Into the depths of code. Algorithmic archaeologies and cave fantasies in video games

The full article (by Angelo Careriis) in French, but there is an English abstract, and Google Translate is just a few clicks away.

By examining a mixed body composed of video games linked to the American hacker culture (Colossal Cave Adventure, Rogue, Dwarf Fortress), and some academic research that examine these objects with an experimental and transdisciplinary approach (speleology, archaeology), this paper deals with the metaphor of cave exploration applied to computer programing. Colossal Cave Adventure, a text-based game that was created by an experienced spelunker after a series of expeditions in the Mammoth Cave system, plays an important role in the birth of this recurring image. Following this, the maze and rogue-like game genre seem to pursue this fantasized association between video game programming and cave exploration. They both often make use of procedural generation, that enables the simulation of vast labyrinths and underground systems. The use of this computing technique in early video games has recently been the subject of attention by some academics, in relation with the same metaphor. I suggest here that the fantasy of a link between computer programming and underground exploration is not merely a recurring theme in video games but deals with the dialectic relationship between depth and surface, algorithms and visual displays, that is central to the history of computing. —Dans les profondeurs du code: Archéologies algorithmiques et fantasmes des cavernes dans les jeux vidéo

Here’s a passage I really like, which analyzes my use of the term “spelunk” to describe a deep exploration of the original Colossal Cave FORTRAN code:

Cette démarche semble suggérer non seulement que la pratique de la spéléologie a inspiré Colossal Cave Adventure, son univers et ses principes ludiques, mais qu’elle est nécessaire pour mieux comprendre le jeu et sa fabrication. Ce parallèle entre exploration des profondeurs et analyse algorithmique est d’ailleurs plusieurs fois explicitement évoqué : le chercheur utilise le verbe « to spelunk » (un néologisme formé sur « spelunker » – « spéléologue » – que l’on peut imparfaitement traduire par « explorer » ou « décrypter ») pour désigner l’analyse algorithmique du jeu : « experienced coders are invited to spelunk the FORTRAN source directly » (« les codeurs expérimentés sont invités à spéléologiser directement le code source en FORTRAN »). « Spéléologiser » devient donc sous la plume de Dennis Jerz un synonyme de « décrypter » ou de « décoder ». Un néologisme qui s’entend dans les deux sens, car il semblerait qu’il soit possible de « spéléologiser » à la fois dans le code source et dans la grotte.

Here’s how Google Translate renders that in English:

This approach seems to suggest not only that the practice of caving inspired Colossal Cave Adventure, its universe and its play principles, but that it is necessary to better understand the game and its manufacture. This parallel between exploration of the depths and algorithmic analysis is moreover explicitly mentioned several times: the researcher uses the verb “to spelunk” (a neologism formed on “spelunker” – “speleologist” – which one can imperfectly translate by “explore “Or” decrypt “) to designate the algorithmic analysis of the game:” experienced coders are invited to spelunk the FORTRAN source directly “. “Speleologize” therefore becomes, under the pen of Dennis Jerz, a synonym of “decrypt” or “decode”. A neologism that goes both ways, as it would seem that it is possible to “speleologize” both in the source code and in the cave.