Every so often we are presented with a video game that pushes our expectations for the medium even going to far as for people to reject it as a video game. In 2013, Gone Home was the game with no killing, no elaborate puzzles, but unique story telling experience by rummaging through a home to grasp what is truly going on. Her Story is certainly looking like this year’s unique experience.
If you haven’t heard of the game, what is wrong with you? Well here is the non-spoilery description: You are at this old computer digging through old police archives from a ’94 murder investigation. There’s a bunch of clips that could be a few seconds or as much as a couple minutes. There is a woman, played by Viva Seifert, giving you answers to questions you don’t know. Here, it is your job to dig through all these videos and put together what has happened. You throw keywords into the search bar hoping they show up in the video clip’s transcript.
It is this mechanic that makes the structure of the narrative “unreliable”. That may not be the perfect description but non-linear narrative structure seems a bit over-the-top. The clips originate from multiple interviews with the woman so you can not guarantee your search leading you to the session you were hoping for. The creator, Sam Barlow, created a story and the player attempts to navigate it in an understandable way. Information may come to light without context or you could very well skip directly to the end of the story with the right keyword search.
Her Story is not about a “goal” though. Sure, you can play with the hope of discovering all the video clips but in no way is that necessary. The ending or lack thereof, has been much talked about. Does a game need an end though? If you are a traditionalist you may bust out Webster’s and say yes, without these limits we aren’t dealing with a game. Video games are more art than ever though, possessing key design choices aimed to evoke emotion. In the end, you decide when the experience concludes. That even includes playing the video clips in various orders multiple times because you want to see if your understanding is enhanced. Knowing what occurred and feeling perfectly fine with your knowledge of the situation is the ending of Her Story. Not an ending cutscene.
Playing Her Story caused my jaw to drop a couple times for the story and brought a smile to my face as I uncovered a trail of breadcrumbs. It is such a simple mechanic yet the story is engrossing enough to make it work way more than you would ever think. When you break a whole wide open in the case you are greeted with these outstanding clips of this woman talking with the police. You’re a mouse in a maze and the cheese has to be good enough to want to get to the end. SPOILER: It is. Absolutely nailed the detective formula unlike so many that have come before because it trusts you to crack the case based on solely what you heard.
The coming years will be interesting for indie games to simply see what developers pulled from the Her Story experience. Without a doubt things will be taken. Can only hope is that we are able to attempt to innovate how we tell and receive stories like Barlow did here. I don’t expect true non-linear storytelling to become the next big thing in mainstream gaming but games that toy around with timing of events/when you experience those events will be something to look out for in indie titles going forward.
Sorry if this felt like incessant rambling. Her Story made me so giddy. Words have just stumbled out of my mouth in the whole process. Go give it a look as soon as you can.