Click to View Piece

It's A Snake, 2011

The piece takes the form of an interactive language-based adaptation of the early arcade and computer game "Snake." As a work of digital language arts, It's A Snake attempts to address the boundaries between, and the conflation of, the ideas of traditional print writing and the digital (specifically of gaming) culture.
In It's A Snake, The user builds a "snake" out of letters which trail behind them as they navigate around the screen using the arrow keys on their keyboard. The objective is to "eat" (or avoid if you choose) the solitary letters which appear on the screen one by one. As each letter is eaten by the head of the snake, it is added to the very end of the user's snake, creating a moving train of language. When the snake "dies," by colliding either with the walls on the board or with its own tail, the text making up the body of the snake, which the user has created, is displayed as a snake-generated poem.

The text that appears on the board, is unique with each round. It is generated by feeding a long master text into a Markov model which analyzes the piece and produces a number of sentences based off the grammar and lexicon of the master text. These sentences are then displayed on the board for the snake to eat, one letter at a time from start to finish, rebuilding the generated sentences. The master text which is fed into the Markov model, rich in rhythmic, repetitious, and alliterative qualities, addresses the idea of playing with language, and electronics. Tension arises between the user's agency/passivity concerning the set text. When multiple letters have appeared on the screen, the user is presented with a choice, either to follow the set order of the letters in the text, revealing the artist's selection, or to build one's own words/sounds out of the available pieces, intervening in the progression of the intended text.
It's A Snake was built in Java using the Processing and RiTa libraries. Indispensable technical and creative help came from Brian Drake, whose abilities to teach and encourage only improve.