Being more than archaeologists

After our short tour of the village of Malton and our meeting with the volunteers  of the museum, we found an avalanche of ideas that had emerged from our brainstorming. All of this was overwhelming, due to the fact that we actually have to put all those ideas in a video game. It may seem attractive to design a videogame that will be played by real people, but taking into account that none of us has any experience in this, the prospect was no longer so appealing. So in our first seminar on Thursday, our faces of confusion and perplexity seemed to had been recorded in our professors’ retinas, since at the end of the session they looked really concerned about us. This was not surprising because the ideas that came out were so different from each other that practically were impossible to put all of them together. Between our antagonistic ideas we went from a time traveler, to a soldier who had to survive in the “Roman jungle”.

Trying to made up our minds with Twine
Working on Twine ( Screen capture: Isobel Christian)

After a little break, we found ourselves heavily deep into an intensive course to learn game programming with a program called Twine. At the beginning, feeling confident after a week on the “battlefield”, we said to ourselves “this can’t be so difficult”, but the reality was quite different. As we progressed I realized that all my experience playing with Flappy Birds or any other game was useless, and my sketch started to seem like an incomprehensible tangle of hieroglyphics. However my brain and my heart beats returned to normality when I realized that in the notes that they had given to us were all the keys that could prevent the disaster in our video game. But we will have to wait until the end to see what results from our “computer mastery”.

New Year, New Project

Last summer, halfway through my first year as a PhD candidate, I was asked to help tutor on the University of York’s Digital Heritage Field School, offered through the Department of Archaeology and led by Dr. Sara Perry, my supervisor. The result of the summer term’s work was the Hidden Dale project. It was an incredibly rewarding experience working with undergraduates on their first large-scale heritage interpretation project, and so when I was asked to help out again this year, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

This year’s project is quite different — different stakeholders, different institutional partners, different product, different skill set to emphasize in teaching the students. We’re working with Malton Museum, an entirely volunteer-run community museum, and we’re building a video-game to help highlight the museum’s extensive Roman collection. In the course of this project, the students will learn photography and photo editing, audio recording and editing, game design, graphic design, exhibition skills, and will get lots and lots of experience in heritage practice.

For my part, what I’m bringing to the project is help in teaching (alongside my fellow PhD candidate Harald Fredheim) and a background in game design. I worked for several years as a content creator and team leader at a small, independent game studio, and being able to share the lessons I learned in that part of my life with my students, in a practical and implementable way, is something I never expected would happen in the course of my PhD.

Today, after an initial meeting and a lot of back and forth planning, the students will present the pitch for their Twine game idea to the museum. I can’t wait to see how it goes!