Agency and the Cake are Lies

By Patricia Tatham

I found some interesting comparisons between Howling Dogs and The Stanley Parable. The Stanley Parable is a 3-dimensional game about an office worker walking through their building looking for missing colleges with a narrator telling him where to go. The player is free to not listen to the narrator, and can take many different paths throughout the game making for many different endings, but the “real” ending is always the same, the player starts back at the starting point, therefore no real ending, no conclusion other than what the player’s interpretation is. Howling Dogs is a text based game with the player making choices along the way of how to proceed to the next level. As with The Stanley Parable, the ending of Howling Dogs is always the same: a repeating quote where the only action that a player can take is to reset the game. No matter the decisions made in this story, the ending always comes out the same. Although both games are different in their appearances and gameplay, both do not have a conclusive ending and both take away the players agencies the more you play the game.

Both of these games are interactive fiction, the difference lying in their appearance and specific forms of interface. Nick Monfort states “the text adventure, however widespread it may be, is not the only type of interactive fiction possible” (6), and The Stanley Parable indeed shows the interactive fiction is quite possible without much use of text. In The Stanley Parable the narrator give directions for the player to follow. If the player chooses to ignore the orders given by the narrator, he can be very vocal towards Stanley and eventually will try to get Stanley back on track. Howling Dogs, the player has a list of things they are able to interact with in their room and they have no choice but to eat and drink before they can enter the activity room. In The Stanley Parable if the player does not follow instructions the narrator will blame Stanley for breaking the narrative, walls become broken, windows go missing, the texture of the game changes, then the narrator will bring Stanley back to the beginning to start again as a way of fixing what was broken. Howling Dogs does something similar in the sense that as the player goes along, the shower will stop working, they can no longer dispose the trash, and their views of the photograph and that from the sanity room change. In both games things break down or no longer work as the player goes along and tests the boundaries of the game, showing how similar to the text adventure styles games of the past, “the puzzles in a work of fiction function to control the revelation of the narrative” (Monfort 3).

Both The Stanley Parable and Howling Dogs give the illusion that the player can freely make their own choices and take their own path, creating an ending that results from their own choices. In reality both games do not give the player that much agency at all, with every possible course of action pre-planned for. They try to encourage the player to think that she has agency, but the agency granted is just as false as the cake provided to Chell at the end of Portal.

Works Cited

Galactic Cafe. The Stanley Parable. 2013. PC.

Monfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36.

Porpentine. Howling Dogs. 2012. PC.

Valve Corporation. Portal. Valve Corporation. 2007. PC.

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