Getting the Story

Earlier this week, I played through “Her Story,” a video game that consists of watching videos of a woman talking. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Before I explain how this could possibly be, let me give you a bit of backstory on video games in general. They’ve come a long way since the days of shooting two dimensional aliens in arcades – now, gamers can shoot three dimensional aliens from the comfort of their own home! In all seriousness, though, while the technology of video games have progressed exponentially since their early days, the mainstream of the industry is still caught in a groove of gory games about killing foreigners, recreations of historical conflicts, fantasy romps full of large-breasted women, and infinitely reproduced variations of sports games. Some of these games can actually be quite fun, but it’s still nice when something comes along that varies from the norm.

Which is where “Her Story” comes in. Games are, at their heart, fundamentally conflict-based. Whatever you are trying to do, there is something or someone trying to stop you, and you have to defeat them – whether that involves blowing aliens into clouds of ichor in “Halo” to save Earth or running and kicking your way to victory in the FIFA series of soccer games. “Her Story” is different, though. The conflict – if there even is one – is purely against the game itself, or possibly your own ability to tease together frustratingly small scraps of information.

It’s part of a recent wave of games disparagingly and/or affectionately called “walking around simulators.” These heavily story-driven games are so devoid of conflict that many claim they should not even be called games. I’m not here to perform the pointless task of defending their classification as such, though. What matters for the purpose of this article is that they are a good experience, regardless of whether or not they are technically “games.”

And now it’s time to actually talk about “Her Story” (finally!). While the game tells a great story, what makes it special goes much deeper than that. It is able to fully take advantage of the special feature of video games – interactivity – that sets it apart as a storytelling medium from books, television, and film. In most story games, story and gameplay are separate. Usually, the player does something, is given a piece of the story, and then does something else in a cycle that lasts until the game is finished. This is a bit like reading a book a few pages at a time in between running laps around a track. In “Her Story”, though, story and gameplay are wedded in an absolutely fascinating matter.

“Her Story” is a game about watching short videos of a woman being questioned by police, none of which are longer than a minute. In order to get the full story, information from each clip has to be carefully pieced together. However, in-game, the videos are stored on an archaic police database from the 1990s, and in order to access them, the player has to enter keywords in a search box. The result is a non-chronological telling of a chronological story – a bit like trying to read a book by reading each page at a time from a jumbled pile on the floor.

The final product is an engaging story made all the more intriguing by being only accessible through a tricky puzzle. This game, more than just about anything else I’ve done or played, truly made me feel like I was a detective. Rather than being eye-glazed wasted time, the three hours I spent playing “Her Story” were deeply moving, engrossing, and memorable.

As to the story itself, I can’t say much without spoiling it. I’ll limit myself to this: “Her Story” tells a heartfelt, bizarre, and gripping tale with a heaping serving of unreliable narration.

And it’s only $5.99.

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2 thoughts on “Getting the Story

  1. Though I myself don’t play many video games, I found your commentary on the state of the video game industry very interesting. I agree that we could use some new ideas and forms of storytelling, an dfrom what you have written about “Her Story”, it achieves just that. The concept and premise of the game sound so unique and interesting. You may have even convinced me to try it for myself.

    Like

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