I suppose I should lead with how much I enjoyed my playthrough of ‘howling dogs’. The worlds that it builds are fascinating, so typically science fiction at times and so wildly ekphrastic and surreal at others. From a more conventionally “literary” perspective, I think that the language was surprisingly poetic in moments, especially during the “Empress” segment of the Activity Room with its beautiful imagery of jeweled birds and hungry stones. Grade A stuff.
That said, I’m particularly interested in the way that Porpentine discussed ‘howling dogs’ in an interview with Emily Short. (Just in case there are people outside the class reading this who haven’t played through howling dogs yet, you should.) Emily Short touches upon the “Naked House” segment of the Activity Room, citing the unease that it generates while also suggesting that it is perhaps the crucial moment in the game “because it most directly depicts someone who decides to stop being trapped and takes direct if violent action.” (This claim makes sense if, at the time of the interview, Emily Short had not reached the culminating ending of the game, which Emily acknowledges). Emily expresses a desire for some sort of escape from the so-called “outer” narrative of howling dogs, (referring to the successively darkening, messy room).
Porpentine, (in what I can only assume is a wonderfully coy way of not spoiling the more elusive ending of the game), responds that “escape begins with an internal change–discernment. If nothing changes in our understanding, we remain trapped…The only way to get anywhere in howling dogs is to stop consuming and start paying attention.”
When I first read this final line, I was perlexed. To what degree are we consuming by playing through this game? I suppose that we can get to a point where our clicks are motivated by a desire to flesh out the segments in the Activity Room, effectively distracting us from the initial impulse of the game: to explore the strange facility we find ourselves in. Or perhaps Porpentine is speaking more along the lines of the game, saying that the only way to get out of the grim scenario is to stop being destracted from the “reality” of the facility by the VR equipment, much in the way that some people say that escapists “consume” copious amounts of TV or other media to avoid real life. But I also thought that perhaps Porpentine was commenting a bit on the nature of the actual players.
I’m sure its different for folks who traffic the hypertext highways more regularly thant the average person, but I know I feel a certain impulse to hit a hyperlink right away. When presented with the option, I’ll often take the pathway to the next page before even reading the whole page (which I suppose isn’t necessarily bad). But Porpentine seems to challenge this idea with howling dogs. The key to reaching the more elusive (and arguably more uplifting) ending of the game lies in reading segments of the text that often appear after the initial hyperlinks in a page, or that are sandwiched within a lines from the previous page that are easily glossed. The player has to slow down beyond the impulse to hit the next link, and really dig deep into the story.
Additionally,the final pathways are scrambled up within an impressively large patch of hyperlinks, which almost all route back to the same page, leading the player to gloss over several links and opt for “sleep” which as been established as a way out of the VR segments (and as the player does so, they miss the opportunity for the elusive ending). This seems to shift the attention a bit, and made me think that I’m not so much compelled to hit any link as I am compelled to move through the game rapidly. I want to consume it in volume, to revel in its function as a sequential supply of new text.
This seemed like a unique function to me, that a hypertext would push back against the initial compulsion towards consumption in order to involve the player more fully in the game. I’m wondering if other people feel this strange compulsion to hit hyperlinks, to consume rapidly, and if they had a similar experience with this game.