Tamar Schori‘s Beadgee (or fullscreen, Windows only) lets you play with images and words just as a child plays with her beads: making patterns, stringing and restringing, standing back to look at your creation. Here’s how it works: At first you see a collection of gizmos, each connected to a rhyme. Choose a gizmo and explode it into its separate pieces and a dot will start to dance along the words of the rhyme attached to it, just as a nun runs her fingers slowly along the beads on her rosary as she prays. Click a piece of the gizmo and it appears in your building area, bringing with it the word that the dot had reached when you clicked. Choose another piece, and another, and soon you’ll have made both a new gizmo and a new sentence built from the pieces you took apart.

screenshot of beadgee site

I like this. There’s no goal but to play, as we play with beads or lego. There’s no end, no closure, no puzzle other than to figure out what you can do with it, and though there are no instructions a couple of minutes of clicking should be enough to work out what you can do. Beadgee is a charming example of a textual instrument or an instrumental text, though the text isn’t dominant in the piece.

It also got me thinking about the user functions Espen Aarseth outlines in Cybertext: in any text, a user will interpret, and some texts also allow the user to explore, configure and add to the text. Clearly configuring the work is the most important user function in Beadgee. Markku Eskelinen memorably uses the relationship between interpreting and configuring to differentiate games from literature and art:

To generalize, in art we might have to configure in order to be able to interpret whereas in games we have to interpret in order to be able to configure, and proceed from the beginning to the winning or some other situation. (“The Gaming Situation“, Gamestudies 1:1, 2001)

Beadgee seems to present a third option: configuring for the sake of configuring. We don’t configure it in order to interpret it, or at any rate, I didn’t feel any need to interpret the rather silly poem and gizmo I produced by combining and choosing elements, and yet I found pleasure in the playing. I configure lego and beads, too, without giving much thought to interpretation. Beadgee’s not a game, it’s more like a toy, yet it’s also clearly art. I suppose probably someone’s already devised a theory of interactivity as lego? Or beads…

4 thoughts on “beadgee

  1. noah

    Well, people have probably talked about interactivity as Lego, but Lego doesn’t have much in the way of text associated with it. Most of the textual toys I can think of (the Shannonizer and prate ó mentioned earlier ó or or magnetic poetry) do seem to be things we configure for interpretation. Hmmm… Though I suspect I may feel like contradicting myself on this in a day or two. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Beadgee before.

    Oh, by the way, I think you have a broken link for “textual instrument” in your entry here.

  2. Jill

    Fixed the link, thanks 🙂

    I found I got very confused trying to think about the interpret to configure/configure to interpret distinction this morning. I kept forgetting which was which. Perhaps there are other more useful distinctions – though the chiasmic structure of the int to con con to int does make the sentence very memorable, the meaning may not be. Or else I’m just terminally forgetful.

  3. fivecats

    It’s very much like building your own Dr. Seuss-like contraptions. Fiddling for the sake of fiddling.

    Of course, my wife, the jeweler, does much the same thing when she’s designing new pieces to make. She’ll sit down on the floor with all of her stones and start putting them together in different combinations. In this regard, it’s very much an artistic exercise with a set goal in mind.

    Beadgee, on the other hand, may not have a set goal in mind, but it does promote the same type of mental, imaginative exercise. There is a great value in this type of mental exercise for the sake of mental exercise that isn’t recognized by much of society. Being encouraged to work on a puzzle for the sake of working on the puzzle and seeing how (a) the puzzle works and (b) how your mind works with the puzzle carries over into other facets of life.

    After all, “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for play.”

  4. Jill

    My confusion of interpretation and configuring is quite appropriate, it seems: I’ve been reminded that Stuart Moulthrop and Nick Montfort’s close reading of Adam Cadre’s interactive fiction Varicella discusses exactly this, arguing among other things that in IF like Varicella interpretation and configuration co-exist without the hierarchy Markku Eskelinen proposes, where one dominates the other.

    I’m rather upset at having forgotten that this was in Nick and Stuart’s essay, which I read voraciously a few months ago, particularly enjoying this point – though I then forgot it until being reminded. I’m sadly imagining all the other brilliant thoughts I’ve no doubt encountered and forgotten… Still, Liz confesses she even forgets what she’s written herself (and I’ve experienced that, too) so I suppose I’m not the only forgetful researcher around. With blogs and email, fortunately, I can draw on the collective memory and do better than on my own…

    But anyway, Noah, perhaps Beadgee balances interpretation and configuration? It does so in a very different way to Varicella, but is another example of the many in betweens of art, literature and games.

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