Once referred to as “computer poems,” generative poetry uses computer programs to create literary works from a database of words and a detailed list of instructions. In his article Digital Poetry: A Look at Generative, Visual, and Interconnected Possibilities Chris Funkhouser asserts, “All works of text generation, or archetypal computer poetry can be seen as performing some type of permutation in that they transform or reorder one set of base texts or language into another form.” Roulette, a generative poem created by authors Daniel C. Howe and Bebe Molina, does just that.Roulette reorders a long list of base texts into randomly generated content that can be read in 64,ooo ways.
The game is comprised of three spinning three-dimensional cubes that each contains several smaller cubes with words written on them. A random selection of prose poetry can be generated below the cubes by clicking one of the smaller cubes within the larger structure. Upon clicking on the smaller cube, it expands to fill the space of the larger cube that houses and the word on said cube is incorporated into the prose. As new words are selected and incorporated into the poem, old prose is often regenerated and tweaked only slightly. For the reader, this creates an experience similar to that of gambling/rolling dice. Robert Schoenbeck reaffirms this notion in his essay Playing with Chance: On Random Generation in Playable Media and Electronic Literature. He states, “The ‘Powerball’ motif of the wireframe cubes and the bold red hue of the chosen words in the output text make the roles of both uncontrollable chance and ludic choice readily apparent.”
When playing Roulette, the reader does in fact become aware of both chance and choice. The order and content of the generated prose is unknown to the reader, much like the faces of the di are to the crapshooter. In terms of rolling dice, the results vary and often some numbers/results are repeated in different combinations. This is also the case in Roulette and can be proven by analyzing an excerpt of prose:
This particular excerpt of prose is comprised of 13 main phrases that are each repeated in different combinations 2-4 times. Though the reader (myself) was diverse in their selection of word cubes, mass amounts of repetition still occurred. This reiterates Schoenbeck’s notion of uncontrollable chance. The reader of this prose is no more in control of its outcome than the crapshooter is over the results of the di. However, possessing the role of the player leads the reader to believe that they have a choice in the matter. This causes the reader to continue playing in hopes that eventually something will be generated that gives meaning to the literary work as a whole. In this particular work, chance is what keeps the reader invested in the same manner that it keeps the gambler invested. One will continue playing until they achieve the desired results or until they can no longer afford to remain in the game. The overall experience that the reader has from playing roulette is similar to the experience of rolling dice/gambling. This explains why it was named after a famous gambling game.