The software preservation landscape has changed a great deal in recent years. Software artifacts, both original and reproduced, have become more accessible than ever thanks to preservation efforts by a growing number of memory institutions, interdisciplinary academic labs, and online projects like those of Rhizome and the Internet Archive. Although this growth is encouraging for archival scholars, it also presents new challenges related to variation between editions of a given artifact. What software traits are inherent to the software itself, and which are epiphenomena of preservation practices, physical format, or method of access? How would the content of a program appear to differ for users equipped with different tool sets, in different historical eras, or in different computational environments?
This paper will perform a survey of the varied editions of a single software artifact, highlighting several categories of specificity and comprehensiveness that should be considered in documenting, processing, and analysis of historical born-digital artifacts. These traits are demonstrated using a case study that compares extant copies of the 1986 Electronic Arts software release Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror. Mind Mirror is selected for a case study because it appears in a number of settings and forms, including developers’ manuscripts, online archives, and special collections. Designed by celebrity psychologist Timothy Leary in 1985, Mind Mirror was released in three simultaneous editions, for Commodore, Macintosh, and IBM-compatible, personal computers. Leary’s connection with many 20th-century literary and cultural luminaries led copies of the game to be preserved in special collections at Harvard University, while development manuscripts were acquired by New York Public Library, emulated copies have been made available through the Internet Archive, and original copies have been acquired by the University of Colorado-Bolder’s Media Archaeology Lab. By examining the formal specificity and access-related affordance of Mind Mirror as it appears in each of these settings, the paper deepens archival scholarship’s conversation with digital humanities, applying insights from computer science and digital bibliography to a survey of the current software preservation landscape.
James A. Hodges is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey (USA). His dissertation research addresses the historical production of post-print expressive techniques within interdisciplinary networks of collaboration at the edges of computer culture between 1950 and 2001. The project applies digital bibliography and forensics methods to the analysis of newly available born-digital historical sources. Hodges is also an executive member of the Extending Play conference organizing committee at Rutgers, and editor of “Video Gaming Beyond the Digital”, a special issue of online journal Analog Game Studies, anthologized within a forthcoming print edition from Carnegie Mellon University’s ETC