As many of you know I’ll be beginning my anthropology honours thesis writing come September 10th. As such I’ve written down/sketched out a bit of an outline of what I’d like the next 8 months to look like, and before I submit my final draft of this document to my supervisors (@kbiittner and @sarahshulist) I’d love to get your feedback! What readings am I missing? Are there other projects I should spend my time on? Other comments or concerns? Let me know @mxmoireabh or through the comments!
Disclaimer: This post was written as part of my ANTH 320: Archaeologies of Gender requirements in Fall 2016. It has been in publication hell since then, but I’ve finally decided just to upload it here as I begin my archaeogaming thesis next month and will be needing to reference this essay as part of that. So. Here goes:
The academic study of video games is yet an emergent field, and the interdisciplinary field of archaeogaming ever more emergent still. As scholars become more convinced as to the validity of video games as an expressive medium, so to do they become convinced that video games exist as an expression of a society’s ideological mechanisms (Dill & Thill, 2007). In considering video games as a cultural artefact the question, “What can we use to come to a greater understanding of gender and/or the construction of gender in and from video games?” is something which requires refinement. Andrew Reinhardt, blogger at archaeogaming.com, has specifically isolated the construction of methodologies and tools as one of “archaeogaming’s grand challenges” (Reinhardt, 2015), and in considering this I have constructed a possible methodology which has applications for the archaeogaming of gender. It is my contention that with regard to gender the analysis of colour palettes has a great amount of potential to influence archaeogaming methodology when such graphical output is considered to be a component of the video game as artefact.
Current methods for discerning gender as an end-product, or object, of ideological mechanism in video games tend to focus on whether or not women are identifiable as characters within a game and subsequently whether or not their depiction may be perceived as positive in some capacity (ex. Dill & Thill, 2007; Reinhardt, 2016). While such “looking for women” approaches are effective in their own right (Conkey & Gero, 1997, p. 415), there does not appear to be as much work done thus far by game theorists with regard to how characters are “coded” as women—or any gender for that matter—in order to be identified.
In constructing an analysis of a video game one may use one or more colour palettization tools to create a data set by which an analysis of gender through colour theory may be undertaken. In considering the video game as artefact this is to be done with consideration to the full operational context of the video game. Additionally a consideration of some of the concerns which may arise with the use of such a method must be undertaken.
How are ideological functions/effects in games expressed? With regard to colour as representative of categorization of something such as gender “[c]lassification is achieved because colour functions as a marker of social identity” (Koller, 2008, p. 397). “Colour codes” may thus be considered to function as a method by which social groups may demonstrate themselves (Koller, 2008, p. 397). With a near-infinite range of visible colours presently capable of display with contemporary computers and screen technologies the isolation of colour as an area of intentional effect within video games is ideal. Colour choices are rarely now considered with relation to the graphic capabilities of hardware, and more within our current video game moment than ever are colour theories capable of being applied to the discerning of ideological effects (ex. gender, emotion, etc) (Geslin, Jégou & Beaudoin, 2016). Within a Western context, for example, the colour pink is now often associated with women and feminity (Koller, 2008). Princess Peach exists as one of perhaps the pinkest characters in video games, and has done so for a number of years. In analyzing the character’s first (and presently only) solo game “Super Princess Peach” (see fig. 1) the colour pink is obviously predominant, however as is the colour blue. The shade and tone of blue chosen is what provides the “social communication” of the colour palette (Geslin, Jégou & Beaudoin, 2016, pp. 8), and the use of such a blue in relation to pink may still communicate femininity via association (Koller, 2008, pp. 399).
With regard to the above a full consideration of colour must include a consideration of hardware capability if one is to conduct an analysis of games through time. For an example of the importance of hardware in an analysis of colour consideration may be given to the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey was one of the first platforms to require screen overlays for a number of games, including the game “Simon Says” (see fig. 2). While the computer hardware of the Odyssey itself displays only white blocks on a black background, the use of overlays expands the colours displayed to the player significantly. If one were to ignore the overlays as a necessary component of the game-hardware experience an accurate analysis of colour could not be undertaken.
In considering the graphical output of the game to be a component of a video game as artefact the lithic construction model of chain opératoire (herein: operational chain) may be turned to for insight (see fig. 3). The operational chainis defined by O. Bar-Yosef, et al. in “The Excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel” as “the different stages of tool production from the acquisition of raw material to the final abandonment of the desired and/or useful objects” (p. 511, 1992). While a complete explanation of the applications of the operational chain within archaeogaming is worthy of an essay in itself, for the purposes of this paper its use lies in being able to discreetly define the technological tradition of a video game in relation to both raw material procurement (or materiality) and use as a method of providing context for further colour analysis.
In this scenario the technological tradition of graphical output of a video game may be considered as graphical output capability in relation to genre, which exists as a product of platform (ie. materiality) of the game (ie. play as use). Considering Final Fantasy X-2, for example: the technical tradition is 128bit, or 6th generation graphics; it is of the Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) genre; and saw original material release for the Sony Playstation 2. While this is all information game theorists already tend to include in their analysis as background data (ex. Consalvo & Dutton, 2006), by placing it within the model of an operational chain one is able to privilege analysis of a single specific component (ex. graphics) without losing the context of related components. This is especially important for the analysis of colour theory as not only are colour interpretations individualized based on culturally-bound ideological frames, but also based on genre-bound ideological frames.
While current free-use palettizing tools are ideal for outputting colour palettes based on a percentage of colours used, their goal is to provide an aesthetically pleasing outcome (Color Palette Generator). This causes for there to be “highlight” colours often included in their output, which while aesthetically pleasing are not necessarily useful for analysis. Additionally, such tools limit the number of colours output in order to save on processing power. In considering figure 4 concerns surrounding the use of current free-use palettization tools are evident. Although the palette generated is aesthetically pleasing and obviously draws information from the image it does not provide an accurate sampling of the colours present in Yuna’s costume, either in number or range of colours output.
Considering the concerns defined above: using current free-use palettization tools for archaeogaming is still likely possible. In such a case the images for palettization should be trimmed so as to remove as much superfluous data (ex. background, whitespace, etc) as possible, and cropped for areas of interest (ex. “highlight” areas; items which are in contrast, bright metallics, etc). While this will result in several disjointed images being analyzed, this will still allow for some colour analysis to be undertaken (see fig. 5). While this process should account for areas of interest in the image, they cannot account for any transparency. As such it is my recommendation that image formats which allow for alpha-channels not be included for such an analysis.
Drawing from current palettization tools, a specific tool for archaeogaming research should still output a dataset based on the percentage of a colour used. However the key difference lies in the specificity which may be wanted or required for quantitative research. In my opinion such a tool would be best designed as a program which a researcher may pick colours which they wish to focus on, input an image, and the program then outputs a dataset showing how often that colour range appears in said image. This being said, in considering how a palettizer can or “should” be designed for archaeogaming further research as of yet needs to be done within the archaeogaming community.
A more social concern surrounds the relationships between members of some game development communities, academics, gamers, and those who are a combination therein. Historically game studies have focused on “lists” of games (ex. Nooney, 2013), and the narratological aspects of games or the ludological aspects of games (Malliet, 2007). Specifically, the considerations of narratological concepts or otherwise expressive outputs (ex. whether or not a game expresses a certain theme, etc) of games has popularly been the realm of video game journalists (ex. De Rochefort, 2016). While not a universal tension, since 2014 the “#Gamergate” movement has exposed distrust within video game communities (VanDerWerff, 2014). Much of this distrust stems from a fear of secrecy on the part of writers (and, honestly, much also stems from straight-up misogyny), but a solution may be found in some flavours of feminist archaeology which recommend complete transparency on the part of the archaeologist (ex. open-source publishing, publishing field notes, etc) (Conkey & Gero, 1997, pp. 429-431). While palettization may be a useful tool for many aspects of archaeogaming, and it is my personal belief that open-source publishing is an important aspect of future academia, if palettization is to be used to specifically discern gender expression in games it becomes especially important for results to be freely accessible in order to attempt at easing tensions between and within video game communities. While this does open authors up to vitriol, it also offers a greater opportunity for learning and is more in-line with “standard” contemporary anthropological and archaeological community-based practices.
As an interdisciplinary field archaeogaming has the potential to accumulate methodologies from a number of fields both within (ex. lithic analysis) and outside (ex. colour theory) of archaeology “proper.” As explained in this paper: colour theory specifically has great potential for application as archaeogaming method, specifically with regard to discerning gendered appearance. Although questions for analysis with regard to colour theory are wide-reaching, specifically with regard to gender these palettes may be used specifically to determine such things as: “Was colour used by designers to engender characters?”, “Do these colour choices have implications cross-culturally?”, “Have any colour choices been localized in order to ‘read better’ or ‘read differently’ cross-culturally?”, “Are characters allowed multiple costumes? What are the implications of each/certain costume palette with regard to how the character expresses gender?”, etc. Thus as a part of a larger analysis video game as artefact one may look to colour theory to inform their analysis on the construction of gender/gendered presentation of such things as characters or space.
Bar-Yosef, O., et al. (1992, January 12). The Excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel [and Comments and Replies]. Current Anthropology, 33(5), 497-550. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2743915
Conkey, M. W., & Gero, J. M. (1997). Programme to Practice: Gender and Feminism in Archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology,26(1), 411-437. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2952529
Consalvo, M., & Dutton, N. (2006, December). Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 6(1). Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://gamestudies.org/0601/articles/consalvo_dutton
Dill, K., & Thill, K. (2007, December). Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions. Sex Roles, 57(11-12), 851-864. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1
Geslin, E., Jégou, L., & Beaudoin, D. (2016). How Color Properties Can Be Used to Elicit Emotions in Video Games. International Journal of Computer Games Technology, 1-9. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/5182768
Koller, V. (2008, November). ‘Not just a colour’: Pink as a gender and sexuality marker in visual communication. Visual Communication, 7(4), 395-423. doi:10.1177/1470357208096209
Malliet, S. (2007, August). Adapting the Principles of Ludology to the Method of Video Game Content Analysis. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 7(1). Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://gamestudies.org/0701/articles/malliet
Nooney, L. (2013, December). A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter: Archaeologies of Gender in video game History. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 13(2). Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://gamestudies.org/1302/articles/nooney
Disclaimer: This post was written as part of my ANTH 320: Archaeology of Gender requirements in October 2016, and may or may not reflect my current assessment of the archaeogaming blog. That said I’d love to do an archaeogaming blog review in the future, which is why I’m posting my previous thoughts here today! 🙂
The blog I am choosing to review is Archaeogaming, which has been written by Andrew Reinhard since June of 2013 (Reinhard, 2016). Archaeogaming is a blog which I have been regularly reading since November of 2015 after having been introduced to the concept of archaeogaming via the Twitter account of the same name (@Archaeogaming). I have found it influential not only as a student of the social sciences and humanities, but also as a person who really just enjoys playing video games. The most prominent reason for my choosing of Archaeogaming for review beyond familiarity, however, is that I believe the blog has the opportunity to directly influence my final research paper in ANTH 320: Archaeology of Gender via focused reading into the construction of a definition of archaeogaming as practice, as well as exposure to methodology within the sub-field of archaeogaming.
The first post I decided to focus on is the “Archaeogaming Map (Revised)” (Reinhard, 2015). This post was originally published on December 18th, 2015. I chose this post as, in my opinion, it provides the clearest definition of what archaeogaming actually is as a field of practice. The intent of the post is clearly to provide a vehicle for the map itself to be presented. Reinhard explains in the blog post that the intent for the map is to perhaps act as an inspiration for those already in the field of archaeogaming, or as definition for those curious about the field. The tone of this post is very short and to the point compared to subsequent posts considered for this review. This being said this works in the favour of the content as the blog post acts only as a vehicle for the map to be presented, and allows for Reinhard to keep reader focus on the image of the map itself which is a clear description of several archaeogaming topics arranged as heading > subheading > topic (Reinhard, 2015). Additionally, the map uses an appropriate image from a secondary source (the webcomic xkcd), and the secondary source is linked to with licensing information in-post. The word, grammar, and spelling choices of the map are additionally appropriate, and in at least one instance clever (Figure 1).
The use of a spelling error in this situation not only forces the reader to pause to reconsider the thought, or re-read the line, but it is also mimetic to the “glitch as artifact” described in the line immediately above. The idea of creating a visual representation of a field of practice is not unheard of, and having the map be so detailed is ideal for an emergent field where many theories, ideas, and methodologies have either yet to be defined or yet to become standard practice. The information within the map presented appears to be accurate based on my own understanding of archaeogaming, however no explicit sources are given. This being said Reinhard makes clear in the blog post that the map is based on lived-experience, and an assumption can thus be made that the Archaeogaming blog itself is the source.
The second post which I decided to look at is “Archaeogaming’s Grand Challenges,” which was originally posted on January 25th, 2016. The introduction establishes a clear purpose, and provides tonal reference for the “Achievement Hunter”-esque (Rooster Teeth) body of the post. The purpose of the post—to define “Archaeogaming’s Grand Challenges”—is explicitly outlined in the title, and in the prompt Reinhard attributes for the post. Tonal reference is found in the use of the Xbox 360-style achievement image at the outset of the post, and subsequent explanation: “Because archaeogaming is so new (at least in the formal, academic sense), we have a number of mountains to climb, or, to keep this on-topic with video games, we have a lot of achievements to unlock” (Reinhard, 2016). The introduction additionally provides background information on the history of archaeogaming as a field of practice, and provides links to other blogs and websites on the subject. While the introduction fulfills the purpose of what the post is about, and some history on the subject, the tone isn’t consistent with the rest of the post. While Reinhard explicitly demarcates where the achievements are to begin the demarcation seems oddly placed at approximately one third of the post in, as having the image at the outset of the post makes it seem as though the entire post will have the achievement-hunting tone. Having the demarcation so late also causes pacing issues as the body of the post thus seems comparatively short to the introduction. In my opinion the post could have been improved—and had more impact—if the tone were to remain consistent, and the introduction be edited for length. This being said even the seemingly brief use of a writing tone which is mimetic to video game play is fun and appropriate considering the topic of the post being “challenges to [your] archaeology,” (Reinhard, 2016) and it works to bring the reader into a state of mind which connects both archaeology as practice and video games as subject.
The third post which I decided to look at is “Archaeology in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.” This post was originally published on October 25th, 2015. I chose this post as I played 2013’s Tomb Raider, and is one of only two posts which comes when using the on-site search function with the term “gender” as of October 10th, 2016. The post is a summation and analysis of the 2014 Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, which is itself an update of 2013’s Tomb Raider. The practice of reviewing games is by no means anything new, but what sets this post apart from other summaries and reviews lies in the focus of the post on archaeology. Reinhard clearly identifies archaeologists as characters, artifacts as in-game items, and archaeological methodology as game-play. In the process of identifying archaeologists as characters Reinhard also makes note of gender representation, and gender disparity within the game-space through the characters of Lara Croft and James Whitman. In focusing on characterization Reinhard notes that the gender dynamic between Croft and Whitman mirrors real-life gender dynamics in archaeological field-sites, and makes reference to the Every Dig Sexism project which “[catalogues] every day sexism in Archaeology and Heritage” (@everyDIGsexism, 2015). With reference to the in-game world and items word choices are appropriate, and work to bridge the virtual archaeological space with real-life terminology and practice. An example of this is defining the game’s use of the term “relic” as “a generic term for an artifact of interest” (Reinhard, 2015).
Images are used to positive effect, and at various points in the post. While a “note” appears at the end of the post attributing screen-captures to Reinhard there are two images which are a) not screen-captures, and b) not otherwise annotated to their original source. These images include a comparison of James Whitman, and James Wright (Figure 3) and later on a comparison of graphical output between Sony Playstation console generations (PS3 to PS4) (Figure 4).
Table 1. Archaeogaming 2016 Post Frequency
# of posts
In seeing the consistency with which Archaeogaming has maintained posting updates in 2016, with the exception of June 2016-present day (Table 1), my initial expectation in conducting a close reading was that there would be more posts which would be directly relevant to discussions on gendered archaeology and the archaeology of gender. While many of the posts may be forced to fit into a discussion on gender, few explicitly address gender as either an aspect of gaming or of archaeology. This being said in my general survey of the blog I found that the blog periodically links out to other blog posts on the subject of video games, archaeology, and archaeogaming respectively which are written by women. Of the three posts summarized here, this only occurs in “Archaeogaming’s Grand Challenges,” however. Gender is also incorporated via open comment sections. As of October 12th, 2016 the three posts summarized in this review contain open comment sections, and based on my own Euro-Western analyses of the names of the commenters all comments are made by women. Despite the concerns which I have outlined above I believe that Archaeogaming is an invaluable resource of theoretical and methodological archaeological data, albeit more generally within the field of archaeology than specifically within the scope of gendered archaeology or the archaeology of gender.
For ease of access each slide has been posted here, sans PowerPoint notes (because most of them can be found here). That said when this was presented at Animethon I had a co-panelist, CJ, who influenced both the direction and scripting of this version of the presentation. As I’m being graded for this version, however, I’ve paraphrased and edited his input to be read as more natural to my own voice and included him as a reference in my bibliography.
#Archaeogaming101 is to be a panel presentation Friday, August 11th (today!) from 14:30-15:30 in Rm 9-102 as a part of Animethon 24 at Macewan University in Edmonton, Alberta!
For ease of access each slide has been posted here, with it’s associated sources and PowerPoint notes. The notes don’t necessarily represent what is to be said verbatim (I prefer to “sparknote” my talking points, whereas CJ likes to script them out a bit more) but hopefully it gives everyone a good idea of what the panel is to contain. 🙂