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Kevin Wong, Harvard

Ancient Greece and Rome offer an influential imaginative frame for the videogame industry, with recent years seeing the continued popularity of videogames that directly adapt the classical world and its mythology (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Hades, God of War). Beyond these, classical resonances are regularly deployed (alongside those of other cultures and histories) as transmutable source material for more generic fantasy worldbuilding (for instance, in the Final Fantasy franchise). Looking beyond visual and narrative in-game representations, this paper aims to peer behind the curtain: to examine some of the sociotechnical processes through which ancient Greco-Roman discourses are integrated into the commercial realities and creative possibilities of modern videogame development.

Accordingly, this paper examines some of the most important software tools employed by videogame developers: game engines and, more specifically, their asset stores. Game engines are software development platforms that facilitate the collaboration of designers, programmers, artists, and writers in the making of videogames, while asset stores are online marketplaces for the sale of game assets which are already optimized for integration with their respective game engines. Taking the Unity Asset Store and the Unreal Engine Marketplace as case studies, this presentation charts out a narrative of classical reception across three related developments: (1) the platformization of game engines, (2) the concept of searchability in the context of asset stores, and (3) the emerging use of photogrammetry to produce and sell hyperrealistic 3D models of ancient objects on these asset stores. 

Commercial path dependencies have channeled creative production onto dominant and hegemonic platforms like Unity and Unreal Engine. Meanwhile, their asset stores rely on algorithmic search-and-recommender systems, which they base on creator-defined asset titles, tags, and keywords along with modes of asset classification defined by the marketplaces themselves. As a result, asset stores do much more than passively and mechanically facilitate the sale of classically-inspired game assets; they actively mediate the flow of historical material, trafficking in cultural signals of demand, availability, and imaginative possibility. In this paper, I explore how such software platforms ontologically generate a selective vision of ‘the classical’ in contemporary videogame development—an ontology that is, in turn, complicated by increasingly sophisticated modes of material representation in game development. 

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