Game Review: Her Story

Her StoryI picked this game up as part of the current Humble Bundle (the theme is Narratives — how could I resist?) and was completely engrossed in it for the space of about four hours over two evenings.

Three to four hours is really all it takes to finish Her Story. I logged a grand total of five hours, but the last hour was just chasing some completionist achievements.

If you’re looking for a game in any traditional sense of the word, Her Story isn’t it. This is less a game than it is an experiment in storytelling. When you start it up, you are confronted with an old-school computer desktop. On it you’ll find a couple of readme files (read them — they’ll give you some context), a few simple apps, and — taking up the majority of your screen — a window labeled the L.O.G.I.C. Database, with a search and display interface. The search term “MURDER” has already been typed for you — all you have to do is click the Search button and get started. When you do, a set of videos will appear, and you’ll be able to click them and begin watching. From there, everything is up to you. Enter a new search term, watch some more videos, and you’ll start piecing together the story.

And that’s what Her Story is actually all about. It’s a simple interface you use to piece together a narrative. And because the way the narrative unfolds is based on the search terms you enter, you’ll almost certainly experience the story in a different way than I did.

It’s the way Her Story functions as a story-telling medium that really interests me, to be honest, more than the story it actually tells.

It’s not necessarily an uninteresting story, mind you — I was legitimately intrigued by it in the beginning, and had a couple really cool “ah-ha” moments when I made certain connections. But ultimately, I was underwhelmed by the outcome.

(A note: I’m usually very unbothered by spoilers — I don’t mind knowing what’s going to happen because I’m still interested in watching the story unfold, even if I already know where it’s headed. That said, I think this is one place where spoilers would genuinely diminish the experience, because the whole experience is literally about your process of unveiling the narrative.)

I’ve discovered since finishing Her Story that there’s a hearty segment of the internet devoted to think-pieces analyzing the “ending,” or explaining different theories. I didn’t delve deep into these, but while I was interested in the way in whichHer Story teases you with different possibilities, in the end I can only see one possible version of “truth,” and it’s… meh.

But I don’t much care, because getting the story is such an interesting process. It’s a genuinely novel experience, and a great example of the ways in which technology — games in particular — can be leveraged to tell stories in exciting new ways.

I’m a writer, I like words, I like stories. I like the way Her Story simply presents you the pieces of a with a narrative and the tools to put it together, and then just lets you have at it. It’s uncluttered and feels legitimately fresh. It doesn’t feel gimmicky, and it’s just long enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

Oh, one last word. Big shout-out to Viva Seifert, whose performance in the lead (well, only) role in Her Story goes as much into selling the whole thing as any other aspect of it. The entire narrative is filtered through her naturalistic performance, and Her Story wouldn’t stand up nearly as well if this casting hadn’t worked, or if Seifert hadn’t turned in such a strong performance.

Recommended. If you like stories, are interested in novel storytelling ventures, and can accept that this is only a “game” in the barest sense of the word, if spending the length of a couple movies slowly unraveling a twisty little murder mystery sounds appealing, then Her Story is a solid way to spend an evening or two.