Archaeology: Reverse Engineering World Design

Throughout my years as a student, I learned to dread the scorn and sarcasm that would inevitably follow the question, ‘so what are you studying?’

I’m by no means the first person – nor the last – to have to defend ‘archaeology’ to a wider public. I’m rather sick of having to defend it. Nowadays I just point out that my freelancing lets me set my own hours, live where I want to, and generally have a very nice life. Hell, my student debt only equals the price of a nice car (granted, a very nice car).

Anyway, the point of this post is to direct your attention to an interview on the Game Career Guide with game writers Sande Chen and Anne Tool, where they explain ‘how I became a game writer‘. Pay attention to Tool’s background, especially…


archaeology, as a subdiscipline of anthropology, is arguably the most liberal of the liberal arts majors. Through the department I was able to study science, history, art, mythology — just about anything I wanted, and it all counted toward my degree.
To my great delight, it also gave me the perfect excuse to study abroad. I attended the American University in Cairo for six months, where I studied under Egyptologist Kent Weeks with an eclectic group of American expatriates. My senior thesis focused on the economic aspects of ancient Egyptian settlements. In it, I analyzed the form and function of the few remaining settlement sites from ancient times to draw conclusions about the economy and culture of ancient Egypt. Essentially, I reverse engineered Egyptian world design.

I love that idea that making games is about designing worlds, and its corollary, that archaeology is reverse-engineering of past world designs. I taught a course once at Birkbeck College, University of London that essentially argued a similar point – the layout of towns and settlements is the cosmology of that culture writ in building materials. But that is a digression for another day.

In any event, just one more example of how archaeology opens doors you never imagined…