State of the Dissertation: The Second TAP Approacheth

Here we are in August, and my second Thesis Advisory Panel meeting is fast approaching. Because of schedules, both mine and my supervisor’s, my TAP will be a bit early, in the very beginning of September. That, coupled with leaving for WAC at the very end of August, means that right now I have 10 days (including weekends, and I think I’ve mentioned before how I feel about work/life balance and weekends?), to get everything together to submit.

As it stands, this is what I’m considering turning in/presenting:

  • Ch 1, Introduction, 2000 words
  • Ch 2, Ethics section and subsections, 5000 words
  • Ch 2, Methodology section and subsections, 3000 words
  • Ch 2, Theory section and subsections, 3000 words
  • Glossary, 3000 words (that don’t count towards my total word count)
  • A Gantt chart of my progress so far
  • The data collection forms I’ve made (digital forms, because this project is 0 paper)
  • My ethics forms for the formal review process

The big thing I’m not turning in, and what will keep me from going through the confirmation to PhD process, is the formalized literature review.

When I changed my organizational/chapter structure about a month ago (which was absolutely the right thing for me to do), I broke up the literature review from one big chapter into focused sections that would address specific areas as needed, The reorganization also came alongside finally getting a handle on what theory was relevant. So the literature review I had in progress is now out of sync with how I’m organized, and not focused on what I’m actually doing. It is too sprawling and open, and basically, unusable. Without a literature review I can’t be vetted for confirmation though, so, that has to get done and settled by March, or it’s game over PhD and hello MPhil (aka, failure.)

Even my shoes are a bit pessimistic right now.
Even my shoes are a bit pessimistic right now.

I’m trying not to panic, but I believe in being honest about how this process really functions, so…I’m panicking, a lot. I think the written work I’ve done is good enough, but I just don’t know if I’ve done enough written work, and I don’t know if the amount of non-written work it took to get to that written work is evident.

I really don’t want to get sent home.

No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey, Dennis-1*

One of the (few) advantages to being from the US, but based in the UK, is that I have been able to maintain my access to the US-side Playstation Store. (I never switched my account over, and I don’t think I will, at least not in the foreseeable future.) Because of this, I found myself in the position yesterday of being able to access the PS4 iteration of No Man’s Sky before it was released in the UK and Europe.

I did not intend to stay up until 2 in the morning conducting planetside ground survey.

I stayed up until 2 in the morning conducting planetside ground survey.

It was totally worth it, and I say that as someone who still had to be up at 6 to take out the dogs, and who had to be in the office by 7:45.

Backtracking though, let me go through how the process worked, and what I took away from my first night as an official NMSAS Archaeonaut. I can’t speak to how normalized my first experience was compared to the starting experience of others, so if you don’t want to know how the “tutorial” worked, this is a good place to stop.

Loading into the world, I found myself on a planet that was mostly purple and red, with pod-like carbon-based vegetation and twisting, almost organically shaped iron deposits, many of which were taller than me. My ship was nearby, but in a state of disrepair, and there were crates, boxes, and bits of detritus nearby, all clearly from my crashed vessel. Upon interacting with one of these pieces of mess, I was linked up to the Atlas, and given basic instructions on what I needed to do to to repair my ship. The option was presented to allow the Atlas to help me, or to completely free range and see what happened. I accepted the help of the Atlas, but…ended up ranging pretty far afield anyway, because 1) I’m an archaeologist and I was tempted by vaguely constructed-looking shapes just at my horizon/draw distance, and 2) I’m crap at orientating myself on a map, which is a professional failing that I am very aware of in myself.

With a need to fix my ship established, I took off across the planet, using my hand-held scanner to look for nearby resources. I was concerned, prior to starting this project, as to what role collecting and resource gathering would have in the process. My work focuses so strongly on the ethics of archaeological practice in games, and on archaeological representation in games, that I had worries that No Man’s Sky would be the largest set-back to archaeological representation in games since the first Tomb Raider. Thus far, those concerns have been unfounded, but I’m still monitoring the way the game handles commodification, and my role in that process as an Archaeonaut.

I ended up climbing mountains and falling into a crevasse and learning to use my jet-pack thrusters and meeting several cow-like creatures that ran away from me. The interface tells you how long it’s going to take to reach any particular object, waypoint, or goal that you’ve found via your scanner, and when it said it was going to take 30 minutes to hit a particular deposit I needed for my engine repairs, I assumed it was joking.

It was not.

Time, and time management, are huge issues in this game. If it says it’s going to take 45 minutes to get somewhere, it means it, and that 45 minutes is only 45 minutes if you don’t get distracted by anything else, and if it’s a straight (non-crevasse-filled) line between you and your target. The process feels very foreign, in a game, as I’ve become used to fast-travel and jump points and not walking everywhere. Later, when I finally got off-planet and into “space”, the process was repeated in an even more intense way.

It’s more than just time management in that you may not have 6 hours to play every day. It’s also that as you explore, or in my case, as I attempted ground survey, you also have to keep yourself alive by managing your systems. Heat was a problem for me. My suit kept overheating, my life support failed, my shielding went down, I had problems with it being too hot, and then too cold, as the day-night cycle progressed. I had to do a lot to keep myself alive, beyond just not getting eaten by anything, which I had some real concerns about. The game made me feel very, very small, and very, very alone. I had no idea what would happen if I “died”.

Having recovered everything I needed, I took a roundabout way back to my ship, as I’d been enticed by three question mark icons located during my hand-scanning. They turned out to be two obelisks, and a shrine. From an examination of the obelisks, I learned some of the (possibly?) native language, and at the shrine, I was able to put together those words and partially decipher an associated text. This language acquisition proved helpful when I left the planet, as the tongue had spread to other planets in the system.

Taking off into space was intense. I have a fear of heights, and of flying, and the user interface combined with my big screen and a dark room was enough to again make me feel very small and isolated, and very alone in the universe. If that was the intent, well done Hello Games. You nailed it.

I finally logged off around 2, having located the next closest planet and begun working with the FAIMS toolset that we’re using for data recording for the project. Thoughts on that, pictures of Dennis-1, the first planet I recorded for the project, and thoughts on my first encounter with demonstrably sentient life, to come later.

*As part of the survey, we are recording our discoveries as Surname-PlanetNumberDiscovered, therefore, the first planet I encountered was Dennis-1. I am also recording the indigenous names of all planets and features encountered, but have not yet determined how, and to what extent, to incorporate those indigenous naming conventions into my personal reports. For now, I’m making note of them, and will be consulting with a colleague regarding the appropriate response.

8bit Test Pit

Along with my colleagues Tara Copplestone and Andrew Reinhard, I am now one of the hosts of a new podcast, 8bit Test Pit, streaming on the Archaeology Podcast Network. On the podcast we talk about archaeogaming, the intersection of culture in material and immaterial worlds, digital ethics, methodology for excavation in game spaces, and how games can be used for archaeological interpretation and outreach.

It’s crazy fun, and a great opportunity to work through some of the issues of our new sub-discipline that need hashing out. We’d love suggestions for topics for the show, and are keen to have guests on to talk about their own research in archaeogaming and games-located archaeological studies.

Follow 8bit Test Pit on Twitter as well!

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WAC-8 Poster

In less than a month I’m traveling to Kyoto to take part in the Eighth World Archaeological Congress. It’s a conference that meets every four years, and covers archaeological topics of all periods and places. I’ll be giving a paper on gendered representations of archaeologists in video-games, chairing a session on archaeological representation in media, and presenting a poster on the ethical code for archaeogaming that I’m creating as part of my dissertation research.

The code is still quite rough, I’m presenting it as a draft format, with the hope of getting feedback on direction and viability. This should be translated, through the filter of a first year PhD student as, “I’m terrified that my work will be torn apart but also terrified that someone will do this work before me, and better, and more publicly.”

As a secondary life, the fabric poster will be cut down to make a purse and a wallet when the conference is over.
As a secondary life, the fabric poster will be cut down post-conference to make a purse and wallet.

#SAA2017 Archaeogaming Symposium

It’s time to start planning for next year’s conferences, because this stuff starts very, very far out. The Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from March 29 – April 2, 2017. I’m currently involved with planning two sessions, one for Project #Moonstuff, and one on archaeogaming.

While this is an organized session, it’s not a closed one. If anyone is interested in participating, they should get in contact with me and I’ll be glad to talk about the session, and provide information on how to submit an abstract to it. I’m particularly interested in having diverse voices within the papers, so varied backgrounds and experience levels are welcome.

The abstract for the proposed archaeogaming symposium is:

Archaeogaming: Studying Material Culture in Immaterial Worlds

Archaeogaming posits that immaterial worlds, such as those found in single and multiplayer video-games, are viable spaces in which to study material culture, recognizing that created cultures are the inherited product of cultural influences from within our own “real” world. By examining each game space, we can isolate the particular culture of the created world, can apply archaeological and ethnographic techniques, and can address larger issues of theory and practice in non-destructive, replicable ways. Within this session, practitioners involved in the emerging four fields of archaeogaming will discuss their work. Papers focus on the archaeology of video-games and related technologies via real-world excavation, archaeology within video-games via digital excavation, the creation of archaeological video-games, and critical examinations of archaeology and cultural heritage in video-games.

The abstract for my proposed paper within the session is:

Codifying Ethical “Field” Methodologies Within Immaterial Spaces

As archaeogaming posits that immaterial space is a valid sphere in which to study material culture, it is necessary to determine how common archaeological practices can be performed within that sphere, and whether the performative acts are, given the limitations and bounds of immaterial space, still appropriate as method. In addition, the ethical ramifications of common practice require reconsideration, as their performance occurs in contexts and involves situations where AI actors may be unable to consent to engagement or participation in potentially problematic fieldwork. Through both discussions of theory and case study examples, the argument will be made that it is only through a conscious application of an applied ethics policy that fieldwork conducted in immaterial space can be considered valid archaeologically.

Console
There’s more to archaeogaming than Tomb Raider, but the ethics of how to engage in archaeogaming within Tomb Raider are critically important.

 

 

Bruised but Unbeaten

My recovery from the great tumble continues. My foot is mostly better, unless I walk on it too long. My back is still a wreck. My arm, which hit the banister on the way down, has turned a lovely shade of blackish-purple, a color that were I twenty years younger, my teenage goth self would have found darkly appealing.

Lil' Meghan
Me in 1995, on the way to DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. This wasn’t a costume, it was just me at the time. I was really that white, too. It’s not a photo trick.

This week has been busy, and it’s only Wednesday. My meeting with my supervisor went well, and she was quite happy with the first draft of the first chapter that I turned in. The suggestions she offered actually made my work easier and less painful that I what I was proposing, which was welcome. I think I will, for the next three years, continue to live in fear of disappointing everyone with my writing and ideas, but it’s not this week, at least.

My dissertation work continues. I thought I’d got a handle on the lit review section dealing with media archaeology, and then discovered, as I call them, “My Germans.” That led me down a path of obtaining translations and too much time copy-pasting untranslated material into a converter, then picking out what the gibberish returned by the program might mean… In short, I am besotted with some of the thought on media and materiality that’s come out of Germany, and particularly Berlin, but it’s going to require rewrites on my part. I think it’s important to reiterate that I am not a trained media archaeologist. I am a trained field archaeologist, and have found a niche in-between the two areas, which means to a degree, I’m figuring some stuff out as I go along. Most of the time I feel good about how I’ve positioned myself, but there are days when what I don’t know is a crushing weight that terrifies me.

On Thursday, the students I worked with via the University of York’s Archaeology and Heritage field school are having their final exhibition, which will showcase both their work and the work of the paired excavation modules at Breary Banks and Malton. There’s a flurry of activity here at the end, checking and rechecking files, making sure that everything is turned in and set up and ready to go. I will not say how many emails concerning the project I received before 8 this morning, but the number was considerable. It’s great fun working with this group of students though, so even during the grumbly moments (I need to check what for the what number time?!) I’m happy to be involved with the project.

 

Boom Goes the Tailbone

And suddenly, with a thud down the stairs* and a rush of cold Yorkshire air, it’s June, and I’m onto another section of my dissertation.

While I’m still working on my literature review, and will be on and off until September, it’s no longer the primary focus of my days. I’ve moved into working on elements of what will be Chapter 4, which covers my methodology and ethics policy. Methodology is June. Ethics will be July. August will be drinking. (Just kidding.) (Mostly.)

This month I am scheduled to:

  • Establish an in-game data collection framework (generally, and as much as possible at this stage, for each selected game)
  • Codify my “field” methodologies
  • Determine my data curation strategy

So I’m sourcing tech, looking at software packages, researching digital ethnography, and spending a lot of time looking at “dirt archaeology” projects and trying to figure how to transfer the tried and true into digital, without bringing along the bias, colonialism, and baggage of the last 100 years of practice. There’s a lot of cruft.

I was also scheduled to begin working on the No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey (NMSAS), but with the game being delayed, that takes the survey work off of my plate for at least another month. I still have some research questions to submit, and a general personal presence to set up with the project, but the breathing room from the delay is actually good for me, as…

My first draft of my first chapter was submitted last week, and I’m meeting with my supervisor about it next week. It’s either going to go really well, or really horribly. The project has expanded into a few areas of digital heritage practice that are bigger than “just” video-games, and I’m nervous about how the ways in which I’ve integrated that direction. I expect massive re-writes to be requested. Cross fingers. Toss salt.

Next week is the exhibition for the collected work done by the student excavation teams at Breary Banks and Malton, which is being curated by the first year undergraduates I worked with on the Archaeology and Heritage digital field school. I continue to be incredibly proud of them, and can’t wait to see this final aspect of their labors.

Overall though, things are going well. My new rules are mostly working. I’m more productive. I’m happier. Life is good.

I couldn't have even done this when I had a decent pedicure going. No, everyone who's asked to see my busted toes has also been treated to really un-pampered feet.
I couldn’t have even done this when I had a decent pedicure.

*I fell down the stairs on Saturday. I wasn’t in any way intoxicated. I was carrying laundry, got bumped by a dog, lost my footing, and landed hard on my back before rolling down a few steps and crunching my bare foot beneath me. Nothing is broken, but I had two dislocated toes and am sporting some beautiful purpling. I was on crutches for a few days and am still riding the codeine train, but it could have been much, much worse. I will also forever support the NHS, as they took excellent care of me for pennies. Had I experienced this injury in the States, I would likely be looking at thousands of dollars of debt.

Work Life What?

One of the problems with doing a PhD by research in the UK, is that effectively, your time and how you manage it is your own. There’s no coursework, and no set hours that you have to be anywhere. It’s freeform and open and unless you’re very, very careful, that vastness of possibility can go disastrously awry. I’ve heard horror stories. (I will not say if I’ve seen them, as I would never narc out my fellows on something like this.)

In my case, my work is completely on track. I am right on schedule with my research proposal. I’ve kept up with my output, not missed any meetings or deadlines, and have found the “work” portion of the PhD process fulfilling. It’s the life part that I’m not doing so hot on.

So, these are my new rules for life-work balance, effective 18 May, about 4:30 in the morning, when I woke up and couldn’t back to sleep, as the sun that shines on this country doesn’t understand that 4:30 isn’t an appropriate time to come up.

  • New Rule #1: No more caffeine. It’s a crutch, and a crutch I’ve kicked before and need to again. I expect to feel pretty crap for a week or so as I get this poison out of my system.
  • New Rule #2: No more meat. I only feel guilty eating it, and I was doing really well for awhile, but I got lazy. Plus, it makes me sleepy.
  • New Rule #3: No more drinking, except on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights. Only 1 drink per hour when I do go out. No more drinking because everyone else is, or because I’m bored or sad or angsty or nervous around people.
  • New Rule #4: I must be in the office every weekday, unless I’m lecturing or being lectured to.
  • New Rule #5: Corollary to the previous rule, no more working at all on the weekends, INCLUDING ANSWERING EMAILS EVEN JUST ONE WHAT WOULD IT HURT TO ANSWER JUST ONE.
  • New Rule #6: Don’t do that thing. You know what thing. Don’t do it.

Hopefully, by following these rules, which one friend already declared, “harsh and unjust,” I can get myself back on a more even keel, and feel generally better day-to-day. I need to do something, because while I’m happy with my work, I’m not happy with myself, and that’s not sustainable.

Even my fake video-game boyfriend Nathan Drake thinks I need to get myself together, and he's a horrible looter.
Even my fake video-game boyfriend Nathan Drake thinks I need to get myself together, and he’s a horrible looter.

Hidden Voices: Excavations at Breary Banks & Malton

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working under my advisor, Sara Perry, as she directs the archaeology and heritage field school for University of York first year undergraduates. The students are preparing an audio guide, map, and brochure to detail the WW1 site of Breary Banks, Yorkshire. This endeavor is done in tandem with the excavation field school for the department, which is completing its final year at the location.

As the students have detailed in their posts on their project website, Breary Banks was originally built as a camp for “navvys.” These navigators, who were hired to build railways and reservoir projects, were housed at Breary Banks in fairly substantial wooden huts and buildings. Later, when the war broke out, the navvy housing was converted into a training camp for the military, initially the Leeds Pals battalion. There was a hospital, a chapel, housing for the soldiers, leisure areas (including, possibly, tennis courts), and pubs for the officers. Following the war, and the camp’s conversion into a German POW camp, the site was re-converted back into naavy housing, and people lived in residence until the late 1920s.

My role in the process of producing an audio guide about Breary Banks has been to work with the students as they learn to use a suite of digital tools. I’ve helped facilitate photo editing, audio production, digital publishing, and archival research. For most of the students, it was their first entry into any of these areas, and it’s been fantastic watching them become proficient with the technologies in such a short amount of time.

The other thing that’s been fantastic has actually been being back in the classroom. I taught for almost ten years, in one capacity or another, and having taken it back up again in this context has shown how much I missed it. I enjoy working with students. I enjoy lecturing, and setting tasks, and doing walk-arounds to check on student progress as they write and tinker and edit. I’m genuinely excited to come in to work every day, and I look forward to seeing what they do on the days I’m not with them.

The students are in the final edits on their audio guide and accompanying brochure and map, and are starting to curate the exhibition that will showcase their work, and the work of the students on the related excavation field school module. It’s going to be a great night, and if you’re in the area you should definitely come!

 

It’s like Gaming Christmas, if you like bad archaeology games…

I’m at the point where I’m starting to think about budgeting for the project, which has meant sitting down and figuring out the final list of which systems and games I need to acquire in order to do my research.

Currently, I’m scheduled for 10 case studies, each of which will be about 5000 words. The case studies are each on a different console/platform. If anyone has suggestions beyond what I’ve listed, please feel free to share. I am specifically looking for games that feature representations of archaeology or archaeologists, that illustrate elements of archaeological practice, or that reference the antiquities market.

All prices are listed in pounds. Italics denotes a preferred (or already acquired) title.

Arcade

Mysterious Stones (1984): Still looking for playable arcade cabinet

Lost Tomb (1983): Still looking for playable arcade cabinet

Tutankham (1982): Still looking for playable arcade cabinet

Atari 2600

Jungle Hunt (1982): Available, 13.00

Entombed (1982): Available: 7.00

Quest for Quintana Roo (1983): Available, 7.50

Tutankham (1982): 4.00

Montezuma’s Revenge (1984): Not available

Pitfall (1982): Available: 12.00

Early PC Adventure

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: Available, 4.79

NES/Sega Genesis

Digger T. Rock (1990, NES): Available, 14.99

Tombs & Treasure (1989, NES): Available, 20.00

Xbox/PS1

Curse: The Eye of Isis (2003): Available, 10.00

Stolen (2005): Available, 2.04

Treasures of the Deep (1997): Available, 16.00

Ark of Time (1997): Available, 9.45

Egypt 1156 BC (1999): Available, 4.49

Tomb Raider: Legend (2006): Available, 4.65

AAA MMO

SWTOR (2011): Available, Free to Play

PS4/XBox One

Uncharted 4 (2016): Available, 44.00

Modern Indie/Steam

C14 Dating (2016): Available, 20.00

Mobile/Phone/Handheld

Evolving Planet (2016): Available, Free to Play