Deformative Digital Archaeology

An archaeological visualization.

Is digital archaeology part of the digital humanities?

This isn’t to get into another who’s in/who’s out conversation. Rather, I was thinking about the ways archaeologists use computing in archaeology, and to what ends. The Computer Applications in Archaeology Conference has been publishing proceedings since 1973, or longer than I’ve been on this earth. Archaeologists have been running simulations, doing spatial analysis, clustering, imaging, geophysicing, 3d modeling, neutron activation analyzing, x-tent modeling , etc, for what seems like ages.

Surely, then, digital archaeologists are digital humanists too? Trevor Owens has a recent post that sheds useful light on the matter. Trevor draws attention to the purpose behind one’s use of computational power – generative discovery versus justification of an hypothesis. For Trevor, if we are using computational power to deform our texts, we are trying to see things in a new light, new juxtapositions, to spark new insight. Ramsay talks about this too in Reading Machines (2011: 33), discussing the work of Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels. “Reading a poem backward is like viewing the face of a watch sideways – a way of unleashing the potentialities that altered perspectives may reveal”. This kind of reading of data (especially, but not necessarily, through digital manipulation), does not happen very much at all in archaeology. If ‘deformance’ is a key sign of the digital humanities, then digital archaeologists are not digital humanists. Trevor’s point isn’t to signal who’s in or who’s out, but rather to draw attention to the fact that:

When we separate out the the context of discovery and exploration from the context of justification we end up clarifying the terms of our conversation. There is a huge difference between “here is an interesting way of thinking about this” and “This evidence supports this claim.”

This, I think, is important in the wider conversation concerning how we evaluate digital scholarship. We’ve used computers in archaeology for decades to try to justify or otherwise connect our leaps of logic and faith, spanning the gap between our data and the stories we’d like to tell. A digital archaeology that sat within the digital humanities would worry less about that, and concentrate more on discovery and generation, of ‘interesting way[s] of thinking about this’.

In a paper on Roman social networks and the hinterland of the city of Rome, I once argued (long before I’d ever heard the term digital humanities) that we should stop using GIS displaying North at the top of the map, that this was hindering our ability to see patterns in our data. I turned the map sideways – and it sent a murmur through the conference room as east-west patterns, previously not apparent, became evident. This, I suppose, is an example of deformation. Hey! I’m a digital humanist! But other digital work that I’ve been doing does not fall under this rubric of ‘deformation’.

My Travellersim simulation for instance uses agent based modeling to generate territories, and predict likely interaction spheres, from distributions of survey data. In essence, I’m not exploring but trying to argue that the model accounts for patterns in the data. This is more in line with what digital archaeology often does.

Archaeological Glitch Art, Bill Caraher

Bill Caraher, I suspect, has been reading many of the same things I have been lately, and has been thinking along similar lines. In a post on archaeological glitch art Bill has been changing file extensions to fiddle about in the insides of images of archaeological maps, then looking at them again as images:

“The idea of these last three images is to combine computer code and human codes to transform our computer mediate image of archaeological reality in unpredictable ways. The process is remarkably similar to analyzing the site via the GIS where we take the “natural” landscape and transform it into a series of symbols, lines, and text. By manipulating the code that produces these images in both random and patterned ways, we manipulate the meaning of the image and the way in which these images communicate information to the viewer. We problematize the process and manifestation of mediating between the experienced landscape and its representation as archaeological data.”

In the same way, Trevor uses augmented reality smartphone translation apps set to translate Spanish text into English, but pointed at non Spanish texts. It’s a bit like Mark Sample’s Hacking the Accident, where he uses an automatic dictionary substitution scheme (n+7, a favorite of the Oulipo group) to throw up interesting juxtapositions. A deformative digital archaeology could follow these examples. Accordingly, here’s my latest experiment along these lines.

Screen shot from the deformed Netlogo ‘Mimicry’ model

Let’s say we’re interested in the evolution of amphorae types in the Greco-Roman world. Let’s go to the Netlogo models library, and instead of building the ‘perfect’ archaeological model, let’s select one of their evolutionary models – Wilensky’s ‘Mimicry‘ model, which is about the evolution of Monarch and Viceroy butterflies swapping in ‘amphora’ for ‘moth’ everywhere in the code and supporting documentation, and ‘Greeks’ for ‘birds’.

In the original model code, we are told:

“Batesian mimicry is an evolutionary relationship in which a harmless species (the mimic) has evolved so that it looks very similar to a completely different species that isn’t harmless (the model). A classic example of Batesian mimicry is the similar appearance of monarch butterfly and viceroy moths. Monarchs and viceroys are unrelated species that are both colored similarly — bright orange with black patterns. Their colorations are so similar, in fact, that the two species are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

The classic explanation for this phenomenon is that monarchs taste desireable. Because monarchs eat milkweed, a plant full of toxins, they become essentially inedible to butterflies. Researchers have documented butterflies vomiting within minutes of eating monarch butterflies. The birds then remember the experience and avoid brightly colored orange butterfly/moth species. Viceroys, although perfectly edible, avoid predation if they are colored bright orange because birds can’t tell the difference.

This is what you get:

We have two types of amphorae here, which we are calling the ‘monarch’ type (type 1) and the ‘viceroy’ type (type 2).

This model simulates the evolution of monarchs and viceroys from distinguishable, differently colored types to indistinguishable mimics and models. At the simulation’s beginning there are 450 type 1s and type 2s distributed randomly across the world. The type 1s are all colored red, while the type 2s are all colored blue. They are also distinguishable (to the human observer only) by their shape: the letter “x” represents type 1s while the letter “o” represents type 2s. Seventy-five Greeks are also randomly distributed across the world.

When the model runs, the Greeks and amphorae move randomly across the world. When a Greek encounters a amphora it rejects the amphora, unless it has a memory that the amphora’s color is “desireable.” If a Greek consumes a monarch, it acquires a memory of the amphora’s color as desirable.

As amphorae are consumed, they are regenerated. Each turn, every amphora must pass two “tests” in order to reproduce. The first test is based on how many amphorae of that species already exist in the world. The carrying capacity of the world for each species is 225. The chances of regenerating are smaller the closer to 225 each population gets. The second test is simply a random test to keep regeneration in check (set to a 4% chance in this model). When a amphora does regenerate it either creates an offspring identical to itself or it creates a mutant. Mutant offspring are the same species but have a random color between blue and red, but ending in five (e.g. color equals 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, 65, 75, 85, 95, 105). Both monarchs and Viceroys have equal opportunities to regenerate mutants.

Greeks can remember up to MEMORY-SIZE desireable colors at a time. The default value is three. If a Greek has memories of three desireable colors and it encounters a monarch with a new desireable color, the Greek “forgets” its oldest memory and replaces it with the new one. Greeks also forget desireable colors after a certain amount of time.

And when we run the simulation? Well, we’ve decided that one kind of amphora is desireable, another kind is undesireable. The undesireable ones respond to (human) consumer pressure and change their color; over time they evolve to the same color. Obviously, we’re talking as if the amphorae themselves have agency. But why not? (and see Godsen, ‘What do objects want?’) That’s one interesting side effect of this deformation.

As I haven’t changed the code, so much as the labels, the original creator’s conclusions still seem apt:

Initially, the Greeks don’t have any memory, so both type 1 and type 2 are consumed equally. However, soon the Greeks “learn” that red is a desireable color and this protects most of the type 1s. As a result, the type 1 population makes a comeback toward carrying capacity while the type 2 population continues to decline. Notice also that as reproduction begins to replace consumed amphorae, some of the replacements are mutants and therefore randomly colored.

As the simulation progresses, Greeks continue to consume mostly amphorae that aren’t red. Occasionally, of course, a Greek “forgets” that red is desireable, but a forgetful Greek is immediately reminded when it consumes another red type 1. For the unlucky type 1 that did the reminding, being red was no advantage, but every other red amphora is safe from that Greek for a while longer. Type 1 (non-red) mutants are therefore apt to be consumed. Notice that throughout the simulation the average color of type 1 continues to be very close to its original value of 15. A few mutant type 1s are always being born with random colors, but they never become dominant, as they and their offspring have a slim chance for survival.

Meanwhile, as the simulation continues, type 2s continue to be consumed, but as enough time passes, the chances are good that some type 2s will give birth to red mutants. These amphorae and their offspring are likely to survive longer because they resemble the red type 1s. With a mutation rate of 5%, it is likely that their offspring will be red too. Soon most of the type 2 population is red. With its protected coloration, the type 2 population will return to carrying capacity.

The swapping of words makes for some interesting juxtapositions. ‘Protects’, from ‘consumption’? This kind of playful swapping is where the true potential of agent based modeling might lie, in its deformative capacity to make us look at our materials differently. Trying to simulate the past through ever more complicated models is a fool’s errand. A digital archaeology that sat in the digital humanities would use our computational power to force us to look at the materials differently, to think about them playfully, and to explore what these sometimes jarring deformations could mean.


Godsen, Chris. 2005. ‘What do objects want?’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12.3 DOI: 10.1007/s10816-005-6928-x

Ramsay, Stephen. 2011. Reading Machines. Towards An Algorithmic Criticism. U of Illinois Press.

Wilensky, U. (1997). NetLogo Mimicry model. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Wilensky, U. (1999). NetLogo. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Historiographical issues & computer games

I punched that title into Google to see what would come up. Thought I’d share the more interesting results (in no particular order):

Jonathan Kinkley
Jonathan Kinkley (art historian), 1240 N. Wood Street, #2, Chicago, IL 60622, U.S.A. E-mail:


Cognitive research has revealed learning techniques more effective than those utilized by the traditional art history lecture survey course. Informed by these insights, the author and fellow graduate researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago designed a “serious” computer game demo, Art Thief, as a potential model for a learning tool that incorporates content from art history. The game design implements constructed learning, simulated cooperation and problem solving in a first-person, immersive, goal-oriented mystery set within a virtual art museum.

  • From Slideshare, a ‘Literature Review on the use of video games in humanities education”:

Theorizing Digital Archaeology

What does ‘digital archaeology’ or ‘digital humanities’ or ‘digital history’ actually mean?

Bill Caraher is giving it a stab; sounds like it’ll be a fascinating talk. I hope there’s a video:

[…]In particular, I am thinking about articulating the notion of digital workflow and its implications in my own archaeological research.By digital workflow, I mean the use of digital technologies across the entire range of archaeological procedures from pre-season planning, data collection in the field, and the dissemination of our results across multiple platforms for diverse audiences.  I like to imagine that our deep dependence on digital data and applications shaped not only how we approached historical and archaeological problems but also how we understood the results of our research and imagined the process of scholarly critique as well as pedagogical .  This is, in part, a response to the view of digital technology as merely a tool that scholars and teachers deploy in the ongoing search for truth rather than an “active” participant in the process of determining what truths are significant, knowable, and even imaginable within a particular academic discourse.


Learning with Digital Games – Nicola Whitton

I’ve just gotten my hands on an (e-)inspection version of Nicola Whitton’s Learning with Digital Games: A Practical Guide to Engaging Students in Higher Education.

From the introduction,

Two recent UK studies provide evidence that students may not be as comfortable with technology for learning and new ways of working as is commonly assumed. In a study of student expectations of higher education, IPSOS MORI(2007) found that while the group of potential students who took part in their study had grown up with technology they did not value the use of technology for its own sake, but instead put a high value on face-to-face teaching and traditional teacher-student interaction. A recent study by CIBER (2008) also provides evidence that the assumption that young people who are brought up in the information age are more web-literate than older people is false. Although young people show an apparent ease with computers, they rely heavily on search engines and lack critical and analytic skills. In fact, the study claims, character traits that are often associated with young web users, such as lack of tolerance of delay in search and navigation, are actually true of all age groups of web users.

This followed a section dealing & dismissing with ‘digital natives’, that old saw. I like it already! I would love dearly to give you the page number for that reference, but the e-inspection software does not allow me to copy text, so I typed it all out – then my browser reloaded, and the page was reset to 1.

Would you accept that excuse from a student? Of course not… :)

(The same digital version, minus bookmarking and annotation tools, can be viewed here). The companion site is here.

Anyway, this looks like a tremendously useful book. Whitton targets her approach explicitly at higher education, from a constructivist point of view. I should’ve ordered a paper copy. You should too!

From the publisher’s blurb:

Written for Higher Education teaching and learning professionals, Learning with Digital Games provides an accessible, straightforward introduction to the field of computer game-based learning. Up to date with current trends and the changing learning needs of today’s students, this text offers friendly guidance, and is unique in its focus on post-school education and its pragmatic view of the use of computer games with adults.

Learning with Digital Games enables readers to quickly grasp practical and technological concepts, using examples that can easily be applied to their own teaching. The book assumes no prior technical knowledge but guides the reader step-by-step through the theoretical, practical and technical considerations of using digital games for learning. Activities throughout guide the reader through the process of designing a game for their own practice, and the book also offers:

A toolkit of guidelines, templates and checklists.

Concrete examples of different types of game-based learning using six case studies.

Examples of games that show active and experiential learning

Practical examples of educational game design and development.

This professional guide upholds the sound reputation of the Open and Flexible Learning series, is grounded in theory and closely links examples from practice. Higher Education academics, e-learning practitioners, developers and training professionals at all technical skill levels and experience will find this text is the perfect resource for explaining “how to” integrate computer games into their teaching practice.

A companion website is available and provides up-to-date technological information, additional resources and further examples.

I have had my own experiences with game-based learning in my classes so I’m looking forward to reading Whitton’s recommendations for design and implementation, to juxtapose with my own experience.

Visualisation in Archaeology

An interesting project hosted by Southampton in the UK and English Heritage – see the full website here. They’re hosting what looks to be a fascinating wee conference in October:

Visualisation In Context:
An Interplay of Practice and Theory

22 – 23 October 2009
Hosted by the University of Southampton

The 2009 VIA Workshop is designed to probe the intersections between theory (which might traditionally be represented in terms of critique – linear and written) and practice (which might increasingly be expressed in terms of production – non-linear and visual) within the field of archaeology as well as other disciplines from the humanities and the sciences.

Check out the VIA  showcase:

Online Research Showcase
Centred on the visualisation of data in both archaeology and the wider fields of the social sciences, arts, and science and technology studies. Like the bibliography, these summaries aim to link practitioners across disciplines, highlight innovative visual projects, and offer a platform for future planning and discussion of best practices around archaeological visual method and theory.
Click to view full entry and abstract... Archaeology and Community Museology: Ancient Egyptian Daily Life Scenes in Museums
Gemma Tully
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... Choreographic Morphologies: Interdisciplinary Crossovers in the Use of Digital Visualisation Methods in Dance and Archaeology
Helen Bailey, Stuart Dunn, James Hewison, Martin Turner
King’s College London
University of Bedfordshire
University of Manchester
Click to view full entry and abstract... Fractured Media: Challenging the Dimensions of Archaeology’s Typical Visual Modes of Engagement
Sara Perry
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... Framing Machu Picchu: Science, Photography and the Making of Patrimony
Amy Cox
University of Florida
Click to view full entry and abstract... Imag(in)ing the Other at Dura-Europos
Jennifer Baird
Birkbeck College, University of London
Click to view full entry and abstract... Institutionalising Images: Early Visualisation Networks in Aegean Archaeology
Deborah Harlan
University of Sheffield
Click to view full entry and abstract... Interactive Panoramas and 3D Modelling Based on Panoramas
Karol Kwiatek, Martin Woolner, Simon Standing, Jes Martens
University of Plymouth, Institute of Creative and Cultural Industries
University of Oslo, Norway, Museum of Cultural History
Click to view full entry and abstract... OKAPI Island in Second Life
Ruth Tringham, Noah Wittman, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley
Click to view full entry and abstract... Pervasive Gaming, Education, and Cultural Heritage: Emplaced Interpretive Games at the Presidio of San Francisco
Ruth Tringham, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley
The Presidio Archaeology Lab
Click to view full entry and abstract... Reflexive Representations: The Partibility of Archaeology
Andrew Cochrane, Ian Russell
Cardiff University
University College Dublin
Click to view full entry and abstract... Representing Prehistory: The Biographies of the Robenhausen Lake Dwelling Collections at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (2008-2009)
Katherine Cooper
University of Cambridge
Click to view full entry and abstract... SahulTime: Rethinking Archaeological Representation in the Digital Age
Matthew Coller
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Click to view full entry and abstract... Scandalous Artefacts
Alessandro Zambelli
Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
Click to view full entry and abstract... Strategies of Visualisation in German Archaeology, 19th-20th C
Stefanie Klamm
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Humboldt University, Berlin
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Archaeological Eye: Visualisation and the Disciplinary Foundations of British Archaeology
Sara Perry
University of Southampton
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Gateway to Sarup
Niels H. Andersen, Maria Isenbecker, Camilla Bjarnø, Jan Solheim
Moesgård Museum, DenmarkSamsøgades Skole, Denmark
Supported by the Danish Ministry of Culture and the Danish Ministry of Education
Click to view full entry and abstract... The Remediated Places Project
Ruth Tringham, Michael Ashley, Steve Mills, Eric Blind, Jason Quinlan, Colleen Morgan
University of California, Berkeley

Top 100 Learning Games, according to Upside Learning

From the Upside Learning Blog

  1. It is All Fun and Games…And Then Students Learn- Kapp Notes, July 30, 2008
  2. Building Better Learning Games- Learning Visions, April 9, 2009
  3. Marc Prensky – Digital Game-Based Learning
  4. Gadgets, games and gizmos for learning- Clive on Learning, January 29, 2008
  5. How to Delight and Instruct in the 21st Century
  6. What Makes a Learning Game?
  7. Serious Games Blog
  8. mLearn08: MiLK: students building mobile learning games in higher education by Debra Polson- Ignatia Webs, November 12, 2008
  9. Marc Prensky – Twitch Speed, June 17, 2009
  10. Using computer games in education- ThirdForce Blog, January 30, 2009
  11. Digital games and learning gains (PDF), June 17, 2009
  12. Learning in Immersive worlds: A review of game-based learning
  13. Army War College – digital game resources
  14. Immerse Yourself in Another Language- Kapp Notes, June 3, 2008
  15. Resources: Games and Gaming in Education- Don’t Waste Your Time
  16. Which name is better – Serious Games or Educational Simulations or…?- The Learning Circuits Blog, October 13, 2007
  17. Interactive learning with game-based design principles
  18. More Educational Games- Kapp Notes, August 7, 2008
  19. Examples from TWITCHSPEED.COM Digital Game-Based Learning, June 17, 2009
  20. The Art of Making Video Games- Kapp Notes, June 10, 2008
  21. Linking Commercial Games with Defense
  22. Colleges Play Games- Kapp Notes, May 27, 2008
  23. Casual Games get Serious, June 17, 2009
  24. Aspects of Game- Based Learning
  25. Walk a Mile in My Shoes: Games Let You Do That- Kapp Notes, July 30, 2007
  26. Educause
  27. Digital Game Based Learning
  28. Good Video Games and Good Learning
  29. Digital Games: A Motivational Perspective
  30. The use of computer and video games for learning
  31. For a Better World: Digital Game and the Social Change Sector
  32. Games for Change – Toolkit
  33. Lego Games
  34. Additional Resources for Digital Game-Based Learning
  35. Why Are Video Games Good For Learning?
  36. Teaching Educational Games Resources
  37. using the technology of today, in the classroom today
  38. Simulation Games – A Learning Tool
  39. Video games and the future of learning
  40. moving learning games forward
  41. 36 Learning Games to Change the World
  42. Game Development Research
  43. BBC School Games
  44. Yes You CAN Create E-learning Games- Bozarthzone , June 22, 2007
  45. Apple Learning Games
  46. And You Thought Mechanical Engineering was Boring- Kapp Notes, August 14, 2008
  47. Adopting Digital Game-based Learning: Why and How- Upside Learning Blog, March 26, 2009
  48. ZaidLearn: 75 Free EduGames to Spice Up Your Course!, December 11, 2008
  49. A Theory of Fun- Clive on Learning, August 16, 2007
  50. Games e-Learners Play, April 29, 2009
  51. The treatment matrix- Clive on Learning, August 5, 2008
  52. PDF: Serious games: online games for learning (PDF), June 17, 2009
  53. Where games, sims and 3D worlds meet- Clive on Learning, June 24, 2007
  54. The Top 5 Platforms for Creating Educational Video Games « Educational Games Research, June 17, 2009
  55. Caspian’s ILS taxonomy- Clive on Learning, November 17, 2008
  56. 24 Questions about computer games and education- The Learning Circuits Blog, August 8, 2005
  57. Casual and Serious Digital Games for Learning – Some Considerations- Upside Learning Blog, April 17, 2009
  58. Clark Aldrich’s Style Guide for Serious Games and Simulations: costs for simulation, December 11, 2008
  59. Gadgets, Games and Gizmos: Learning Algebra in a Game- Kapp Notes, November 19, 2006
  60. Latest Issue of The Escapist Focuses on War Games and Gaming, September 23, 2008
  61. Games and the Gamer Generation: Keynote- Kapp Notes, August 10, 2007
  62. Games and Learner Assessment- Kapp Notes, May 30, 2008
  63. World Bank: Serious Games and Urban Planning, October 30, 2006
  64. Top 10 Educational Games of the 1980s- Kapp Notes, September 20, 2008
  65. Game Studies 0102: Cultural framing of computer/video games. By Kurt Squire, June 17, 2009
  66. It’s Monday, Are You Stressed? Relax with a Unique Video Game- Kapp Notes, October 29, 2007
  67. Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins: From Serious Games to Serious Gaming (Part Four): Labyrinth, November 14, 2007
  68. Save Planet Helios from ecological devastation!-3D Game by IBM- Kapp Notes, August 29, 2008
  69. Serious Games: Slideshow of examples from an event at Harvard Business School, December 13, 2007
  70. Email Games, June 17, 2009
  71. Trends with Games, December 23, 2008
  72. Learning Circuits – ASTD’s Online Magazine Covering E-Learning
  73. Learning in Video Games
  74. Hong Kong Digital Game Based Learning Association
  75. Gadgets, Games and Gizmos: MMORPG in ICT Education- Kapp Notes, January 16, 2007
  76. GDC’s Serious Games Summit- Upside Learning Blog, April 3, 2009
  77. Rapid authoring for immersive games and sims- Clive on Learning, January 26, 2009
  78. Gadgets, Games and Gizmos: ESL in SL- Kapp Notes, February 13, 2007
  79. What is a Game? The Art of Computer Game Design, June 17, 2009
  80. TCC09: Digital Learning Environments: Context Sensitive and Imaginative Classes in Second Life, April 14, 2009
  81. Why Most Off the Shelf Commerical Games Will Not Work in Education? And What Is The Alternative?, June 17, 2009
  82. Textra Games, June 17, 2009
  83. Shootorials: Kongregate Teaches You How To Make Your Own Games, October 22, 2008
  84. Predictions for 2009, December 30, 2008
  85. Simulations – Are They Games (PDF), June 17, 2009
  86. Serious Games Enhancing The Rehabilitation Environment, June 17, 2009
  87. Training Games, June 12, 2007
  88. Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked, June 17, 2009
  89. Computer Games and the Military: Two Views, June 17, 2009
  90. Serious Games, June 17, 2009
  91. Social Sites, Design, Informal Learning, & Brain Games, May 4, 2009
  92. Groupboard, May 7, 2008
  93. Why Do People Play Games? – The Art of Computer Game Design, June 17, 2009
  94. Video games are good for you!, February 13, 2009
  95. Army is to Spend $50 Million in Edutainment for Troops, November 25, 2008
  96. Playing with Our Heads – Why Video Games are Making our Kids Smarter-and more obedient, June 17, 2009
  97. Federal Consortium on Virtual Worlds, November 19, 2007
  98. Examples of Games Based Learning, June 17, 2009
  99. Interesting Web Sites for Game-Based Training, e-Learning and Education:, June 17, 2009
  100. Fourteen Forms of Fun, June 17, 2009

Canadian Historical Review – article on game for history

I’m happy to say I had a hand in this article.

History computer games have become an economic and cultural phenomenon, and historians should seize the opportunity to participate in their development. Players of history games are interested in the past and in the big questions that drive historical scholarship. In this way, games have the potential to draw players into the discipline if we can discover the best way to express history though simulation. But what research do we draw on as we study how to accomplish this transformation? This essay is the product of a meeting of historians, educators, and gamers who joined previously separate lines of inquiry to identify literature and models that we believe form the foundation for developing a theory of good history through gaming.


Les jeux vidéo à thème historique sont devenus un phénomène économique et culturel, et les historiens devraient saisir cette occasion de participer à leur développement. Les personnes qui jouent à des jeux historiques s’intéressent au passé et aux grandes questions qui mobilisent la recherche historique. Par les jeux, il est peut-être possible d’attirer les joueurs dans la discipline, si nous parvenons à découvrir la meilleure façon d’exprimer l’histoire par la simulation. Mais à quelle recherche faisons-nous appel quand nous étudions les moyens de réaliser cette transformation? Cet essai est le produit d’une réunion d’historiens, d’éducateurs et de spécialistes du jeu qui ont relié des pistes de recherche jusque-là indépendantes afin de repérer les études et les modèles qui, croyons-nous, serviront de base à l’élaboration d’une théorie de bonne pratique de l’histoire par le jeu

Report on the Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age Conference, Trondeheim, Norway

From Andrew Reinhard, a report on the recent short conference detailing the nascent Classicists-discover-computer-games movement:

A revolution is happening now and the flashpoint is Scandinavia. Both Sweden and Norway have fought and won to keep Classics as a vital and viable subject of study at the secondary school and university level. Activist bloggers like Moa Ekbom in Sweden (see her Latinblogg), and activist students like Magnus Eriksson in Norway have been responsible for rescuing canceled Classics programs while at the same time finding ways to resuscitate Classics, promoting and publicizing both Latin and Greek as important for contemporary audiences, not just relating to scholarship, but also to popular culture, stripping the stigma of elitism from Classics and proving that Classical Studies is indeed essential for anyone.

The Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age conference was organized by Classics professors Thea Selliaas Thorsen and Staffan Wahlgren, both of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology just outside of Trondheim, Norway. The first of its kind, this conference sought to survey Classics in computer games and virtual worlds as presented by fifteen speakers from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Full report here. I note one of the games mentioned is Caesar IV, which I’ve written about a number of times on this blog. Another series of blog posts from the conference floor live here. I look forward to future iterations of this conference, and hope they come to this side of the pond so I stand a chance of attending.

Before there were graphics, there was text: and fake dead people too

I’m still mulling Colleen’s post, Fake Dead People, where she writes about using non-player characters in games as mere ‘mouthpieces’ for architecture:

Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways. Using programmable objects such as the previously mentioned mano and metate allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts. This is simple for archaeologists who are accustomed to telling stories through objects and adds another level of interactivity to the virtual reconstruction.

She goes on to say,

[…]fundamentally we are better off wearing Caesar’s crown for ourselves rather than asking a poor simulacrum about the weather in the Republic.  Thinking of Caesar as a non-player character in history is a stretch by any means.  But game developers (and digital archaeologists) will probably not stop populating virtual worlds with fake people.  These NPCs are nonhuman manifestations of a network of agents (polygons, “modern” humans, fiber-optics, and the dead person herself) and the relationships between these agents and as a result should be studied as such.  But does this understanding of an NPC as a network make it ethical to take such liberties with the visages of the dead?

I like the phrase ‘network of agents’, but I wonder about the classification of what agents are. My agent models, though populated with simple & stupid autonomous creatures, are still autonomous… (although I like the idea of looking at the network of connections; that’s a major theme in my research) but that’s a side thought. What really prompted this post is this article from the Brass Lantern by Stephen Granade

One way to categorize non-player characters is by whether or not they act separately from the player. Many NPCs are reactive, living only to respond to player actions (assuming they respond at all). They are there to make the setting more real, provide information, or impede the player’s progress. They’re the cafe patron who doesn’t look up from her paper, or the mysterious man in the tweed jacket who talks of destiny and evil forces arrayed against you, or the guard who won’t let you into the building until you show her the proper keycard.

Autonomous NPCs are both harder to get right and more rewarding when done well. They don’t necessarily wait for the player to do something or stay in one place. They wander around and do their own thing, perhaps making unwanted comments or picking up things you really need.

Autonomous NPCs can be further subdivided based on how they’re implemented. Some NPCs are scripted: The NPC does exactly what the author codes. Others are freeform: They have a collection of rules that define their behavior, and the author winds them up and lets them go.

So I guess where I’m going with this thought: archaeological NPCs, whether appearing in text or in graphics, need to be of the autonomous kind, the kind that move with the emergent behaviour found in agent-based models. Then we’d have some real virtual reality in archaeology!

That’s a tall order. My first stab wasn’t all that successful, but it’s something to aim for.

Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age

If you’re going to be anywhere near Trondheim in the next while, you might want to take in ‘Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age‘. If you go, steal all the handouts & powerpoints you can, and send them to me…

I’ve had the pleasure of correspondence with some of the presenters, so I know it’ll be a stimulating programme; I note that Caesar IV is under discussion too – I play way too much of that game… I have mused elsewhere on its possibilities as a counterfactual approach to Roman economics. Ah to be in Trondheim in February…


FRIDAY 20th – SATURDAY 21st of February at Campus Dragvoll, Trondheim, Norway


Auditorium DL33 (’Låven’)

10-10.20 Welcome address and introduction by Dean Kathrine Skretting and Staffan Wahlgren

Session 1: Chair: Marek Kretschmer

10.20-11.00 Martin Dinter, (King’s College London, Classics): ‘Ludological Approaches to Virtual Gaming’

11.00-11.40 Frank Furtwängler, (Universität Konstanz, Media): ‘”God of War” and the Mythology of New Media’

11.40-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.40 Stephen Kidd, (New York University, Classics): ‘Herodotus and the New Historiography of Virtual Gaming’

12.40-13.20 Dunstan Lowe, (Reading University, Classics): ‘Always Already Ancient. Ruins in the Virtual World’

13.40-14.20 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: Jan Frode Hatlen

14.20-15.30 Richard Beacham, (King’s College London, School of Theatre Studies) and Hugh Denard, (King’s College London, Computing in the Humanities): ‘Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales’

15.30-16.10 Thea Selliaas Thorsen, (NTNU, Classics): ‘Virtually There? Women in Ovid, Tatian and the 3D Theatre of Pompey’

16.10-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-17.10 Gian Paolo Castelli, (Rome, Classics): ‘The Emperor’s Seal. On Producing a Roman Computer Game’

17.10-17.50 Adam Lindhagen, (University of Lund, Archaeology): ‘Constructing and Governing a Province – between Fact and Fiction in Caesar IV’

20.00 Dinner


Auditorium D3

Session 3: Chair: Thea Selliaas Thorsen

10.00-10.40 Andrew Gardner, (University College London, Archaeology): ‘Entertainment and Empire. A Critical Engagement with Roman Themed Strategy Games’

10.40-11.20 Leif Inge Petersen, (NTNU, History): ‘Siege Warfare in Computer Games. Problems and Possibilities’

11.20-11.40 Coffee break

11.40-12.20 Kristine Ask, (NTNU, Technological Studies): ‘Technology in Games and Games of Technology’

12.20-13.00 Jan Frode Hatlen, (NTNU, History): ‘Students of Rome: Total War. A Socio-Educational Approach’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 4: Chair: Staffan Wahlgren

14.00-15.00 Daniel Jung, (University of Bergen, Computing in the Humanities) and Barbara McManus, (The College of New Rochelle, NY, Classics): ‘Latina Ludens. Educational Gaming in VRoma’

15.00-15.40 Andrew Reinhard, (Bolchazy-Carducci, eLearning, USA): ‘eLearning Latin’

15.40 ConcLVSIOns (Thea Sellias Thorsen)

17.00 Guided Tour of the City Centre