While playing through a narrative-heavy game, the anticipation of the unknown is what keeps the player moving forward. You continuously wonder where the story is going, and what kind of end result is looming for our main character. With most games, after you get through a captivating cutscene, you are then thrown into whatever gameplay situation is at hand. But what if that gameplay was, in fact, the story? This is the case in Her Story, a video game created by Sam Barlow. Barlow has previously worked as the lead designer for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Silent Hill: Origins.
Her Story gives you very little introduction; instead it places you in front of a virtual computer screen and gives you some basic mechanics for how to explore the database at your fingertips. The virtual computer system in front of you resembles some late 90’s Windows modeling, and features desktop items (listed appropriately as ReadMe’s) that further acquaint you with how to properly search. With the help it gives you on how to explore the system, it does not reveal much of the story, except that you are looking for videos of an interrogation that were recorded years ago. From there, searching is the only thing that will propel you forward.
You quickly become aware of the meat in Her Story, which is found by typing in a basic term, such as murder, and having videos pop up in front of you. These videos are then playable by clicking on them. To prevent people from just typing “the” and getting a majority of the videos, only five videos are allowed to appear with any given search term. This leads you to searching more and more unique terms in hopes of picking up a video you have not seen.
With no discernable gameplay to be found apart from searching terms, you become more and more engrossed in the story. It is well established how small many people’s attention spans are, so even the slightest detraction from the narrative threads can send you into a state of “what the hell happened the last time this character appeared?” You never have a situation that allows you to separate from the story thread at hand; you must constantly focus on each video and attempt to pick out future terms. It becomes one of the most cerebral video game experiences in years as you are constantly jotting down notes on phrases and other story elements that may or may not play a part into what has happened outside the interrogation.
While you may not know anything about the story while typing your first search term, you quickly realize that there is a mystery afoot. The mystery is delivered through full-motion video, as you watch an interrogation of a woman named Hannah. The story outline early on is that Hannah’s husband has gone missing, and she has came to the police in hopes of them finding him. From there, narrative threads begin and end, all within one room, and all performed by one actress, Viva Seifert. Seifert’s performance is absolutely on point, never allowing the full-motion video aspect to feel awkward or forced in any way. While it may not be saying much, Her Story features one of the best full-motion video experiences ever placed within a video game.
One issue that could arise from being able to search any term and pull up any video, is that the player could get the last video within their first couple of searches. This is very much a possibility, and something that happened to me. The interrogation lasted over the course of two weeks. If you get a video that happened in one of the final days, you can get a bit of an info dump you were not expecting. Fortunately, nothing is ever as it seems in Her Story and one video alone will not tell you the whole story. While you may think you have an understanding of what happened, you never know until you have accumulated a large majority of the videos within the database. Even then, gray areas still surround every possible outcome.
The elusiveness of proper satisfaction is in full force with Her Story, as the game never ends for you. There is a chance, late in the game, to end the story yourself, but if you decline, you can continue searching for videos until you have found every entry. This ticks off a mental confusion for most players, as we are all accustomed to hitting one big exciting moment, experiencing a falling action, and then seeing credits rolls. Many people have seen this comment by now, but it really does become tough to discern when you are happy with your time with Her Story. As you become more and more engrossed, you begin to want to get directly involved in the story to help the subjects being talked about, but this is an opportunity that is impossible to accomplish. It is this sort of hands-off storytelling that makes Her Story one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences in years.
Finding a unique video game is not hard; you can purchase any Humble Bundle and probably get a few unique experiences. But finding a game so ballsy and against the grain as Her Story is truly rare. Sam Barlow threw out traditional gameplay and instead focused his entire direction for the player on watching full-motion video after full-motion video. Due to this risky maneuver, you are constantly invested in every twenty-second experience that appears before you. You become addicted to scrutinizing every detail, thinking about each word in hopes of it eventually helping you find an unknown video. Her Story’s incredible narrative mechanic drops the player unknowingly into a wonderfully disturbing experience that will not soon be forgotten.