- Archaeogaming: An Introduction to Archaeology in and of Video Games by Andrew Reinhard
New York: Berghahn, 2018. Pp. x + 224. Paperback, $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-78533-873-1.
Archaeogaming, by Andrew Reinhard, is an introductory text to a relatively new subfield of archaeology. At first glance, the title of this work immediately brings to mind media studies of archaeology focusing on well-worn characters such as Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series or the various adaptations of Indiana Jones to the gaming universe. While Reinhard does spend some time discussing media representation of archaeology and archaeologists in video games, his project is significantly broader than this, aspiring to outline a variety of perspectives from which archaeological thought can be brought to bear on digital worlds and their impact in "meatspace" (that is, real life) (p. 2). The book is divided into six sections, with four primary chapters as well as the introduction and conclusion. The primary chapters are essentially categorical, with the first three addressing, in order, an archaeology of the video game industry, archaeology in video games, and video games as sites of study in their own right. The fourth chapter, titled "Material Culture of the Immaterial" addresses a mixture of these topics. The final substantive section of the book is an appendix (pp. 203–9) containing the code of ethics for the No Man's Sky Archaeological Survey (NMSAS) discussed in Chapter 3 (pp. 130–48).
After opening the introduction with a series of short vignettes from his own life to illustrate a few scenarios where the archaeogaming moniker might apply, Reinhard launches into a discussion of what archaeogaming is and identifies it as being analogous to real-world archaeology. Accordingly, archaeogaming addresses five themes (p. 3), though these are more of a starting point than an exhaustive list. The first is rather uncontroversial, being the study of the material culture of gaming. Having gone through roughly five decades of development, digital gaming has generated a substantial material assemblage and has been the driving force behind the development of a variety of social phenomena (see Chapters 1 and 4). Second is the representation of archaeology and museum studies in video games and the handling of topics such as looting, ethics, and racism (Chapter 2, pp. 172–75). Third, and perhaps most interesting (or frustrating, given the seemingly infinite number of debates that could emerge from the topic!), is the notion of doing archaeology in video games. There are a variety of issues to discuss here ranging from how to conceive of games as archaeological sites to the question of whether in-game cultures are truly cultures in the sense of aggregates of phenomena transmitted through social learning. Whether one agrees with Reinhard or not, the notion of conducting archaeology in video games as discussed in the book provides much to think about. The fourth and fifth themes are more vaguely worded, justifying direct quotation so the reader may try to parse their meaning for themselves:
1. Archaeogaming is the approach to understanding how game design manifests everything players see and interact with in-world.
2. Archaeogaming is the archaeology of game mechanics and the entanglement of code with players. Video games are multisensory collections of interactive math, so what deeper meaning(s) can the video game archaeologist infer from these new kinds of archaeological sites and how players engage with them? (p. 3)
The remainder of the introductory chapter provides the theoretical foundations for the project of archaeogaming as well as several discussions of instances where archaeogaming overlaps with other academic fields and the role of archaeologists as game designers. This is followed by a brief chapter summary and explanation of what the book is intended to accomplish.
Throughout the book, Reinhard uses three agent perspectives to structure much of the discussion and his theoretical framework (p. 8). The first of these is that of the developer. From this view, topics of interest include issues of coding and game design (pp. 41–53), [End Page 257] the archaeology of developer sites (pp. 39–40), as well as some...