A dim lit room. A lone computer screen in the middle of that room radiating all of the noticeable light around you. Like a moth, you’re drawn to the light. You take a seat in front of the monitor where a single application is running with the text “MURDER” in the text box. Looks like a crappy search engine from a college homework assignment, you think to yourself. You click the Search button anyways. Querying Database and a green sense of progress fills up the bar. A few videos with a brunette appear. She’s been there for more than one day, as her clothes aren’t the same across the videos. It looks like she’s being interrogated. Without warning, without forced motivation, without someone whispering text in front of you face, you sit there watching each video, trying to figure out what this murder is about.
Her Story is probably one of the better story-driven games I’ve played in a while, not because it breaks ground in storytelling but because it leaves the player in complete control of how they unravel the story.
No preamble to the story present; you’re piecing everything about the story as you dig through the collection of videos. The only fact of the story given to you off the top is that a murder has taken place.
Without Forced Motivation
Without giving the player a reason to care about the situation, you’re thrown into a murder mystery. You aren’t given any character motivation so you don’t really have anyone that you’re rooting for. Your emotional investment in a character isn’t there so you have no reason to stay here to figure out what happened. The only reason to stay is because of your own interest in the story.
Finding out how to play is completely up to your own skills in the game. You either figure out that the search application is based on terms from the transcription or you get stuck and find a README file on the in-game computer describing the use of the search application. There is no assumption to how smart or dumb the player is because the game knows that each player will search at their own pace.
Different terms in the transcription will jump out at the player and it’s up to the player to follow each avenue that the terms takes them. And with that one assumption, it means that every person who plays Her Story will have a different experience with this game. Everyone that plays has the same set of information therefore the same point of reference. But as they search, that point of reference diverges greatly as the waves of intrigue ebb and flow through each divergence.
Many of your branching paths will lead to dead ends, but each group of paths has some twist, some spark to reignite your intrigue as new thoughts of the mystery flood your mind.
You don’t become captivated by the mystery, more like periodically engrossed by it. As new pieces of the puzzle are discovered and revealed, old information starts to jump out at you. Old hypotheses become affirmed and rejected and it becomes impossible to keep track of what you should search next, what became less important in your current train of through, and what you’ve already tried. Early on I realized that a pen and paper, or some other scratchpad, was essential in keeping track of my thoughts about the situation and the players in the story.
It’s hard not to talk about the actual meat of the game because its story and the reveals are the bread-and-butter of the game and would completely ruin the game for those willing to give it a try, but the game’s strengths in keeping the player captivated at their own pace makes it a great candidate to get people interested in story-driven games and makes it an excellent example of bridging the gap between interactivity and story-telling. Not living in the gameplay-storytelling cycle that most games live in or the gameplay-setpiece-storytelling clusterfuck that most AAA games live in nowadays when we look for examples of story-driven games, but a game where the story and the interactivity coexist at the same time, instead of an alter-ego to a double life that a game tries to live.
Blaugust Day 1
August 1, 2015 at 16:48
It definitely looks like an experience. I keep hearing interesting things about it, but I am not sure it’s the type of game I would really enjoy. Then again, it’s unfair to judge something like this!
August 1, 2015 at 17:10
It’s not a long investment. My runthrough was around 2ish hours and depending on which rabbit hole you venture through first might be longer or shorter. It does help you rethink how story can work in an interactive medium, though a lot of it is a combination of stuff that’s worked in the past. Like a point and click adventure games mixed with choose your own adventure stories.
It might also be one of those go-to games for the next few years for innovations in story-telling in games. Like how people reiterate Bioshock, Portal, and such.
August 1, 2015 at 21:17
It’s definitely an interesting example of non-linearity in storytelling.
Different people will uncover different bits of it (beginning, middle, end, interludes and sidetreks) in a different sequence, and the author/designer relinquishes that control over the sequencing, trusting that players are capable enough to do that on their own, if they wish, and stop when they want.
I am intrigued by where I stopped. I at first intended to play through the whole thing, uncover every piece and get them in totally correct sequence for a complete play through. But due to the restriction of videos that could be lined up in a row, I kinda thought better of it and just unraveled the story to the point where I felt I had a good handle on what was -really- going on, found a nice ‘reward’ video that came in two parts, identified the different players involved, and then just haven’t found the time to pick it back up again for the ‘completionist’ run-through. I just keep assuring myself Maybe soon (TM), and that seems to suffice.