18 Cadence is a new interactive text experience by Aaron Reed: he calls it a “story kit” rather than a story or storyworld or interactive fiction. This is fair enough. Scraps of text describe the rooms in the house at 18 Cadence during each year from 1901 to 2000, as well as the objects and the inhabitants. To manipulate the story, one moves back and forth through the years, or through the rooms by clicking on a floor plan. Different inhabitants have different understandings of what is going on. The story of the house includes both personal histories — deaths, betrayals, love affairs, weddings and births, addiction and depression — and hints of the history of the 20th century, social change and prejudice. During the house’s turbulent years in the 90s, inhabitants come and go quickly, and there are lots of roommates, so it is hard to care as much about any one of them as they flicker past: a hint of social disintegration. But there are also props that last through the years, features that persist and change.
If the piece were only that much, it would be interesting, an exploratory text heavily tied to the history of the house. But each scrap of text can be moved and manipulated by the player. Descriptions of objects can be juxtaposed, glued together into new sentences or simply left on top of one another. Characters, ages, room names and dates, actions and motivations can be laid out in new arrangements, and the arrangements shared with other readers. If you want to read things that others have written with/about 18 Cadence, you can browse through, looking at alternate arrangements.
Aaron draws an analogy with fridge magnet poetry, and there’s a bit of that feeling of play and sometimes randomness. But it’s also an experience that invites the interactor to discover her own themes in the work. Because the scraps can overlap, obscuring one another, it’s possible to replace intended meanings with others. Sometimes the effect is intentionally comical:
Sometimes it’s not, as in this tale about the deaths of three sons of the household:
And sometimes the juxtapositions call out themes or possibilities that are less explicit in the work. I encountered one disturbing cluster of text that seemed to hint at incest, though that story wasn’t obvious on the surface of the text. Working out what is supposed to have happened to all of the characters is one sort of semi-puzzle; working out new or different perspectives on their experiences is another.
As the screenshots should make obvious, this is a really lovingly textured piece of work. When you lay out scraps of words, they drift into attractive positions, perhaps skew a little bit as though you were arranging them on a table. Dragging together two scraps that refer to the same scene will glue those scraps into a continuous sentence, but the X-Acto knife tool will separate them again. It’s all a pleasingly tactile, precise and elegant interface, and reminded me of some of the attractive work inkle has done with text; also of Andrew Plotkin’s My Secret Hideout. I recommend giving 18 Cadence a look.