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Inspecting the foundation of Mystery House

Faculty Advisor




archaeogaming, binary reverse engineering, chaîne opératoire, computer game, Ken Williams, Mystery House, On-Line Systems, Sierra On-Line

Abstract (summary)

Computer games are recent artifacts that have had, and continue to have, enormous cultural impact. In this interdisciplinary collaboration between computer science and archaeology, we closely examine one such artifact: the 1980 Apple II game Mystery House, the first graphical adventure. We focus on implementation rather than gameplay, treating the game as a digital artifact. What can we learn about the game and its development process through reverse engineering and analysis of the code, data, and game image? Our exploration includes a technical critique of the code, examining the heretofore uncritical legacy of Ken Williams as a programmer. As game development is a human activity, we place it in a theoretical framework from archaeology, to show how a field used to analyze physical artifacts might adapt to shed new light on digital games.

Publication Information

Aycock, J. and Biittner, K. (2019). Inspecting the foundation of Mystery House. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 6(2), 183-205.


Item Type





Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)