Howling Dogs

Creative Work
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Description (in English): 

In Howling Dogs, Porpentine presents us with a bleak picture of existence. The player character lives in a cell-like environment. The only escape on offer is a virtual reality system that places the player in variety of dark fantasy environments. As Porpentine writes, the system offers “false catharsis in the form of these victories–but at the end of the day you’re still in the black room” (Heartscape and Short, 2012). Porpentine weaves the biological, the mundane, and the drudgery of ordinary life into the surreal unfolding of her often-painful hypertext fantasia. When there is a bed it is there for you to sleep in. In Howling Dogs, you need to eat by getting a nutrition bar that varies only slightly in its flavor in successive meals, and you need to drink before each session with your virtual reality device. Porpentine describes the work as a metaphor for a situation of many living as “refugees in their own country,” destitute and “less and less capable of caring about yourself,” able to afford only the bare minimum: “Terrible food and some kind of glowing screen, and when you look away from the screen, you’re still in the same place.” 

The fantasies offered by the VR system are hardly escapist in the sense that they focus on painful episodes and uneasy subject positions. In one of the VR episodes, the player character is enlisted to strangle an abusive partner. In another she is cast into the role of Joan of Arc in the last moments before she is burned alive. Porpentine’s prose is taut, sharp, precise, and visceral. She uses the second person in a similar way to most interactive fiction, but in Porpentine’s stories, the “you” often sees the world from a precarious position, as some kind of moral or physical violence often lurks on the immanent horizon. When violence takes place, it is not the easily dismissed cartoon carnage of video games. In one scene in Howling Dogs, the player character is described as “sopping with blood, shouting, bellowing, ramming your weapon through rib cages, twisting, shredding hearts into flimsy strips that hang from chest-holes like tinsel wigs.” The text of the link that follows is “You bring back a couple fingers for your bone-sparrow to nibble on.” It is not enough to simply describe the player character vanquishing an opponent: the player participates instead in killing as psychosis, playing a murderer who not only throws herself into surreal acts of butchery, but also collects flesh trophies to bring back as snacks for her creepy familiar. 

(Source: Scott Rettberg, Electronic Literature)

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Screenshot from Howling Dogs
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Ana Castello