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.
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:
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…