It’s fascinating how little things can ensnare you in a game. When I was playing Depression Quest, the ability to adopt a cat made me more invested in each decision that the main character made – I wanted to make sure that the depressed person didn’t end up killing his pet through neglect, and I thought that having a pet would ease some of the loneliness that the character experienced (also, I have a slight obsession with cats). In Bryan Loyall’s response to Janet Murray’s essay on cyberdrama, he says “For immersion to take place, the characters in the world need to seem real to the participant”. Part of the genius of Depression Quest is the purposeful vagueness of the main character’s job, interests, and gender. Being able to project ourselves onto the depressed personality made the experience much more “immersive”, because we already respect and care about ourselves. The character has a cat – maybe the participant has a cat. The character has a caring older brother – wow! so does the participant. The character has a menial job that they don’t enjoy – perhaps the participant can relate to that. All of these little things make the game more engaging, and allow the participant to feel more inclined to make decisions. Ergo, the character seems real. In this respect, I think that howling dogs was less successful. The whole game has a detached feel, which was likely a conscious decision (a large portion of the game takes place in dreamscapes of varying kinds), but still creates some built-in degrees of separation between the character and the participant. Of course, there are also parts of howling dogs that allow connections to be made – during the war dream, there are multiple options that let the player opt-out of the gruesome scene that is unfolding. “Don’t you think this is a bit morbid?” the game offers. Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t feel comfortable with this.” Yet, the poetic writing lulls participants into choosing the more dangerous options. You click INTO BATTLE. You join a war against the living and what you’re doing only hits you slowly. Howling dogs reads like a misty maze to navigate, not a life to empathize with. Both creations have their charm though – while neither was exactly “fun” for me to play, they were both very engaging. Each choice felt like uncovering the next clue in the mystery that is the final story, and that curiosity drove me to be engaged in and enjoy both games.