The Museum of Generative Archaeology

London, 2121AD.

The Museum of the English Republic holds several videogame consoles from the 21st century in its archives. Blobs of desiccated plastic sleep in carefully maintained cabinets. Later sources indicate that these machines were used to access virtual play experiences, but limited contextual information survives. You like to imagine the old consoles coming back to life at night, lights blinking on after a century of darkness, allowing access to worlds you only see in your dreams.

You find an old videogame in a box. The game’s title is “Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete”. The box is a thick one, and the videogame itself is well-used. You do not know what it is, and you do not know who made it. The box itself does not give you any hints. You know nothing about the game.

At first it feels like a very normal museum, like any other. There’s a room with a lot of old video games from the past. There’s a room with a lot of old books. And then, at the very end, there’s a room with a lot of old video games.

It’s a very short room. It’s like a hallway with a door at the end. It’s not very big.

You push the door. It’s like a mirror. You can see yourself.

It’s like you�

How do you feel about the three paragraphs you just read above? Were they interesting? Did something seem…a little off about some parts of them?

The first paragraph in bold was written by me. The second and third were written by GPT-J, an open source machine learning language model that is able to generate text by using data from the internet. The third paragraph, which I particularly like, was produced from the prompt “You enter the museum of videogames.”

Entering a prompt in EleutherAI’s GPT-J

I did this co-creative writing exercise with GPT-J as a way of introducing key themes of my research. I’m interested in the long-term archaeological preservation of video games. This means I consider video games as artefacts that should be preserved not just on the level of hardware and software, but in terms of the player experience as well. The speculative fiction example above posed a future in which people have the physical remains of video games, but have no context for their social and cultural importance. One of the reasons I think preserving player experience is so important is because this speculative future is arguably already our present reality; even games from a few decades ago are not accessible and records of player experience are very inconsistent. If we don’t want games history to be constantly overwritten like a faulty memory card, we need to start thinking about preserving contemporary games culture at the point its being created.

I am also interested in how players respond to procedurally generated and hand-written content in games. Procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically rather than manually. This is why I attempted to create a short piece of creative writing both manually and through a generative tool like GPT-J. Even with this small example, you can see how the output of GPT-J can be repetitive but also have some interesting, unexpected outcomes. The same can be true of procedural generation in games.

In my research, I will create generative archaeology games with both procedurally generated and hand-written content, with the aim of inspiring players to archaeologically record them through methods such as diary entries, screenshots, video recording and mapmaking. Some of the questions I’m interested in answering through my research are:

+Will procedurally generated content be more or less engaging than hand-crafted content?

+Can we embrace the strangeness of procedurally generated content rather than trying to chase more ‘human-like’ outputs?

+How can procedurally generated content contribute to game narratives, especially environmental storytelling? 

This project may be quite abstract at this stage, but I hope it will break new ground in presenting games preservation as creative gameplay. How, why and what we choose to record demonstrates what we value. Therefore, the future Museum of Generative Archaeology will be a mirror of our playful selves.

You push the door. It’s like a mirror. You can see yourself.

It’s like you�

It’s like a mirror. You can see yourself.

This blog forms part of my coursework as a student in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI)

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