Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Virtual Archaeologist

I've got another idea for a story.

Archaeo-gaming is a thing, you know. As a sample, here's a cute and chatty article on Skyrim by a couple of career archaeologists.

I keep coming back to the image of an archaeologist-protagonist walking into a vast and ancient underground space in search of secrets, and this doesn't mesh well with the realities of our current world.*

These settings are, however, found in games. And there is a lot of interesting stuff to talk about here, between the morality of the virtual world, material culture astride the twin horns of Intellectual Property and Cultural Appropriation, etc. As just one for-instance, discussion has already arisen about the ethics of virtual replicas of cultural artifacts and practices of still-living peoples. (Throw the big money of the AAA market in and you've got the makings of an online Dakota Access Protest).

I simply can not do justice in a morning blog post to how many interesting ideas there are in current Archeo-gaming. And it intersects into other equally fertile fields, among them retro-computing and the rich legacy of old hacker lexicon and lore. Deep Magic, indeed.

Simplistically, the archaeological subjects are both the material culture of the games themselves; the intentional content of developers and the modding community and the sandbox creations of open communities like Second Life, and the borrowed material culture being variously recreated for research or educational purposes, repurposed for entertainment, or borrowed or stolen. Then there is interaction with the environment; the material culture of a designed in-game object is as much influenced by the core mechanics and the technological limitations and the developed history of game design. In a circle of continuous dialog and influence that causes those choices to move along evolutionary pathways; emergent as much as designed.

And there are actual bits of archeogaming that would be fun to either describe or reference; the near-legendary Atari Dig of 2013 in New Mexico, or the grand failure of late 2016, the great No Man's Sky survey. (In the former, old game cartridges were unearthed from a dump, in the latter, the terrain of a procedurally generated game was explored using archaeological survey methods).

But...I need to eat and solder, and I think the only way I can really describe what I'm after is to write the damned thing.

* it isn't exactly an exception, more a question of spin. Want to go into a great crumbling underground complex full of dangers and potential treasures? Try Urban Archaeology. Our intrepid Indy could be exploring into the sarcophagi of Chernobyl. Although those aren't exactly dangers a bullwhip is good against. And the local security of the still-active power plant would probably object, too!

Oh, yeah, and another weird idea that popped up two minutes ago as someone on the radio used the formulaic phrase "Passed on": Second-chance world. A technically blank slate situation where everyone has, after their death, a second chance to make different choices. Where they are reborn young enough to have time to explore that alternate career path, find time for their music, chose the other potential life-mate, etc.

Except of course it is never that simple. Even in this new world one discovers many of the same doors are closing. Life is what happens to you while you were waiting for a chance to finally do the things you wanted to do, and maybe this is true no matter how many chances you have at it.

(There are millions of other world-building thoughts that tumble after that first one. What's the timing of the reborn and what do they have of their old-world skills? If this has been happening for a while, then there will be a built-up society already. One which will by the nature of societies have definite ideas where it wants newcomers to fit in. How do religions react to this place? I can imagine a local offshoot of Buddhism confronting the reality of being stuck on the damn wheel and wanting off. And so on and so forth!)

(One answer to the question if whether the history is as long as our own -- meaning that essentially it replicates the history of our world, except with a slight head start in later periods -- is if groups are largely separated. Which means each group decants into a survival situation, which is going to be largely fatal -- and really, really restrict the life choices. But on the flip side, then you could call the tale, "Friday's Child.")

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