Howling Dogs is an interactive fiction work, or IF for short, in which an interactor, the person playing, controls a player character by clicking with their mouse on highlighted text. By taking a close look at Howling Dogs, we notice we are allowed to interact with all the objects that your character can reach such as food, dispensers and facilities. In turn, you will also receive feedback as a result of your interaction. Also, the descriptions of the environment around you are detailed enough to allow you to create a mental image of your surroundings. However, due to the need to make the story progress, the characters in this game are often overlooked and underdeveloped, some to the point that they are only mentioned. Considering Montfort’s definition of a character as a person who is simulated within the IF world (therefore their actions can vary), many NPCs are not actually characters, but persons. Due to the lack of possible interactions with them, most of the persons felt like tools to make the story progress rather than characters with a personality. The following question arises: what are the roles of persons in IFs, more specifically, in Howling Dogs?
During the first part or the introduction portion of the game, a nameless nurse is mentioned, but I paid no mind to her. Also, I did not see her again nor did I get a chance interact with her later on. In that sense, she was a tool to bring my character into the dark room and to make my character aware that it is being used as a test subject in a facility. However, had she not waken my character up, there would be a greater disconnect with the initial situation as I would’ve felt like an observer of the world rather than a character that is directly involved with it. In addition, my character would probably be devoid of reasons to wake up.
Later as I progressed through the game, I noticed a couple of persons, executioners if I were to guess, that are simply named “they.” The only function of these persons was to chain my character. I found the lack of a detailed description for these persons disappointing. While the executioners’ actions ensured the continuity of the plot (I understood my character was a prisoner who was meant to die at that point in the game), I was not able to form a mental image of those persons. If this was a scene in a novel, I am certain the executioners would have been better described. However, one could also say that the lack of a proper description for those persons reflects the mental and physical capabilities of my character in that particular scene. It could have been a sign that my character was weak and unable to feel or see anything else than the chains being wrapped around its body.
All in all, because the persons in the interactive fiction Howling Dogs are not properly developed characters, they felt more like tools and decorations to me. However, they also have an invaluable role which is to ensure the flow and the coherence of the narrative; they are the elements which create a link between each scene and provide a reason for each sequence of events. Otherwise, without their existence, my character would simply have been an observer that is directed by the environment that is simulated. Therefore, despite being unable to interact with the persons, we notice that they are indispensable and bring more life to the IF.
Montfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” In Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36.
Howling Dogs (Porpentine 2012).