Computational Editions, Ports, and Remakes of "First Screening" and "Karateka"

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Print literature has a deep, theoretically-engaged history of scholarly editing practice which provides a powerful framework within which to understand different versions or editions of texts and the natures and sources of their differences. While scholarship on electronic literature has brought in forensic, bibliographic, and platform-related concepts in the last decade or so, only recently have original computational works been considered in this way. Much of the discourse around “digital editions” has focused on the creation of electronic versions of print works.

Computational works often look very different than the texts scholarly editors are used to considering. Even basic questions of nomenclature, although addressed in certain ways, are difficult to settle: How should we name, and therefore understand, the basic textual relationships for computational work? The traditional literary term, “edition,” does not always model the relationship between a creative computational work and its descendants, which may have resulted from something that, particularly in the case of games, is unlike “editing” in the textual sense. The broader term “version” seems too general to fully express the nature of the connections between different instances of a work. Taking into account Matthew Kirschenbaum's terms for applying textual studies to digital works -- including layers, releases, and objects -- we consider other terms that have been used, including “remake” and “reboot,” paying specific attention to their histories.

We examine these terms in the context of two different computational works and their follow-up versions. This includes the original "Karateka," the 1984 Apple II videogame by Jordan Mechner. and three groups of related work: numerous early ports to home computers, a 2012 “HD Remake,” and the 2013 "Karateka Classic" for mobile phones. We also consider the three editions/versions of "First Screening," which was first implemented by an individual developer (Canadian poet bpNichol) on the Apple II in 1984. "First Screening" was subsequently published in a HyperCard edition in 1993 and, in 2007, in a website with extensive apparatus, documentation, and different versions, including a new one in JavaScript.

We evaluate these two textual histories and how different types of porting, re-implementation, and re-publication brought about new types of computational artifacts. While those engaged exclusively in literary studies would not consider "Karateka," and those looking at games exclusively would not consider "First Screening," we choose to reunite these two 1984 Apple II programs, both of which have been carried into new versions with great care. We consider how scholars can study different versions of the same computational work side-by-side, and what the applicability or lack thereof of standard bibliographic terms means for the way computational works are re-issued. We argue that viewing the detailed textual histories of computational works helps to support a variety of critical perspectives on the social, technological, and economic forces involved in the production and re-production of electronic literature.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Alvaro Seica