By Katalina Watt
The premise of the game is that you're at an old PC trawling through an old police database from 1994, watching video clips of an interview with Hannah Smith, whose husband Simon is missing. The gameplay is conducted by watching a series of FMVs (full motion video) and beyond this the game gives you very minimal instruction. At first I wasn’t used to such seemingly unbridled freedom, and being the organised geek that I am I started ordering and tagging the video clips to try and create one long ordered narrative. This is an aspect of the game I really enjoyed and I think it would be fascinating to see how each player goes about organising their database search and playing at being a detective.
I would advise going into this game blind because the fun of the game mechanic is discovery, and it is a non-linear narrative driven game. I can understand why many players could be frustrated with the pared down tools, but I enjoyed that Her Story forces you as a player to deduce, listen and analyse the information you are being presented with, questioning the reliability of the narrator and making connections between pieces of information.
I don’t want to spoil the story because discovering that is truly the fun of this game, which is why sadly I don’t think this game has high replayability value. I had several moments feeling incredibly clever and Poirot-esque where I put the pieces together and then my theories were confirmed. No doubt I missed plenty of clips, but the narrative is organised so that you can garner the essence of the storyline through the gaps in narrative, in what is is inferred as much as what is explicit. While I can understand why some players found Viva Seifert‘s performance didn’t work for them, I think she did a commendable job of portraying an array of emotions and characteristics convincingly. The presence of an off-screen detective prompting with questions is implied but never explicit, and therefore Seifert does a good job of sustaining a player’s attention over what are essentially fragmented monologues.
I’m not convinced the narrative would have been as compelling for me if it had been presented in a different format, particularly a non-interactive medium such as a film or novel. The story is a fascinating one to discover filled with many themes I enjoy such as deception, family loyalty and fairy tale motifs and I felt the characters were mostly rounded with complex motivations. So much depends on what level of interactivity you expect as a player, and for some people I can see why Her Story falls into a valley where it’s not quite passive like a film and not as conventionally interactive as they expect from a video game.
I’m not sure it entirely worked for me, but I would love to see more games like Her Story. As an experience it felt innovative and striking, but I do empathise with players who felt a bit directionless. It comes down to the philosophical debate of what makes a game a game?
Some would argue Her Story’s lack of a failure state means it cannot be defined as a game, but I think this is a reductive and restrictive definition. Her Story does have a success state, but it feels clunky and inaccurate to quite call it that. There is an obvious turning point in the narrative and mechanic where you have gathered enough of the story pieces to ‘win’. However, for me the success and therefore conclusion of the game comes from satisfying one’s own curiosity about the story and feeling as though you have gathered enough information to, so to speak, close the book on it. A common search query is “Does Her Story have an ending?” and to that I would say “Undoubtedly yes, but that’s not really the point.”