Saturday, February 28, 2009


So, after a catnap, some cookies (I want to mention that there was never any shortage of cookies during the coffee-brakes) and that famous coffee, the last session of the day commenced.

The first paper of this session presented was a bit problematic, I did have a hard time following it, as I, as previously mentioned, really don’t play computer games (or games at all, except Trivial Pursuit, which I love), and this paper was more exclusively focused on the game itself, without the theoretical discussion and external questions of earlier presentations.

GPC told us the sad story of the game “The emperors seal”, which he was not only the project manager for, but also the resident classicist. This game was developed at the turn of the millennium, and there was a lot of money put into this game (1 billion lire was the sum mentioned, which could be impressive, or the price of a second hand Mazda.). It was a big project, and our lecturer was recruited after it had been launched, and thus did not have input in all the aspects of the game, some things, that he as a classicist really didn’t like, were already in place in the game.
This game has the premise, if I understood it correctly, that the emperors seal has been stolen and you have to find it by walking around Rome, it was set during antiquity, and finding clues and stuff. (That kind of game model must have a specific name?)
All I can say is that it was a very pretty game, and several historical statues, mosaics and other authentic artefacts had been added, my limited gamer experience prohibits me from saying much more. This game did however never reach the market, despite two years of work; there was no financial strength to distribute the game.
Even though this was a discouraging tale, I do hope more classicists are hired by the gaming industry!

The final presentation of the first day came highly recommended, several people had told me to make special note of this presentation, which the presenter himself was very glad that I told him after his paper. I’ve promised not to mention his hair.

AL spoke about Caesar IV and veracity of its concept and execution. (Can I just say that I’ve never been to a conference dealing with antiquity with quite so many PowerPoint presentations?) The object of Caesar IV is to build and govern a provincial city, and to follow the cursus honorum to ultimate glory. You have to reach certain levels of culture to be able to do certain things, and many other things are interrelated such as the structure and supply of labour and food (I’m well aware of the absurdity of me explaining a computer game, hence the guest bloggers).

The paper discussed the picture transmitted of antiquity in this game, and how it reflects our views of antiquity. The study of the reception of antiquity today seems at times slightly neglected by us classicists; it doesn’t carry the same cachet as studying reception and assimilation of antiquity during, say the 17th or 18th century.

There was also ample mention of Braudel, such as that his views on history are similar to that of Caesar IV (or could it perhaps be the other way around?), with history only being “ripples on the surface”, and history in this game only being represented by invasions.

The purely fictional details of the game were described, such as the city never being dependent on supplies from the countryside, no slaves exist, and that there isn’t any economic activity on the forum, banks etc are built as separate entities.
Other things were also said to be incorrect, as architecture; schools did not really exist as such, and the large chimneys are completely anachronistic. Furthermore, all governmental buildings are in marble, even in the humble beginnings (apparently better in Caesar III), and the game of course perpetuates the myth of the “white antiquity”.

He concluded with the warning that we (as the experts of this) are loosing control of what is represented of antiquity, fact and fiction are becoming increasingly blurred, which led to an interesting discussion. It was said that there is a kind of Catch 22 for game designers- you are scrutinized much harder if you strive for authenticity, and the harder you try, the more criticism you receive. (You hire more classicists and pay them enough to take the fall for any flaws, that’s my suggestion.)

We were treated to a magnificent dinner that night with more courses (one consisting of cod tongue and fennel salad) and glasses of wine than I recall (I couldn’t very well make notes during dinner), and the conversations were great, with the Yale-gossip as mentioned, and gossip in general. I honestly tried to retire early, as soon as dinner concluded, but was dragged by some nefarious Norwegians (some of whom hadn't enjoyed the foie gras) to a local brewery, and made to sample the produce, and while I thank them all for a lovely time, I do ask; was the whiskey really necessary?


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