A few weeks back I decided I did not have nearly enough to do (the lies I tell myself), and thus began a new side project that aimed to experiment with using unconventional spaces for play as not only the game-space, but also the game-engine. Twitter was chosen as the unsuspecting victim and a few hours of Python later I had a semi-workable outcome: @archaeoventure.

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@archaeoventure draws it’s foundations from  hypertext adventure games – for example, Twine games. Where a player is given multiple options in the text, and whichever is selected is the one that progresses the story. The twist here being that I am using Twitter polls to allow players to fight it out to see where the story will go, whichever outcome has the highest % at the end of the day progresses the story in that direction.

WHY DO PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT TO TAKE THE TROWEL?

WHY DO PEOPLE ALWAYS WANT TO TAKE THE TROWEL?

I thought this might be an interesting way to explore how people are accessing and engaging with archaeology – the responses to the polls and the player RTs and reply’s giving a window into decisions and desires.

This has already yielded some fascinating results. Players have tried to push the game in several directions, explaining their choices and rationales, reveling when a consequence for taking a choice they did not like crops up later. Some people are taking the game very, very seriously – an opportunity for education and outreach, whilst others are goofing off and having a bit of fun.

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At the moment a brilliant argument about excavation practices of CRM / research digs is raging, it has been questioned whether the @archaeoventure dig team actually has the permits to be excavating this site – and if so does it extend to the test pits we opened, and how should we navigate the labor politics of sieving – and, possibly my favorite interaction, is that there is an ongoing reply chain about sun safety, which now includes pictures of wonderful archaeologists in their sun-safe-hats.

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140 character research designs should be the new thing in real life. Would cut my work load down a lot.

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I love that in a game, on Twitter, we are getting into this stuff. It’s important – I purposely put in some pretty provocative / bad practice pathways which (should all the iterative bits in the code go to plan) have some severe consequences down the line. My idea was the game would start to make arguments about archaeological practice through play – but the players are going there already. It is so fascinating to me to see these interactions occurring IN the game itself.

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This tweet from the wonderful Kate Ellenberger raised something I was going to get into much later in the game – labor politics. So often when we write games about archaeology we fetishize objects (and sometimes places) but rarely focus on the actual process of excavating – how we organize that space and navigate people and hierarchies. I hope we can get to the part of the game where we can tackle this topic further and give it the attention it deserves.

On a lighter note, it has also shown how attitudes towards archaeology are forming, being challenged and pervading. The trowel still being the first and foremost item that was voted for our archaeological adventurer to take, over digital equipment and a camera (though the gap between items was tighter than I had expected).  Other have bought up ideas of methodology and how that reflects our practice:

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Creating a game means creating a framework that the player pushes up against and explores. Most often – especially in narrative intensive games – this is done in isolation. Players can share experiences through word of mouth, discussion forums of even academic papers, but rarely is that decision process able to be evidenced, or indeed made to impact on the game itself. Using Twitter polls allows the CYOA genre to become multiplayer – not in the massive sense of the word, where each person can represent a distinct agent – but in the sense that when the poll ends we can see how others voted, and add commentary in-line (ie: in the game interface) as the story progresses.

At the moment I am working on a more dynamic system for the game, which will allow people to add interpretations of objects and contexts and life on site via tweets, and also add dialogue interactions between characters or use inventory items. This system will take the social elements of Twitter and start playing with how that can be used in a gamespace on a larger level. Some of the players already assumed this was how the game worked (trying to use twitter functions or tweeting at the game to try impact the story beyond the polls). It has been fascinating to see how people are trying to play with the game – and I hope to be able to explore these further in the future!

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On a more technical note – one thing that keeps cropping up is how making things fit the Twitter API and code of conduct for something like this is surprisingly hard. Twitter is not a platform that wants you to make games this way on it. It pushes back against the scripts I write and the interactions I try to make. But through those annoyances and limitations I find a lot of joy. Pushing those boundaries constantly asks me to rethink what a game is and how it can work. It has been a massive challenge to make things work semi-ok (though I have, at least twice, unplugged the mini server I have running everything which has made the game come to a grinding halt). Technical magic aside, even the limitations of 140 characters, 4 poll questions (limited characters) has been an obstacle – it is hard, very hard, to tell a compelling story in one sentence, especially as a PhD researcher who is used to having 90,000 words to play with.  There is something quite exciting (and hard) in taking the complexity and madness of planning and executing a field season and trying to make it coherent in 140 chars.

Once I have refined the operating code for the game a bit more I will write a full blog post up about that – but for now I will sign off. Hope to see you all in the @archaeoventure Twitter game soon!

 

I highly encourage interaction with the bot (i.e. tweeting at it) as it helps build a set of grammars that will inform future interactions. Also – I would love to hear your feedback – to my own twitter (@gamingarchaeo), via email (tjc528 at york dot ac dot uk) or via this blog!