, and oh my, what an amazing week it was! Here, Ymir recaps all the events that took place and tries to not be too extremely excited for the things to come!

If you have been following VALUE, then you probably noticed increased social media activity during the end of August and the beginning of September. This was because we had a series of four amazing events lined up. I will briefly discuss the events and their outcomes, things we learned, exciting moments and where we are going from here. Let’s dive into a week full of interactive pasts!

The first to take place were the two sessions at the EAA (European Association of Archaeologists) in Maastricht, August 30-September 2, which we co-organized with Meghan Dennis & Lennart Linde. The original idea was to have a paper session first, followed by a round-table discussion at the end of the day. The EAA scheduling team however had a different idea and our sessions were placed in the schedule in the opposite order: Thursday August 31st, round-table discussion; Saturday September 2nd, paper presentations. There wasn’t anything we could do about it, so we had to roll with it.

EAA Session #309 “At the game table: Archaeology in (video)games

Having the round-table before the papers session was a challenge. We couldn’t really discuss the contents of papers that would be presented two days later, time travel technology is just not there yet. Hence we had to improvise. We didn’t expect many people since the main advertisement for the round-table would have been the papers session, so we prepared for a low-key, in-depth discussion among people who were already invested in the field of archaeology and video games. To our surprise, at the highest point of the discussion we had about 45 people, all sitting in a circle and discussing video games! The circle contained archaeologists, museologists, historians, gamers, non-gamers coming literally from all over the globe! People who knew about archaeogaming but also people who had absolutely no idea that this thing was… a thing. We spent 3 full hours together in a pleasant, deep discussion, exchanging ideas, challenging questions and more, turning the improvised session into a great success. Meghan did an excellent job as the moderator of the event, and all the participants were really open and attentive. Topics that were discussed in the session included: authenticity and representation, connecting archaeologists with the gaming industry, games in museums, archaeological research using video games and more!

Discussion during the round-table session at the EAA in Maastricht

EAA Session #275 “In Play: Archaeology in Videogames as a Metadisciplinary Approach”

It was Saturday, the last day of the EAA, and it was 8:30 in the morning… we didn’t have high hopes for the amount of listeners in this session either. I mean, who would wake up at that time anyway? Well, once again we were pleasantly surprised! At exactly the time the session would start, the room was full and we had to bring extra chairs from other rooms for the people standing in the doorway. During the day more and more people showed up and there always were people standing at the back or near the door looking in. At one point, I counted more than 60 people! The session itself was fantastic, with a great diversity of research and papers, the summaries of which you can read in Andrew Reinhard’s recap of the session. What I would like to focus on again was the great diversity of people who presented, the fact that we had a surprising gender balance in both presenters and attendees, and the interest of people who had never heard of this field before. If anything, the EAA sessions showed that archaeology and video games is not just a topic which interests only a few geeks but a field with great potential, both research-wise as well as in terms of outreach. It is also an open and inclusive field in which fresh and innovative ideas can flourish.

A full room at the EAA papers session!

Book Launch in Leiden

After these two very successful sessions at the EAA, events moved back to Leiden. On Monday 4th, I was asked to present our project and our book to the new MA and RMA students of the Faculty of Archaeology. It was a 30 minutes presentation during which I got to talk to about 80 students about VALUE, our conferences, our book, streams, games and everything. People showed a lot of interest and we were contacted by some students who might want to write some Games We Dig posts and would like to help VALUE, so let’s see what happens!

Tuesday was almost there and another #TIPC event was about to happen! After the first The Interactive Pasts Conference (TIPC) in 2016 and TIPC-Online in the spring, we really wanted to do a workshop, and thus TIPC@Work was born! The topic of the workshop was Interactive (Hi-)storytelling and the aim was to teach people the ins and outs of Twine and of the deeper processes of narrative design in video games!

The Interactive Past book at the Sidestone Press stand at the EAA!

The Interactive Pasts Workshop: Interactive (Hi-)storytelling

The workshop spanned two days, a first day of lectures on Twine design, game design and history-telling and a second day of practicing our newly-acquired skills and developing a game in Twine. At a later date, we hope to upload (some of) the games made by the people at the workshop. There were about 20 participants at the workshop, which turned out to be an ideal number for such an event. Tara Copplestone was invited to teach a crash course on how you can make narratives with Twine, Jeremiah McCall presented via video and skype on how he uses Twine (and his own game, Path of Honors) to teach history in school and Pawe∤ Szyszka from 11bit studios came from Poland to tell us all about the development of This War of Mine and the processes of narrative design. These excellent talks and tutorials, and a very keen group of participants, made for a great workshop experience. Thanks to the knowledge of the presenters and the insightful questions by the participants, we were all able to get deep into the subject matter of interactive storytelling.

Pawel (left) presenting on narrative design in video games and Tara (right) teaching us Twine!

The focus of the second day was on practical experimenting and getting our hands ‘dirty’ by actually developing a Twine game. Roy van der Schilden from Wispfire joined us to continue in helping the five groups with developing their narrative design. The end result was rather amazing: 5 functional prototype  Twine games with themes spanning from the survival of the fittest to weird objects popping up at the wrong historical times!

Design teams hard at work!

Far Cry Primal Debate

Last but not least, after a thrilling but exhausting 6 days, there was one more event. As part of the introduction week of the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden, we had been asked to do a two-hours gaming event for the new BA and MA students. We decided to do another Far Cry Primal event, as this was something we knew would interest new archaeologists and a topic that would benefit from further exploring. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side, as rainfall had damaged the big screen we used for all our previous events at the faculty. Worse yet, the new screen at the faculty was not connecting properly to Megalithic’s PS4, the same for a smart TV we brought down, as well as three computer monitors. Turned out that different screens and cables would not solve the problem… we had managed to fry Megalithic’s PS4 :(.  

Students watching and discussing Far Cry Primal at the introduction week of the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden.

In the end, we decided to run the event with a no-commentary playthrough of the game we found on YouTube and just lead an in depth discussion around it. Despite the shortcomings, I can say that this was also a rather successful event, greatly helped by the knowledgable insights from a number of guests speakers who were able to tell the students about Neanderthal fire making practices, use of adhesives (glue) on spear, and representations of early humans in the game. A lot of students joined us and had the courage to ask questions, leading to a lively discussion of FC:Primal.

Well, here you have it! One week chock full of events in the field of archaeology and video games. We had a ton of fun, but we also learned a lot from the experiences. Not to mention the new set of skills we learned during TIPC@Work and knowledge we gained of interesting research presented at the EAA. On a social level, we filled up our meters as we got to see people we hadn’t seen in awhile, and we also met tons more new people. We hope that all of you who attended our events, either physically or virtually, had a blast and found them valuable! We definitely did! More events coming soon, with RoMeincraft starting this week already at the Nacht van Kunst en Kennis here in Leiden! If you are around, join us to start rebuilding the Roman fort Matillo in Minecraft VR!

A small teaser for our upcoming RoMeincraft events!

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