For my print project, I wanted to propose something that could help me as I’m applying to graduate schools for Egyptology, so I knew from the start that I wanted my focus to be Egyptological in nature. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to focus on ancient historical representation in its entirety, or Egypt specifically. I came to the conclusion that my heart always has and always will belong to Egypt, so why not start there.
For this project, I wanted to trace the representation of Ancient Egypt in popular video games. Egyptomania began in 1922 when Howard Carter discovered the elaborate tomb of Pharoah Tutankhamun (born Tutankhaten) and popular culture quickly ran away with the design and aesthetic of the ancient civilization. Mummies, tombs, and Cleopatra quickly became frequent occurrences in cinema, and the fashion of the 20s turned toward Egyptian styles.
Fast forward to the present day when video game culture has exploded. People have not deviated far from their interests, and Ancient Egypt is still heavily represented in some way shape, or form in video games. My project is going to focus on how reliably these games present the Egyptian mythos and see if I can track, perhaps, where a decision was made to remove the true mythos for the sake of the game, or because of a fallacy in knowledge made by the game developers who didn’t think to do their extra research.
I’ve already extensively played a good portion of games that possess some sort of Egyptian mythos (Assassins Creed: Origins, Sphynx and the Cursed Mummy, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, League of Legends, Smite, Civilization, etc.) but I wish to compare more modern titles with games that came out in the 70s and 80s (Imhotep or Sands of Egypt) to see if there is any reliable shift in how the mythos is presented and how factual it is. People have blown Ancient Egypt out of proportion for the sake of media consumption over the past few decades, and many sources present their version of Egypt in a believable way (such as Wilbur Smith’s River God) that could potentially lead the public astray in their knowledge. My main argument for this project will be a need for proper representation of ancient civilizations in video games because, whether people like it or not, video games are an extremely valid method of learning for children. Being able to explore pyramids in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, for example, allowed me to introduce my roommate to Sneferu, Imhotep the architect (not the god version people present him as so often), and Djoser, two Pharaohs that people overlook when discussing the narrative of early pyramid building in ancient Egypt.
Hopefully, this project can discover the thread that ties public consumption of ancient history together, and I hope that, at the end of it, there’s an upward trend in a reliable, truthful narrative being told. I might utilize software like Voyant to scan through transcripts of the game looking for keywords like Pharaoh names, places, and the names of gods, but most of this research will rely heavily on physically interacting with the pieces I am studying as well as parsing through community response to the game and its popularity on the market (i.e. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is still well-rated and popular while Sphynx and the Cursed Mummy was a PS2 cult classic that, even after returning to the Nintendo Switch, has all but left modern memory).