Urbanization and State Development in City-Builder Games
ASOR Annual Meeting
Archaeology of the Near East and Video Games workshop
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
November 16-19, 2022
October 19-23, 2022
Learn more here:
Documents from this talk
The city-builder games Nebuchadnezzar, Sumerians, Pharaoh, and Predynastic Egypt, set in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, follow a general format where game progression mirrors the progression of civilization. Completing missions advances the player into the next chapter of history, as well as unlocks new game features, such as new industries or advancements in agricultural technologies. These games begin with a tutorial that is set at the moment of first settlement and when agriculture and animal husbandry are introduced. Then, mission-by-mission the games present new features of ancient society that are imperative to their functioning, as well as development of social stratification and industry specialization, trade in staples and luxury goods with other cities or foreign civilizations, municipal organization, and development of power systems. This format follows real-world development of ancient societies. Furthermore, the towns in which the games’ missions begin are actual ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian sites whose archaeological record reveals they saw the earliest instances of settlement and fledgling urbanization. This paper examines the ways in which Nebuchadnezzar, Sumerians, Pharaoh, and Predynastic Egypt demonstrate urbanization and state development in Mesopotamia and Egypt. It shall also discuss how their general game mechanics and formats make this game genre a good tool for teaching these subjects.
Diplomacy through Shared Solar Theologies: A New Examination of Egyptian–Mitannian Relations
Annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt
April 21-24, 2022
Watch live recording here.
A few generations following Thutmose III’s historic battle against the Mitannian kingdom, diplomacy was founded during the reign of Thutmose IV through the first dynastic marriage between a Mitannian princess and an Egyptian king. Such marriages would continue to be the basis for maintaining the diplomatic Egyptian-Mitannian relations between Egyptian kings Amenhotep III and Akhenaten and Mitannian kings Shuttarna and Tushratta. Details of these marriages and the diplomacy that was maintained as a result of them are found mostly in the Amarna Letters sent from Tushratta to Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. However, theological connections are also apparent, represented by the inventory lists of luxury gifts decorated with solar imagery in the so-called international art style, as well as by greetings to and events concerning each other’s gods, namely solar gods.
These letters date to the last decade of Amenhotep III’s reign and the early years of Akhenaten’s reign, contemporaneous with the occupation of the Malqata sed-festival palace site and the recently excavated Aten-Tjehen town site, during a time when solar theology in Egypt was evolving dramatically. This paper provides a theological as well as art historical examination of the Amarna Letters sent from Tushratta and sheds light on an understudied theme in the diplomatic relationships between the aforementioned kings. It considers how diplomacy between Mitanni and Egypt may have been strengthened in part by the kings appealing to one another on the common ground of solar theology.
Archaeology as a Foundation for Lore Building in the MYST Video Game Series
Antiquity in Media Studies (AIMS) annual meeting
"What Has Antiquity Ever Done for Us?"
December 15-18, 2021
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When the adventure game Myst (1993), created by Cyan, Inc., was released on CD-ROM, it completely changed the gaming industry. With the sequel Riven (1997), Myst turned toward becoming a game franchise that would grow to include a total of six single-player games and one massively multiplayer online (MMO), together with three novels. The games rely on a “found experience”, where the player encounters an object or situation seemingly with no context, for example the encounter with a single book in an empty black space at the beginning of Myst. One must then acquire data in the format of clues to solve puzzles and excavate the story of the game.
The lore of the game centers around the history of an ancient fantasy city called D’ni built far underground below the New Mexico desert. It was populated for thousands of years by an alien race, the D’ni people, that had fled their collapsing planet. They arrived on Earth by “linking” there via magical books, such as the book that opens the game Myst. Following the arrival of the first human in D’ni, a series of events leads to two men destroying D’ni and killing a large percentage of its population, leaving only the ruins of an empty city.
This is where the single player game Uru: Ages Beyond Myst (2003) and its associated MMO pick up the story. The MMO experience, which was meant to draw a larger gaming crowd, was problematic for Cyan since the game hinged considerably upon prior knowledge of the lore, something the target audience often did not possess. Their answer to this was to present the lore through the perspective of archaeology, where the player would be expected to learn about the ancient civilization through the archaeological process.
The premise of the game is another “found experience” where archaeologists in our current era encountered the ruins of D’ni and began an archaeological project there to research and restore the city. Part of the gameplay involves the player encountering primary sources in translation, as well as notebooks written by archaeologists that present historical and anthropological examinations of the ancient people. The game also incorporates application of in-game acquired knowledge of elements of GIS, archaeological survey, and spatial analysis both to solve puzzles and to aid in the city’s restoration.
This paper examines how archaeological methods were applied in the video game Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and its MMO component to tell the story of a fictional and collapsed ancient civilization and how players learn and apply archaeological skills in order to complete quests in the game.
Building Cities, Building Games: Developers’ Inspirations and Intentions
ASOR Annual Meeting
Archaeology of the Near East and Video Games workshop
Chicago, Illinois, USA
November 17-20, 2021
December 9-12, 2021
Learn more here:
Documents from this talk
In 2012, MoMA curator Paola Antonelli unveiled a bold exhibition of fourteen classic video games in the Applied Design gallery of the museum. This was the first time video games had been displayed as art, and the first time that they were broadly received in academia. Since then, video games have seen a rise in academic attention, and only recently academic interest in them exploded with the trend termed “archaeogaming”.
Archaeologists “academicizing” video games set in antiquity—certain of which have been around for 30 years—have mostly concentrated on the accuracy of the representation of antiquity, up to and including how any inauthenticity in its representation in pop culture damages the field. Such interpretations ignore probably the most important component of games: the developers themselves. These interpretations presuppose both that the mainstream audience is absorbing games (or movies & tv shows) as documentary, and that the game developers intend to present their creative projects as fact rather than as inspired by antiquity.
This talk is based on interviews with the developers of the city building games Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Builders of Egypt, and Sumerians, chosen particularly because they focus on the development of civilizations over time and therefore required more in-depth examinations of the anthropological aspects of Egypt or Mesopotamia. I discuss the developers’ inspirations, intentions for the games’ receptions, and views on the academic topic of and approaches to archaeogaming, as well as consider how the topic may be better served in academia by acknowledging developers’ roles.
The Veneration of Amenhotep III and Lunar Cult during the Reign of Akhenaten
Exalted Spirits: Veneration of the Dead through the Ages in Egypt
American Research Center in Egypt
November 10-12, 2021
This will be a poster presentation
Click HERE for more information
In the 30th year of his reign, Amenhotep III adopted the epithet “the Dazzling Sun-disc”, revealing a marked increase in royal interest in solar cult. Additionally, Amenhotep III elevated lunar cult, and built in Soleb a temple dedicated to the celebration of his sed-festival and to himself in the form of a new lunar god, Nebmaatre, Lord of Nubia. At both Soleb and Sesebi, temple decoration displays Akhenaten’s veneration of his father as the moon god, and other evidence both at Malqata and Amarna reveal a continued royal interest in the cult of Amenhotep III.
The elevation of lunar cult during the reign of Amenhotep III is also demonstrated by new iconography and small finds, such as jewelry molds and representations of the moon god Thoth in sculpture and stelae. Such material culture turns up at Malqata, as well as in the private sector at Amarna. Moreover, Amarna’s neighboring city, Hermopolis, where Amenhotep III erected colossal statues of baboons, was dedicated to the moon god Thoth, perhaps suggesting a connection between the lunar city (Hermopolis) and the solar city (Amarna).
This paper examines the presence and impact of lunar cult, first elevated by Amenhotep III, in both the royal and non-royal sphere during the reign of Akhenaten, as well as explores degrees of religious continuity from the reign of Amenhotep III through that of Tutankhamun, whose jewelry is pregnant with lunar significance.
The Tragedy of Tushratta
Ancient History Day
Saturday, July 24
The founders of Digital Hammurabi is hosting a collaborative event on YouTube, showcasing several channels that feature content pertaining to the ancient world. My contribution is episode two of my series Ancient Lives on the Nile, "The Tragedy of Tushratta".
The Tragedy of Tushratta examines the Amarna Letters sent between the Mitannian king Tushratta and Egyptian kings Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, and the dramatic events that unfold. View video here.
For the entire playlist, click the link on the left.
Representations of “The Other” in Ancient Egyptian Literature
Save Ancient Studies Alliance (SASA)
Summer reading group
Taught with Kate Minniti, PhD candidate
Tuesdays 11:00am EST
June 15-July 20, 2021
In the mainstream, ancient Egypt is often considered without a geographical context; however the Egyptians were strongly aware of their place within the world that was known to them. As with most ancient civilizations, the ancient Egyptian worldview centered around their belief that their land and peoples were superior to other lands and peoples. This worldview is exemplified in pharaonic art and literature, and these representations also permeated non-royal contexts.
Participants only need to register for each SASA Reading Group once. Once you RSVP you will receive a Confirmation Email, where you will find a link to the Live Syllabus for the Reading Group; with Zoom Meeting links, reading links, info on your Educational Ambassadors, and more!
Interview with Dominic Perry on History of Egypt Podcast
History of Egypt Podcast
with Dominic Perry
Podcast publication date
June 24, 2021
Visit History of Egypt Podcast website:
Briana Jackson is interviewed on the subject of her dissertation, The Geographic and Social Spread of Aten Cult throughout Egypt and Sudan. She discusses how Akhenaten installed places of Aten worship throughout the Egyptian empire, and how these newly established religious sites were interconnected across space and across the social hierarchy.
Also, Briana will discuss matters concerning her early inspirations, research experience, and career.
Akhenaten and His Aten Cult in Abydos and Akhmim
February 10-12, 2021
See conference website for more information:
In 1352 BCE, in Egypt, a king named Amenhotep (IV) succeeded his deified father, Amenhotep (III) to the throne. Almost immediately traditional Egyptian art was changed by decree of the new king to display grotesquely shaped human figures, grand compositions of daily life and ceremonies, and, most importantly, the elevation of a “new” god called Aten, the sun-disc, seemingly to the exclusion of all other gods. Large temples dedicated to this god were erected in the state cult site, Thebes (Luxor), in and around the Karnak temple precinct. Later, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten, “He who is effective for the Sun-Disc”, and startlingly moved his capital to a virgin site in central Egypt, and called it Akhetaten, “Horizon of the Sun Disc”, modern Tell el-Amarna. Here, he and his family worshipped his personal god according to newly established practices that are pictorially described in wall reliefs in private tombs, as well as on the uniquely sized blocks (talatat) that formed the Amarna temples and palaces themselves. The practice and definition of Akhenaten's new religion and god continue to be hotly debated today, as scholars struggle to label Akhenaten as a monotheist, henotheist, atheist, or others. Most scholarship on the Amarna Period focuses exclusively on the Aten temples constructed at Amarna and Thebes, examining only the evidence at these sites to attempt to explain Akhenaten's religion. However, as I shall argue, this limits our understanding of who or what Aten was, how he was worshipped by the royal family, and whether he was worshipped by the common people. In order to expand our knowledge and inform interpretations of this religion, it is imperative to explore the evidence of the worship of Aten at the various sites outside Tell el-Amarna and Thebes where architectural evidence is found.
Standing temples, fragmentary remains of temple architecture, stelae, and other objects related to worship of Aten appear at many sites throughout Egypt and Sudan. My overall study examines the widespread dissemination of Aten worship in all of these cities, but this current paper focuses on the evidence of Aten cult buildings in the cities of Abydos and Akhmim. In this paper I shall present the evidence that suggests the construction of Aten cult buildings at these sites and offer possible interpretations that may help to increase our understanding of how Aten worship spread across space and across the social strata. One possible interpretation of the evidence I shall present is that the erection of Aten cult buildings may have functioned as a network that incorporated the worship of traditional deities (Osiris and Min) formerly worshiped at Abydos and Akhmim, and that these buildings were linked to specific cult buildings and architectural elements at Tell el-Amarna, the possible “hub” of Aten worship.
Humans Against Poor Scholarship (HAPS) interview
with Megan Lewis and Dr. Joshua Bowen
Live on YouTube
September 12, 2020
12:00 pm (EST)
CLICK to watch
In this interview, Briana Jackson speaks with Megan Lewis of Digital Hammurabi about her latest research for her dissertation, "The Geographic and Social Spread of Aten Cult throughout Egypt and Sudan." Briana was a recipient of one of the 2020 HAPS scholarships for PhD students, which is offered annually by Digital Hammurabi, thanks to generous donors.
Briana discusses themes of Aten religion and remarks upon the oft-argued monotheism (or not) of Akhenaten.