A Stitch in Twine: Platform Studies and Porting Patchwork Girl

Abstract (in English): 

This presentation asks what we can learn about a foundational work of electronic literature – Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl – by porting it to a new platform. More than this, it asks what we can learn about the source and target platforms of such a porting exercise.

Thanks to a great deal of path breaking work, much scholarship on electronic literature now makes use of what Katherine Hayles calls media-specific analysis (MSA). The field has followed the lead of scholars such as Hayles, Nick Montfort, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Terry Harpold, and many others in assuming that the materialities at play in a digital artifact actively shape expression and interpretation. We no longer treat the screen as another page. Work adjacent to electronic literature has asked these same questions, attending to the role of software and hardware in digital expression. Platform studies offers one version of this line of inquiry, and it asks how a given computational platform shapes and constrains creative processes and products. Much like the tenets of MSA, platform studies insists that the various computational machines at work in a given piece of digital media act as more than a conduit or background to expression. Scholarship on electronic literature has already begun to engage with platform studies, most recently by way of Anastasia Salter and John Murray’s study of Flash. In their book-length study of this platform, Salter and Murray take up a number of works of electronic literature by authors such as Jason Nelson and Stuart Moulthrop.

This presentation will continue that work by porting Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl to the Twine platform. When Chris Klimas released Twine, it immediately drew comparisons to Storyspace, the platform used to create Patchwork Girl and many other works of electronic literature. Where Storyspace has guard fields that set up conditions by which text can be hidden from or revealed to the interactor, Twine implements an “if” Macro. Where Storyspace allows authors to group together lexia with “paths,” Twine offers a similar function called “tags.” Further, both platforms offer the writer a kind of “node-and-edge” view of the writing space. However, the very fact that these pieces of software were created two decades apart, by different developers, and in different media ecologies suggests that there are important differences between the two. In order to shed light on the differences and similarities of these platforms and also in the interest of returning to Patchwork Girl, this presentation will walk through what we learn from a Twine version of Jackson's work.

Hayles describes MSA as a kind of game: “Using the characteristics of the digital computer, what is it possible to say about electronic hypertext as a literary medium?” In this presentation, I propose a different version of Hayles’s game: What do we learn about a work of electronic literature, its native platform, and the target platform when we port it to a new platform?

(source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans