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

 

Having a Sense of Humor

First, the Interactive Pasts Conference, put on by the Value Project at Leiden University, was fantastic. It deserves a serious recap, which I intend to give.

That’s not what this post is though. This post is silly pictures of me.

During the conference, the following photograph of me was taken while I was giving my talk on mortuary monuments, game spaces, and looting.

IMG_2870

I’m giving some serious side-eye. Based on the background of the slide behind me, I was getting to the part in my presentation where I talk about self-awareness on the part of the game developers concerning their use of looting as a narrative device. It’s a talk I’m happy with, and which I hope to get up on the site soon. But I’m definitely making a dubious and judgy face, and the photographer captured me in that exact moment.

When I linked to this picture on my FB, a former student noted that the image was pretty indicative of experiences he’d had with me in the classroom when I was trying to make a student understand, purely through facial expressions, that they’d said something foolish. A friend chimed in and said it was a meme of my teaching career waiting to happen.

And then it happened.

The following collection of gifs features contributions by colleagues, friends, former students, and me.

When I shared these with the public, it spurred two different conversations. The first, that I was very unprofessional. I don’t agree. I think taking your scholarship seriously is important. There’s no point in doing your work if you don’t take it seriously. But I also think that if you don’t have a sense of humor about yourself, and about your relationship to your work, you can quickly become unhealthy.

The second conversation was that we need to be looking at how we represent ourselves as scholars to the world, and how we share our work. Journal articles are important. Conferences are important. Books and monographs and reviews are important. But the majority of the public doesn’t access those outputs. They don’t see what we’re doing, because we don’t put it in places, or formats, that make it accessible to them.

This is me, being accessible.

IMG_2874 IMG_2875 IMG_2876 IMG_2877 IMG_2878 IMG_2879 IMG_2880 IMG_2881 IMG_2882 IMG_2883 IMG_2884 IMG_2885 IMG_2886

Some of my work deals with looting in games, which is represented. Some of my work deals with historical accuracy versus historical authenticity in games, which is also there. I have a paper I’m giving in Kyoto in the fall that deals with representations of female versus male archaeologists in games, which there’s a nod to. Overall, my friends and students managed to capture a good generalist slice of what I study, which means that in some way, I’m reaching them, and that’s the goal. I don’t want to do research in a vacuum, or have my work lost in one.

12tq2i

Conference Life

Having survived my first Thesis Advisory Panel, and largely settled into a routine in York, I’m now preparing to leave again for a few weeks to fulfill conference obligations I set up months ago, in what feels like another life.

Conferences are one of those aspects of academia that I wish I’d had more explanation on when I was an undergraduate. I never really had anyone tell me where I should and shouldn’t be going, or how the process of submitting abstracts worked, or the reasons to submit a paper versus a poster. I’m not blaming my program, it just wasn’t something that came up, and I didn’t know to ask. By the time I finished my MA, which again, didn’t offer any formalized instruction on conferences, I had mostly just figured things out on my own.

This year I’m scheduled to present at four conferences, and to help facilitate one more. Some of the costs of attendance are being offset by volunteering, which I wholeheartedly recommend. As a volunteer, you get to meet lots of different people, you end up exposed to research you might not normally self-direct to, and you really feel like you’re part of the conference. At some conferences, volunteering covers the cost of your meeting fee. At others, it covers that plus your housing for the duration, which, if you’re a student, why wouldn’t you take that deal? Take that deal!

So I’ll be off to Leiden at the weekend, to present at the Interactive Pasts conference. From there, I fly to Orlando for the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. I’ll be talking about archaeology and archaeological ethics in videogames at both conferences, which is really exciting, and scary, and wonderful, and terrifying. I’m going to see friends I’ve known from the field, and meet people I’ve only ever known on social media, and I’m going to work very hard at not being an impostor-syndrome plagued introvert.

Also, when I’m stateside I’m going to eat my weight in tacos, because York, I love you, but you’re killing me with what you think constitutes a proper taco.

Yes, this is abnormal for York, but more importantly, it's abnormal for me. I need a pool and a margarita, ASAP.
Yes, this is abnormal for York, but more importantly, it’s abnormal for me. I need a pool and a margarita, ASAP.

New life, same blanket

I arrived in York on the 4th, and spent the two weeks after that living in an Airbnb (this one, it really is a must-stay if you’re vacationing in the area) before moving into my house. The dogs and cats arrived, and we started the process of settling in. A week on, and it’s only starting to feel like we’re finding a comfortable routine. It’s an adjustment for all of us, living in a city instead of the suburbs, learning to make it without a yard, and with very, very close-by neighbors. I hired a dog walker, who was meant to help the dogs get more exercise and allow me to work without the guilt of leaving them crated all day, but after two days, she quit.

Like I said, we are all adjusting. Kicking and screaming, some of us, but we are adjusting.

In terms of work, I’ve been reworking my proposal, have begun my formal literature review, am auditing a class on cultural heritage management and museums, and am taking a writing workshop for early PhD writing. I’ve also been doing this very public thing, surrounding a television show called Battlefield Recovery, and had my 15 minutes of internet fame due to something Star Wars related, but those are stories that really need their own space for telling.

Life is good, York is great, and unlike many decisions I’ve made in the past, I don’t regret this one even a bit.

I haven't found the UK cold, compared to the States, but perhaps that's due to my perpetual feline and canine blanket.
I haven’t found the UK cold, compared to the States, but perhaps that’s due to my perpetual feline and canine blanket.

Speccing out… chairs?

I love my chair.

My chair is a fully kitted out Herman Miller Aeron, which originally belonged to my ex-husband. How he got it, I don’t know, but I know the words, “Fell off the back of a truck,” came up once in conversation. When we met, it was his home office and gaming chair, and over time, it became mine. It’s the only chair that I’ve ever found that could be adjusted in all of the ways that I like.

In the course of a normal day, I probably spend 5 to 6 hours in my chair. Leaving aside that generally, that amount of sitting is unhealthy, having a good, comfortable chair is, like having a solid pair of boots, something that occupationally I cannot do without. Good chair for when I’m working at home, good boots for when I’m in the field. They’re equally important, in my eyes.

For reasons I won’t get into, my legs go numb and then later, hurt, if I spend too long sitting normally. My chair allows me to sit fully cross-legged at my desk while maintaining a straight-backed posture. My chair is the only one that I’ve found that supports my back and is roomy enough and deep enough in the seat to allow me to sit cross-legged without spilling over on either the front or sides. The armrests are adjustable and can be brought in or out as I need them.

I will reiterate. I love my chair.

The problem is, my chair is fairly heavy, and I’m about to move 4300 miles away, and to another continent. Shipping is, prohibitively expensive, and I’m having to do some deep soul-searching about what I can take with me, what I can ship, what I can store for several years, and what I need to discard. It’s hard to justify spending money on shipping a chair, even if it’s my favorite everyday all-day been with me through an MA, two MMOs, a game-dev job, and starting my own company.

So I’m in a serious first world problem quandry. Do I eat the cost of shipping, knowing this chair will make me feel a little bit more like I’m at home? Or do I find an alternative, and store the chair for future days.

I’ve looked at a lot of options for replacements, with an eye towards what I can get in the UK, delivered. I’ve weighed the cost of a new chair versus the cost of shipping versus what price point I can afford. I tested everything in Ikea, hoping that one of their options would work, but none did. I’m sort of stuck, right now.

I have until early December, when I move out of my current house and have to store things, to decide what to do. Hopefully, something will come to me.

If I try to work anywhere other than in my chair, this sort of thing inevitably happens.
If I try to work anywhere other than in my chair, this sort of thing inevitably happens.

It’s like Mars, Incorporated, is seeing into my soul.

IMG_2459

Today I’m trying not to take emotional direction from a candy bar, but it’s tough.

For whatever reason, over the last few weeks, my work email has been getting a fairly steady stream of spam. Most of it has been easily filtered out, but I noticed over the past few days that the volume was increasing. Last night it hit a new high, and this morning, it finally drove me to breaking. Over 200 pieces came in overnight, and I’ve had over a flood of over 100 since I got up this morning. None of it is being read, none of it is being opened, it’s all being diverted to the proper place, but it’s irritating. The incoming emails are coming in fast enough to make a just perceptible slowdown in my computer as each piece hits my inbox and is moved out of sight.

Better solutions than “turn on a spam filter,” which I’ve done, and “set up email rules,” which I’ve also done, are appreciated. I’m the whole of the IT department, so there isn’t anyone else to call and complain to either. At this point, my work email is usable, but I’m not sure for how much longer it will be, which is a bit of a problem as I have some fairly large contracts pending.

There’s so much pink in WoW…

I want to like World of Warcraft, but I… really don’t. I’m trying to figure out what that says about me, as it’s just about the most popular video game ever, and arguably is the most mass market Massive Multiplayer Online game ever. I like video games. I like MMOs. Why don’t I like World of Warcraft?

When World of Warcraft came out, in 2004, I was playing something else. Specifically, I was playing Dark Age of Camelot, which was the opposite of World of Warcraft in almost all regards.

  • Dark Age of Camelot was based on real-world cultural traditions, albeit fantasied-up.
  • Dark Age of Camelot had an aesthetic that was moody and often bleak, in comparison to World of Warcraft’s candy colors and cartoon forms.
  • Dark Age of Camelot’s goal was to get to the endgame, which was about large-scale combat against other players.

I really, really loved Dark Age of Camelot, and in a number of ways, it’s been what I’ve measured all MMOs against ever since, this despite that I quit after playing only a year. Even when I quit though, I didn’t migrate to World of Warcraft. I actively resisted playing World of Warcraft until last week, despite years of family members, friends and students attempting to me and my (admirable) Player-Vs-Enemy and (quite, quite good) Player-Vs-Player skills to their servers and guilds.

Last week though, I finally gave in, and made a character on a starter account so that I could explore the content as part of my dissertation research. I realized quickly that I couldn’t accomplish that on a starter account though, as the archaeology content is gated to Level 20, and through the purchase of an expansion. So I bought the expansion too. (As far as research costs, a WoW account pales in comparison to the travel costs of excavating in Belize, for those who might be considering digital heritage and archaeology. Just something to remember.) I’ve worked my way up to the ability to access the content I’m interested in, but the game isn’t engaging me in any meaningful way. The same things that kept me from it initially are still keeping me from liking it now. I’m just not the courted audience for WoW.

I’m still not sure if I’m going to use World of Warcraft in my research. I’m glad I’m looking at it, but there are other MMOs that include archaeology that make me bleed less hot pink and neon green out of my eyeballs. Star Wars: The Old Republic has an archaeology system. Secret World has some missions, as does Lord of the Rings Online and, (I’m told) WildStar. World of Warcraft definitely has the community aspect I’m looking to include, but that could be said of some of the other products too. We’ll see. If there’s an argument to be made for it over the other games, I’d love to hear it.