The core of a good murder mystery is the human element. This is as much true for a story like The Silence of the Lambs (film 1991) or a piece of non-fiction such as Serial (podcast 2014). That means having unknowable details. Is this person lying? Was that a Freudian slip? Why does this seemingly unrelated thing keep coming up? Her Story evokes the spirit of a stone cold whodunit combining hours of confessional interview footage with an interactive environment that puts your analytical process at the center of the experience.
The game opens on a computer screen from the 90s with a handful of videoclips already prepared for your viewing pleasure. The desktop interface is peppered with text docs and a rudimentary computer game, but the bulk of your interaction is typing and erasing text in a search bar looking for keywords that will bring up new information from the case-file. The rabbit hole is deep.
One of the best things Her Story does is eschew any kind of positive feedback loop. Useful clues aren’t coupled with a pat on the back and a progress bar stating how close you are to solving the case. This leaves room for you to be legitimately dumbfounded as the mystery starts to unravel; there are moments where my theories ricocheted out of control and other times I felt completely suckered into believing tall tales. It leads to a real world Vizzini’s poison scenario where your mind starts playing tricks on you while you try discern what is fact and what is fiction.
And now I want to talk about the actual story. I’m not going to tell the whole tale, but to mention even surface level elements would start to chip away at the mystery, so here’s your obligatory...
At the center of your investigation are two women named Hannah and Eve. Both characters are performed by Viva Seifert, whose sterling performance makes Her Story one of the most entertaining games of the year. The schism, bond, love and hate between the two characters is the most fascinating layer of Her Story’s fiction. It is Seifert’s nuanced performances which flesh out these two characters into believable suspects. There is a strong motif of mirrors in Her Story that is echoed by their separation at birth, all the way to a potential murder weapon. The unsettling premise that these alter-egos —suspected murderers— are intrinsically connected makes Her Story both haunting and suspenseful.
I can’t emphasize enough just how enveloping the narrative is — it’s a great piece of storytelling that’s hard to put down. Wading through fibs and fabrications, parsing relevant facts from the consternation of a detained suspect, and endlessly circling back and forth inside your own head trying to draw your own conclusions — Her Story has it all, and it’s magical getting to experience it all as a game.
- This is old FMV game design that looks more like the future than anything we've seen in 2015. This is cinema coming together with technology and writing to create something that doesn't resemble any of the mediums in their traditional forms.
- There are clues that Anna and I are still feverishly debating over. Some of our theories are simple, and then sometimes we're over the moon.
- The references to Grim fairy tales says so much about the mood. There aren't many outwardly violent moments, but the whole thing is so guttural.
- Almost completely unrelated: "Three Men and Adena" from Homicide: Like on the Streets (1993) is one of the best hours of television recorded. Many of the moments in Her Story had me recollecting this specific episode -- that's special.
- I'd love to read about the collaboration between Sam Barlow and Viva Seifert. Some of this must be ad libbed, right? Anyway the performance feels incredibly authentic.
- Holy shit the hand cues, cups, and smiles -- I want to play it all again with twice as thorough notes.
- We did take notes. Full on detective flip-book notes.
- Thanks for reading. Check out Her Story.