Each month, we offer the spotlight to one of our funded researchers to exhibit their research projects in more detail.
The Featured Researcher for August was Luca Ottonello, with a PhD Project titled The unwritten presence of emotions in archaeological research and their future in archaeo-gaming.
HEI: University of Glasgow
This project involves the use of an archaeo-game to induce and test emotive responses by users, to better understand the nature of emotions when experiencing events in a reconstructed historical environment.
The archaeo-game built for this project has some crucial but controversial mechanics and narrative choices as it does not limit itself to safe and positive emotive responses, but includes negative emotions and events that may reveal inner hypocrisy by the users and aspects of the character behaviour that the user may not willingly accept as being true. The subject of this research is emotion and how emotions within the spectrum can be evoked through a linear narrative path. The research concentrates on the effects of nostalgia in both remembering and interpreting the past as a core emotional factor and will also delve into negative emotive factors such as sadness, anger, frustration, and helplessness. Due to the difficult nature of such an experiment some issues need to be explained and justified from the beginning.
Nostalgia is the first intrinsic emotion that is the centre of this research because of the impact it has on the perception of the past for viewers, users, and researchers. This emotion seems to influence the perception of historical facts and therefore has a large effect on how researchers recreate historical situations and how the public perceives them regardless of the researcher’s intention. There are also many positive and negative aspects of the presence of nostalgia, which subsequently result in focusing on the negative aspects as they largely influence the emotional status of both researchers and visitors of museums or viewers and users of digital media in archaeology.
The project will intentionally explore the strength and influence of nostalgia, and how they may be connected to person
al or community ideology, and to negative emotive aspects as well. The other objective of the project is to test other emotions like anxiety, anger, and feelings of helplessness and to give a linear ending despite the decisions taken. This will be associated with issues of discrimination, feelings of superiority, and destruction of heritage due to to underlying factors in the viewer’s personal experience, or other reasons.
The inspiration for this method does not come from previous studies, as there are none present in this particular direction, but from a specific game which touched upon similar issues and used a similar visual style – Bioshock Infinite. This game drew heavily on issues of racism, mixed historical facts with fantasy, and created a feeling of choice and control for the user – giving the feeling that each good choice would lead to a better result, but only ending in a much worse fate for the discriminated people and the users themselves. At the end of the game, a long monologue explained the futility of any action and the inevitable death of the main character as he is the antagonist.
By exploring negative emotions, controversial issues, and the inevitability of a predetermined ending through storytelling, this research may shed light on an area of research that feels uncomfortable and ethically ambiguous, but as researchers in history and archaeology, we need to approach every problem critically.
The archaeo-game could be viewed on YouTube here and the public is welcome to leave remarks about their feelings about it in the comments below the video.