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About the Story
You don't know where you are, or how you got here, but you do know you've been kidnapped. Trapped in a cage, running out of options. What will you do?
63rd Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I suspect that this piece could be retraumatizing for some, so please note that this is an uncensored portrayal of violence, both emotional and physical.
I have to admit that when I first loaded up this story I was convinced I was going to hate it, and it didn't help that there's a few glaring spelling mistakes in the first few minutes. The prose was also jarring at first, not so much because of the profanity (apropos of the situation), but because of the often aggressively stilted manner in which the victim's thoughts are voiced. Punctuation is also inconsistent, with missing periods (sometimes) and random capitalization or lack thereof; intentional or not, it helped elicit the raw emotions the authors were trying to convey.
Beyond the words themselves, I'm impressed with how well I was drawn into this character and being in the moment with her. While I've never been kidnapped, I have been held at gunpoint, and reading this brought back a loud whisper of the terror I felt that day. The pacing is effective and the choices feel raw and honest.
One more comment on the game structure below the spoiler:
(Spoiler - click to show)I am quite grateful that the only possible endings appear to be positive (relatively speaking). I don't think I could have coped otherwise.
So I think I'm coming to learn something about myself: I don't like IF that starts in media res if, whether through flashbacks or clues in the writing, you are never given enough context to help anchor you to the story. I don't need long, detailed backstories, but I need something to help ground me. I don't feel like I got that in this piece. Eventually, the pure atmosphere of it did hook me a bit, but I feel it could have been much better.
You play a girl, kidnapped and imprisoned in a large dog cage. Your choices are largely how you decide to interact with your kidnapper as you attempt to plan an escape. This isn't my favorite kind of environment to be thrown in to, so the lack of any information about who these people were really left me confused and disconnected to the story. Eventually, just the sheer tension of the situations did grab me and made me eager to see what the next turn would be. However, the ending (at least the one I got) was (Spoiler - click to show)so abrupt and out-of-the-blue, with no denouement, that I felt cheated out of a satisfying resolution to all that tension. I needed more.
Your mileage may vary.
A Calling of Dogs is, at its heart, a character-focused work. Solving the problem of survival is a large part of the experience, but what makes it truly distinctive is the extent to which one gets to know the protagonist along the way.
The prose is highly effective: punchy, dripping with tension, and revealing much through a mix of subtle and not-so-subtle details. The surface-level stuff is told directly, but much deeper characterization is revealed through other means, shown rather than told. Subtle tonal shifts; the nature of the options presented to the player; the choice of things which the protagonist notices or remarks upon in their internal monologue - all of these devices are used to craft a rich sense of who they are.
I feel that the game achieves an excellent balance between acknowledging the protagonist's present victimhood, and the constraints it entails, while also acknowledging their agency and their broader identity. (Spoiler - click to show)They, the protagonist, are capable of exceptionally cold logic in spite of their hidden rage. They are capable of exceptional deception and manipulation, weaponizing their own sense of empathy for those purposes, in a calculated yet desperate drive for survival. This isn't who they normally are, and indeed, they do a complete emotional 180 and have a breakdown as soon as safety gives them the luxury of doing so. It is clear that the circumstances of their confinement forced them into an extraordinary headspace. Even so, their reaction to these circumstances speaks to who they are more generally. One gets the sense that they draw upon skills and attitudes learned over a life that has often been punishing. This should probably go without saying after everything I just wrote, but I feel that the protagonist is a complex, well-realized character with the ring of verisimilitude, and this is something I appreciate greatly.
I encountered some technical issues: occasional typos and a continuity error (Spoiler - click to show)where the antagonist looks at himself after the protagonist has already destroyed his eyeballs, but I felt that they just barely detracted from an otherwise deeply gripping, emotionally-charged experience.
*Edit a few hours later. Now that I've thought about it some more, I think there is a strong symbolic component to this piece as well. (Spoiler - click to show)Consider that the protagonist, according to a flashback, is implied to be someone who was assigned female at birth but who does not identify as a woman (that's why I've been saying "they" all this time - for lack of a better term since their actual gender identity/preferred pronoun was never clearly revealed in my playthroughs). And then consider that, according to the protagonist's observations, the antagonist's previous victims (i.e. the previous occupants of the cage in which the protagonist is trapped) have been women. Some of the language also seems to imply that the antagonist perceives the protagonist as a woman, i.e. he does not know about their gender identity. It's fair to say that the protagonist is fighting to escape from a cage, and a fate, to which womanhood is attached in some sense. This can easily be read as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, a struggle against the confines of gender norms.
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This is version 3 of this page, edited by Zape on 8 October 2020 at 4:27pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item