Illicit Antiquities Educational Games?

The illegal smuggling of antiquities has been in the news a lot lately (although it has never been entirely absent in living memory, alas). I wonder whether there are games that could be used to teach about this topic in a manner that is fun, and yet does not reward players for doing things that are illegal and/or immoral – or, if it does, at least brings the ethical issues into the player’s conscious awareness in the process. Thebes is one that looks particularly promising, which I have yet to play. It incorporates some famous 19th century archaeologists as characters. But there may be other games, some of which may allow for shorter games and so work better in a classroom context. For instance, have any of you played Archaeology: The New Expedition? Does it basically provide a game centered on illicit antiquities dealing, so that it could be useful in teaching about this subject? What about Artifacts, Inc.?

Of course, there is also Tomb Raider and anything connected with Indiana Jones. And most Dungeons and Dragons adventures, now that I think about it, involve entering into a temple, crypt, or castle and taking what one finds there. Why did we ever think that defeating monsters made theft OK?!

There is also a game Tomb Trader where the aim is explicitly to line your pockets and not to contribute to historical knowledge. Obviously one can incorporate Grand Theft Auto into teaching about crime, but will it convey the right message? Should we just develop “Grand Theft Artifact” and have it pit looters, amateurs, and cranks against reputable archaeologists and police?

Grand Theft Artifact for blog 2

On archaeology and gaming, also see the online open access book, The Interactive Past, which was reviewed recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. On the illicit trade in antiquities more generally, including on eBay, see Roberta Mazza’s post about one particular unprovenanced artifact that appeared for sale on that site, but which is by no means unique in that regard. In that post she concludes, “Despite all the rhetoric on heritage preservation, and the amount of public money put in various programs, the truth is that this kind of everyday unregulated and unethical (when not illegal) market is slowly killing our cultural heritage in the open and apparently with the consent of everyone implied in the transactions.” One could certainly try gamifying the obtaining and selling of antiquities, and the attempt to catch those who are doing illegal things as well as to prevent the loss of cultural heritage on moral grounds that transcend the laws of any one country. It could have two or multiple sides, with different players representing tomb-raiders, online auction venues, museums, police, and other constituencies. Any thoughts on how to make that fun while still educational?

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  • Satanic_Panic

    And most Dungeons and Dragons
    adventures, now that I think about it, involve entering into a temple,
    crypt, or castle and taking what one finds there. Why did we ever think
    that defeating monsters made theft OK?!

    I know that this question is tongue and cheek but I’ll have a go at an answer. In D&D you have detection spells such as know alignment and detect evil and divination spells that let you know if your actions are good/bad. Morality in the implied d&d universe isn’t subjective; you can objectively determine right from wrong/good from bad. Some spells even let you measure how evil or good things are.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    This seems like ripe ground for LARPing.