Archaeology of Videogames: the beginning. Alessandro Pintucci

A curious story

President of CIA (Confederazione Italiana Archeologi)
Archaeology, Videogames

Alessandro Pintucci is an archaeologist, president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists that groups the professionals in this field. He is also an enthusiastic gamer, who doesn’t think that games are against culture.
Recently, he has participated to the workshop “Archaeology plays with Cultural Tourism” at Archeovirtual 2017 (BMTA, Paestum Italy) where he presented the long story of games dealing with archaeology, pointing out how games have been influenced by this discipline and also how the discipline was possibly influenced by them, at least in term of general public expectation.

Q1-  What people know about archaeology, at least people with just a “movie” and “games” experience
A1- If we look at movies and videogames directly connected with Cultural Heritage and archaeology, I think that three are the elements always present: adventure, exploration and treasures.
The reasons for this common  idea about archaeologists are strongly based on the stories that the same nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ archaeologists have told about themselves in books (often autobiographic), written mostly to economically support their researches. It’s what we call “colonial archaeology”, made of astonishing discoveries in far countries by rich western archaeologists. In a word, Indiana Jones.

Q2- In Italy you are recently redeeming videogames, discoverying their potential also for tourism promotion, education and Cultural Heritage (CH) dissemination.  Is this the first time CH and games talk to each other? When can we find a game connected to CH?
A2- It’s not the first time that archaeology and videogames meet themselves, but it’s the first time that archaeologists recognize this as an interesting phenomenon and try to analyse it.
There are plenty of archaeology based videogames, often produced by mainstream companies, but if I had to choose one I would say Apotheon, by Alientrap: it’s a platform and adventure game set in Ancient Greece, where all the scenarios and characters are drawn inspiring to Greek black-figures vases.
Well it seems that developers of the games have understood the potential behind ancient art and archaeology as a modern language to communicate with, better than how most part of archaeologists usually do.

Q3- At Archeovirtual we have seen an exhibition where 13 games have been presented, all with a connection with our patrimony or story. Which one you think better represent a model that could be used to promote them?
Everyone of them has a meaning and a place in the history of videogames, but if I had to choose one, probably I would say the Assassin’s Creed series, where to the player is given the possibility to explore an entire no more existing world, perfectly recreated with the crowds that lived it.
It’s every archaeologist’s fantasy, to rebuild the world he is studying and live it. Something like what happened to the archaeological mission staff  in Michael Crichton’s Timeline.

Q4-  Do you see a role for archaeologists in the game industry?
A4- During the development of Assassin’s Creed Unity (set during French Revolution, in eighteenth century), a Canadian scholar worked for a year side by side with game developers to perfectly recreate Paris, gathering a large amount of old maps of the city, pictures and written documents of that time. The result is the most perfect reconstruction of the city ever made.
Furthermore, all the videogames plots are based on some objects or facts usually considered ordinary: we can see them as the material culture we normally study in archaeology.
Every archaeological object has multiple stories to tell: stories about how it has been made, of how it has been found and even of how it came to the collection where it is conserved. The task of the archaeologists should be to tell those stories and make them interesting for a plot.

Q5-   What kind of support, if any, institutions should have for game developers?
A5- I do think that public institutions can do much for developers and for archaeology too: the first thing  is finding a place where demand and supply can meet each other. I hope in an economic support system too, especially for Italian developers that could be interested in developing CH based videogames, giving them the freedom to imagine how to tell the stories. Something like what already exists for movies (i.e. the movie Bruges with Colin Farrell).

Q6-  If you have to convince a curator to include a videogame into its museum communication plan, what would you say? What kind of suggestions would you tell him/her?
A6- If a criticism can be made to museums is that pieces seem dumb, conserved in unproductive display cases. But they have been alive once, they all contain stories, about the makers of them, their owners, even of their discoverers. Do you remember what happened to Smithsonian Museum with Night at Museum movie? Well, let’s imagine that an entire museum collection, or part of it, can be brought into a videogame, where to the player is given the possibility to explore all those stories, to live them, and then, after having completed the game, to visit the museum and meet the real pieces. I don’t know if this can bring more visitors to that museum, but certainly can create a new approach to CH, as part of everyone’s life.

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