Escape and Confinement in howling dogs

Porpentine’s hyperlink based text adventure game, howling dogs, fantastically blends elements of both stories and games in the way that it requires thoughtful and considerate reading of the text, and also in how it demands player participation to create a vivid and captivating play experience. The game explores possibilities and limitations of the potential for escape in the sequences that the player participates in each day of the game, only to return back to the same room he or she started in. The game welcomes interpretation of each sequence, as well as interpretation of the sequences in relationship to the work as a whole. In an interview, Porpentine expressed her excitement about people’s interest and interpretations of the game when she said that, “I’m happy with the experiment. I enjoy seeing what happens when I make something that I don’t fully understand . . .” Her refusal to take a position on the meaning of each dream sequence leaves room for interpretation, such as the murder or Joan of Arc sequences.

In the game’s exploration of ideas of freedom and escape, the game prioritizes an internal journey over an external one. In Emily Short’s interview with Porpentine, she quotes her as explaining howling dogs as a game in which “the virtual reality is trying to adapt itself to produce ‘endless fascination’ while your protagonist stagnates in reality.” The player wakes up each day in the same room of dark metal to continue to repeat the same day, but enters into a potentially meaningful and exciting dream sequences in the activity room. This functions as a framed narrative in which the character repeats experiences some sort of escape or consideration of escape from living a monotonous life in the external narrative. The game puts a large focus on the internal world, but the game is firmly based in the external world, as signified by the title, howling dogs, that the player hears when he or she wakes up. In each day the only thing familiar to the player is the world of hospital or health centre.

Howling dogs is an interactive fiction game that really successfully blends elements of both games and fiction. It is necessary that a player thoughtfully engage with the text as a piece of literature in order to be able to fully appreciate it as a really rich and vivid experience, but it also demands player participation as a work of interactive fiction. Porpentine said in her interview with Short that, “the only way to get anywhere in howling dogs is to stop consuming and start paying attention.” This challenges our assumptions that games serve to entertain us, to fill some need in us. This suggests a reciprocative relationship howling dogs in which we can find that fulfillment by our engagement with the game, that we can get that fulfilment only in paying attention. She explains games as being the most intimate of media, because of how it requires the player to constantly be touching it. In this way, the play gets to know the game in a potentially really profound way. Each sequence may speak to a player differently and hold different meaning in relation to the parts of the game as a whole. It is a game that invites conversation about our own experiences and understanding of the game, and so refuses to assert a definite stand on its purpose or meaning.

Works Cited
“Interview with Porpentien, author of howling dogs” Emily Short’s Interactive Story Telling. 23 November 2012. Web. February 2015


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