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Treasure Hunter

September 24th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · History, Me

An English farmer with metal detector recently stumbled upon one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever found. The find is being compared to uncovering another Book of Kells insofar as its importance in understanding Anglo-Saxon art and culture.

I love the idea of archaeology and treasure hunting. As my colleague Brett Todd – a man with real dig experience – would surely inform me, most archaeology is pretty unglamorous stuff. You carefully excavate a few dozen yards at a time, keeping every shard of pottery and looking for changes in coloration in the soil. I find this sort of thing exciting, but I’m super weird.

But I think that an archaeology sim would be a great way to teach ancient or medieval history to middle or high school students. There’s an old Microplay game called Sea Rogue that let you salvage historic wrecks. Why not take a model like that and build a strategy/educational/business sim that dealt with digging for buried treasures (historical and jewel-encrusted) or discovering lost cities?

The educational side would mean that the player would have to do research to know where to dig or explore. They would have to hire experts in a variety of fields to get the most out of their dig. There could be metal detecting stuff at the very beginning as sort of a tutorial level – how to know where to explore and how to assess the value of goods. It could teach the art of dating materials, assessing how various cities or civilizations were related, even how populations moved or evolved.

I’ve often thought about this design idea, but I have no game design skills beyond the usual “wouldn’t it be great if…” stuff you can find on any blog. But if anyone can tell me why this is a terrible idea, I’d be happy to hear it.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Thomas Kiley

    *puts on designer hat, switches blog link appropriately*

    I think the biggest problem would be the actual satisfaction. I believe the satisfaction of real archaeology comes from the sense of discovery. However, in the game, everything would have already been discovered by other people, at the very least, the designer.

    I suppose you could randomly generate stuff, or write a huge amount of content, but neither process is particularly practical or even much more satisfying.

    I agree though, someone should make a game about discovery. I guess part of it would need to be sharing your discoveries, maybe build like a sudo-wiki on this history of some made up civilization that people have to piece together the pieces?

  • Justin Fletcher

    That kind of sounds like the “I Dig Zambia” program, a collaboration between the Field Museum in Chicago and Global Kids in New York:


    The instructors build a virtual dig within Second Life, and then the teens from the two cities collaborate online. The teens also teleconference with archeologists who are concurrently performing an actual dig in Africa (similar to “hiring experts” in your sim idea).

    I went to the final presentation of the program’s precursor, I Dig Tanzania, and the teens seemed really into it. It’s much more basic than your idea and not nearly as refined as a commercial game, but it certainly shows that the idea could be compelling.

  • Justin Fletcher

    (Read “archeology” as “paleontology.”)

  • Ginger Yellow

    One of my uncles is an archaeologist. He specialises in microscopic analysis of remains. He also taught me how to programme when I was a kid. So maybe he would be the perfect person to make such a game.

    As someone who studied Old English, I find this discovery very cool. I was a bit surprised that it was valued at “only” £1m. Rather naively, I’d thought that in addition to the commercial value of the gold, the fact that it’s the largest hoard ever found in England would give it a huge premium in the tens of millions of pounds. It’s way cooler than a Picasso, surely. And I like Picasso a lot. I guess other people don’t find the Anglo-Saxons as interesting as I do.

  • Neil

    I always thought that a reconstruction of a living, breathing ancient city would be a good teaching tool for a history class. Plus it could be repurposed into an RPG or management sim.

  • Eumel

    “I agree though, someone should make a game about discovery. I guess part of it would need to be sharing your discoveries, maybe build like a sudo-wiki on this history of some made up civilization that people have to piece together the pieces?”

    Noctis was like that, although it looks pretty dated now. You were a spaceship pilot/explorer in a randomly generated galaxy with randomly generated planets. The game even went so far as to include somewhat randomized plants and animals on some planets.

    You could then send a file containing notes on the planets you explored to the guy who programmmed the game, Alessandro Ghignola. This information was then available in-game to all players by regular library updates that could be downloaded from the website.

    I would be surprised if there is much of a community left now, but here’s the URL: