Time Team in Minecraft?

Time Team in Minecraft?

Archaeologists are often represented within fiction based media as daring, fedora wearers and whip wielders. What archaeologists do in their spare time is none of my business. But I wanted to take a look at how archaeologists are imagined in game design, from how they look, to how they act. I will only be talking about a select few video games but Archaeogaming (a very good Blog) has a list of 33 video games, and the representation of archaeologists within them.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is potentially one of the most famous female ‘archaeologists’ especially within the gaming world. While the Tomb Raider game series are amazing, where is Lara’s safety gear? No hardhat. No kneepads! Her knees would have been knackered by now. Her boots look sturdy though! You can read all the archaeology of tomb raider in this blog here.

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Harrison Jones: World of Warcraft

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Clearly a parody of Indiana Jones, the man everyone thinks you want to be when you’re studying an archaeology degree. His whole design annoyed me the moment I started his quests at Uldaman. Could no one conceive a more imaginative design than Indiana Jones?

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This just shocked me. No archaeologist would swing from an ancient statue. It needs recording, conserving and studying for years on end.

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Archaeology is destruction but this is too far. Blizzard, this just breaks my heart.

Gunther: Stardew Valley

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As previously stated in another post, Gunther creeps me out but I’m not sure why. As the town archaeologist, he looks more like a colourful sheriff you’d find in a western. Why does every archaeologists have to have a fedora-like hat? I will say props to him though for wearing gloves whilst handling the clearly delicate artefacts.

Minecraft Skins

What is great about Minecraft Skins is that the people who make them aren’t usually game designers so there may be some variety. However, when I searched for and archaeologist skin I found nothing. I had to misspell ‘archeologist’ in order to find skins that then echoed Indiana Jones. Below is a design by Gogglesquizz, mimicking the first image that springs to mind when you think of an archaeologist.

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I then had an idea to make my own minecraft skins based on real archaeologists. Phil Harding and the late great Mick Aston. The faces of Time Team!

Phil Harding in Minecraft!

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The lovable Phil Harding, now in Minecraft! Though he is another one that reinforces the hat fashions of archaeologists.

Mick Aston in Minecraft! 

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The late great Mick Aston, a personal hero. This is a real archaeologists with no whips or guns or swinging off statues but still has an air of mad professor about him.

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Minecraft Skins. Left: Phil Harding. Center:Generic Archaeologist. Right: Mick Aston

I understand that video games need an element of fun, daring adventure but the thing about archaeology is that it is full of wonder, mystery and discovery and the people that pursue it are often some of the funniest, wackiest and interesting people you will ever meet. It would be nice for these people to be represented in their true light once in a while.

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De-groot of Archaeology in Team Fortress 2.

Team Fortress 2, a first person shooter multiplayer game developed by Value Corporation.  The game includes a variety of characters or classes to choose from along with varying maps including Two fort, a capture the flag style map and Granary, a control point map. I have a love affair with ‘TF2’. So it was only fitting for me to post about a game that, according to Steam, I have spent almost 300 hours on and a substantial amount of money considering that it’s a free to play game. I just can’t keep away from hats or the costumes for Heavy, one of the classes. I don’t know why but I somehow find a bulky ball-headed Russian man running around in a fairy costume wielding a mini-gun incredibly satisfying. In all my years of playing this game, I had never once thought about how my studies in archaeology could relate to TF2. But it does, especially in the form of a map called Degroot Keep.

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Degroot Keep with added Fairy Heavy!

Degroot Keep is a map considered be the ‘medieval’ mode of Team Fortress 2. The map involves either attacking defending a keep with only melee weapons, no guns or flamethrowers allowed. I had to resort to a ham shank as you’ll see in later pictures, it is literally a ham shank. Degroot Keep can be a very fun map but I have a few problems with it archaeologically speaking.

While the aesthetic is fairly good, there are certain details within the map that could be improved. The attacking blue team starts off outside the spiked wooden walls of the keep on lower ground, almost mimicking a motte and bailey castle. I would prefer it if you started off by rampaging through a village that looks up to the keep and then storming the walls but you can’t have everything. The starting area  is set up like a training camp with training dummies and targets, but it made me wonder if this is just what we are lead to believe about medieval training from TV and film, rather than an accurate representation. A Knight’s Tale and recreations of the Legend of King Arthur come to mind.

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Barrels everywhere!

Notice the barrels. There are barrels everywhere in Degroot. Why? My first thought was alcohol. If so, it only fuels basic idea that most people in the past spent the majority of time drinking and feasting which is not necessarily the case. The map might benefit historically from having other medieval fixtures and fittings or by at least showing the contents within the barrels. This way Degroot could represent the medieval ages more whilst still maintaining the aesthetic.

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More Barrels blocking  my medieval experience

There is a real missed opportunity with Degroot Keep as whilst the map feels open, it is actually quite closed. The well designed houses to the left of the keep are completely blocked off by those pesky barrels. This really annoyed me. I wanted to go into the houses and up the stairs and see what people’s bedrooms or kitchens were like. Maybe I’m just nosy. I realise that players don’t load up Degroot Keep for the sole purpose of learning about medieval life but I think it would be nice to at least plant a small accurate seed in their minds of how they lived. They’ll never know!

 

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What’s this doing here?

Whilst wondering around muttering to myself about all this, I stumbled upon something which confused me greatly but then made me smile. It was a lit up control panel behind a
door. Talk about ruining my immersion. I’ve been playing this map for years and I’ve never noticed something so out of place. It made me wonder if minor inaccuracies within games need to be controlled when players won’t notice or really care. They want kills and to capture the points. They don’t want to stand around referring to articles they’ve read on the amount of barrels a keep usually stores.Team Fortress 2 has never professed to be historically accurate. It doesn’t need to, it’s not that type of game and Degroot Keep is the only medieval mode. Do people want an authentic experience whilst video gaming? How valuable is it to the archaeological world? Personally, I’m not so sure that it is but I’d still like to run around as a beefy Russian Fairy peering into medieval life what it could have looked like.

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The cutest fairy you will ever see!

 

Museums, Curation and Stardew Valley

Lately I’ve been really into a game called Stardew Valley. It’s a RPG that almost combines Harvest Moon with Animal Crossing developed by Concerned Ape. It’s a very cute game. There are various elements to the gameplay, the main one being that you’re a farmer but there are elements of fishing and mining as well. While out and about, there are chances to unearth minerals and artefacts through mining, processing geodes and digging out worms. You then get the choice to donate these items to Gunther at the local museum. Personally, I always donate the first mineral/artefact of that kind that I find because then you get a snippet of information but I also feel that it’s important for people to be able to see the things they learn about, even if it is within Stardew Valley (I’m far too invested in this game). The cool thing with this museum is you almost get to curate your own exhibition. I would usually just segregate out the minerals and artefacts onto different tables, but after taking my visual media in archaeology module I realised there could be other alternatives. Please bear in mind that I haven’t completed this game, so there are many artefacts and minerals missing from my collection.

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The picture above shows how my exhibit looked before. It was literally just segregated into minerals and then artefacts with no thought to it at all. From my module, I knew that was not the spirit of curation, everything is done for a reason.

I started by keeping the artefacts and minerals separate. The artefacts were then very roughly separated by period: Prehistoric, Ancient objects and Fantasy (Dwarves and Elves). I wanted to use the top right room for the minerals, which were then put in colour order.

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I then didn’t see why artefacts and minerals had to be separate. So colour ordered everything (as best as I could)!

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But it then didn’t feel like a museum and it was focused far too much in one place. There was no real movement through the whole exhibit. I needed to considered layout as well as design. I clearly care far too much about the villagers and their viewing experiences.

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Thus created the final form! The museum flows back through time starting with the ancient objects through to minerals at the end (shown by the red arrows that totally weren’t drawn in paint). Rather than colour, the minerals are grouped according to shape type, giving each little block a variety of colour. The artefacts are grouped through period with the prehistoric items split into tools and fossils. If I could each period would mimic their own zone and take the environment that they would have lived in, looking a bit like The Crystal Maze. However, that would be a lot to ask from a game where the primary mechanic is not to become a curator.

I love Stardew Valley as a whole but being able to find my own artefacts and then put them within is museum is so fulfilling for the archaeologist within me. While most people may not be spending all their time on curating in Stardew Valley, I do think this brings people closer to archaeology. There is still the element of discovery that is rife in archaeology. The artefacts are also quite good for a video game, such as the arrowhead or prehistoric skull while still keeping an element of fantasy with the Dwarven items. I’d personally like more information on the items than a couple of lines but as I’ve said the primary element is not the museum. Gunther also scares me slightly but his representation is another blog for another day. Overall, this is a great mechanic for archaeology. Often games will include artefacts than can be discovered and collected but never a way for you to display them yourself. Hats off to the Concerned Ape team, it’s got me hooked.

It’s all archaeology and games!

Archaeology is everywhere, it is a multi-disciplinary subject that not only spans the past but also the present. As they say ‘archaeology starts yesterday’. However, there are aspects of archaeology that we can see today. Archaeology is increasingly seen within gaming, whether that be video games or table top games. This can often be overlooked in the archaeological world, preferring to disseminate information to the public through museums and television programme, but could we begin to do this through gaming?

This blog, Dig Bytes, focuses on combining gaming with archaeology; discussing the archaeology that is already often within games and how this might have an impact on society and the archaeological world.

The profession of Archaeology is often an option within video games, especially RPGs (role playing games) such as the (massively multiplayer online role playing game), World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft allows the player to become an archaeologist. Enabling the player to identify artefacts using equipment that could be described to identify artefacts at dig sites using equipment that could be described as simpler fantasy geophysics. Imagine, Time Team’s John Gater but in robes or clad with armour.  While the artefacts found don’t necessarily mimic what we find in real life (expected from a fantasy world), the process of archaeology is there in its simplest form. This allows people to get a taste for archaeology virtually, hopefully echoing into real life.

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Archaeological surveying equipment modelled by Shaogun courtesy of Vespian.

Archaeology can also play a part in the designing of games, from the architecture of Assassin’s Creed to the board design for Stone Age or even the character design for Sid Meier’s Civilisation. Having this role to play within the design can be crucial for authenticity, not only for the game but for archaeology itself.Archaeologists should be using the knowledge that they have developed to work with game designers to accurately represent the past. If players are immersed in a historically accurate world, they could be learning about the past without even realising it. Archaeology needs embrace the technological world in every sense.

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Left: Sid Meier’s Civilisation 5, Boudicca Design. Right: The Stone Age game board.

While this introductory post only touches on aspects of archaeology and gaming, I will be delving deeper into the world of archaeogaming, a concept that was only very recently introduced to me. This will be the start of my own written down musings about archaeology that I often have while playing games, and the discussion that comes about from this. Archaeology can be seen everywhere, even in games.