There are three parts that define me. I am a writer, a student of literature, and a gamer, and for all three parts, 18 Cadence hits the right notes.
Aaron Reed calls 18 Cadence electronic literature with an interactive narrative, cautious to not call it a game. After playing/reading, I can understand the need to classify it as something distinct. While it calls to mind familiar text adventures, it presents a story that surpasses their capabilities. It is mindful of it’s legacy, while moving far ahead. Since the terms surrounding gameplay are the ones that most speak to me personally, they’re the ones I’ll use to discuss the game. But do not limit the 18 Cadence to the narrowness of my own vocabulary.
18 Cadence follows one hundred years of a home, the families that move in and out of its walls, the personal tragedies and the changes that shape a nation. It does this with a relatively simple, yet fascinating user interface that defies traditional explanation. Resembling a work-bench, you can pull elements from the narrative down to rearrange them into your own work. Writer Matt Caverhill puts it best when he says that the “game [is] collaborating with you to tell a story in an unreproducible way.” You can read the text, each room of the house a separate moment in a year, and experience the story that way but you’d be missing the different level of interactivity that 18 Cadence brings to the table. In total, there are 35,000 words that you can rearrange, remix and interact with. Calling it an interactive story version of magnetic fridge poetry is both accurate and limiting as a description.
While you can create new stories by dragging elements from the upper story to the bottom, there are other uses as well. You can also increase your understanding of the upper narrative, connecting previous chapters with current ones. Not quite hidden, there are moments tucked away into the overarching narrative that intertwine with their neighbors. There’s also an element to the interface that allows you to share and browse user created stories, like the one above. At your leisure, you can take a peak at other’s experiences and see how they are interacting with Reed’s work.
If the piece was simply the well thought out interaction, it would be enough to play with it. As it is, 18 Cadence is also incredibly well written. Reed has limited himself to only a line or two for every room in every year, and while overall that is quite a lot of writing, that leaves little room for narrative to build in each year. But it does build.
Reed’s writing is both dense and to the point. Each line is written from the POV of one of the rooms’ inhabitants in a given year. A married couple enters the house with a similar state of mind, but grow apart as the years progress. Each scene is a slice of life, a moment pressed between the pages of an old book. There is a sense of revelation every time you push the forward button and experience another moment in the characters lives. I grew attached to one family, just to see them leave, and in time to fall in love with a new family. Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” and while 18 Cadence isn’t a non-stop train of sadness, it does serve elements of this principle well. The fascination is in watching these people experience their own personal conflicts and failures — the daughter that can never satisfy her mother, the three sons who die in war, the sickness that cannot be cured.
You can play 18 Cadence online or it is available as an iOS app.