May 9, 2022

History or Archaeology

I have a friend (thanks Will) who is an archaeologist. We were discussing the difference between history and archaeology, which he summed up as:

  • History is mostly looking at the past through textual sources.
  • Archaeology is mostly looking at the past through material culture.

Neither is mutually exclusive, and obviously both have something to offer the other. I think we can apply a similar division to games, their design and the conversation (d*scourse) around them.

  • Designers who are interested in games-as-they-are-written (or designed).
  • Designers who are interested in games-as-they-are-played.

Personally I fall very much into the second camp, but I suspect being able to describe yourself as one or the other is a good way to improve conversations. A lot of time is spent arguing about the Truth of something when instead you could explain you’re working under a different methodological framework. Now you’re doing a cross-disciplinary investigation (or, having a conversation’) and might be able to learn or teach or discover something new.

I think similar can be said about sorts of role-playing games - by widening the gap between different types of game, we can paradoxically increase the connections and comparisons between them.

Importantly, this isn’t a value-statement. Equally, it’s okay to not be interested in one of the categories - that said, deliberately engaging in the less-interesting approach seems like something worth doing time to time.

Of course, given how my interest tends towards earlier games, using these history terms is very funny but entirely coincidental.

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