I am hesitant to call Her Story a video game at all as it does not have a lot of traditional video game elements and is more a form of interactive media. If you have not played Her Story it is definitely the most mechanically different “video game” I have played; I am not sure if “played” is even the right word here. “Viewed” would be wrong too, I guess I will use “experienced” but that sounds pretentious.
Her Story is an interactive detective story at its heart. You play as someone (the game does not reveal who you are at the beginning) who is going through old interview vide
os of a woman whose husband was murdered. The interviews were done on 7 different days during the early 90’s. The videos however are not the full interv
iews, rather they are short (seven seconds to two minute) clips of her responses during the interviews. The way you navigate these clips is by using the search engine built into the program. For example, searching “murder” will bring up every clip where the word “murder” is mentioned.
So easy right? Not really. The program will only bring up the first five clips (chronologically) related to your search query. A broad search term (for example the husband’s name “Simon”) will only show you the first five clips rather than all clips that mention the term. So you do have to think how to narrow down your search term to only bring up the clips you want. In addition, clips you have not yet viewed will be marked for your convenience.
This is the core mechanic of Her Story. Figuring out the right search term feels like trying to figure out the right question to crack a criminal suspect. The more you ask (search), the more information you get to help figure out who is guilty of this murder. This does not feel like a puzzle game like most detective games do. This is a game where you will have to take notes while playing to find inconsistencies to question. You’ll hear a name or place mentioned, which you then will search to find more clips which will lead to more clips and so forth.
If you have not played Her Story you are probably wondering when the game ends if all you do is watch clips and put together the story in your head. To that I say, go play the game it’s like $6 on Steam/Mobile and worth it. Hopefully if you are still reading this you hopefully have played the game or just don’t care and I do not have to worry about spoiling the ending. The game ends when you receive an instant message from your friend revealing that you are Eve’s (or Hannah/Eve’s depending on your interpretation) daughter who is trying to learn why her mother did what she did in the past. This moment triggers when you have viewed enough clips of the last interview where the confession occurs.
So let me back up for the fearless people who decided not to play the game. The person being interviewed is “Hannah.” Hannah is Simon’s wife and the person who murdered him. Eve is Hannah’s twin sister who is actually being interviewed by police while Hannah gets away with Eve’s child. When Hannah and Eve were born the midwife told Hannah’s mother Eve was stillborn and raised Eve without Hannah’s family knowing. At some point, Hannah and Eve met one another and for some reason Eve decides to live a double life as Hannah. They each take turns being Hannah, switching back and forth as they like. The midwife ends up passing away and Eve lives secretly in Hannah’s parent’s attic till they are adults. They keep a diary so that each one can record what they did each day while playing as “Hannah” to inform the other so no one suspects anything.
And then there’s some stuff about Hannah’s miscarriage and how Simon had an affair with Eve while she was wearing a blonde wig and eventually impregnating Eve. Hannah kills Simon for cheating on her with Eve. There is a lot more to this story than I am writing here, but my point is my summary seems pretty fantastical at this point right? Twins separated at birth, taking turns living out one life, no one ever finding out, kind of hard to believe right? That’s why I lean more towards Hannah and Eve being the same person with split personality disorder.
“But Eve has a tattoo and Hannah had a bruise during the interviews, they must be different people!” No not really, the tattoo and bruise could be fake, make-up and markers, in order to feed into Hannah/Eve’s delusion. We really have no way to confirm that they are two different people based on the information in the game. “But Eve had the hospital records showing she was in Glasgow!” No, we never see them, she insists that they are there but certain clips seem to imply that they can find no such records. All we know for sure is Hannah, Eve, or Hannah/Eve gave birth to a daughter who is going through the records now.
This open ended-ness initially pissed me off. I wanted a nice definitive closure to the case I was investigating; instead I ended up with more questions. But, the ending is warming up to me. I wish I had played this with a group of friends so that we could have discussed what we think is actually going on. As the game’s ending occurs before viewing all the clips, it would have incentivized us to go back in and find the remaining clips so we could keep debating about what had happen, like what I imagine a group of detectives would be doing.
This experience really captured the feeling of being a detective. It felt like I was trying to figure things out and follow leads rather than just solving a predetermined puzzle. Some people will criticize the length (took me 98 minutes to reach the ending) but to be honest it is about the length of a movie. Like I said in the beginning, this is less a video game and more an interactive media. It’s like watching a movie that you are an active participant in it. The length does not detract from the experience and honestly the game would have suffered if it was longer.
If you want to know more about how Her Story directs the player down certain paths and other design choices be sure to check out this video by The Game Maker’s Toolkit. Also be sure to check out his other videos, he does a phenomenal job of explaining and discussing unique design choices in video games.