Critical Play: Mystery

For this critical play, I decided to play Her Story, a single-player interactive film video game that was by Sam Barlow, an independent game developer, on the Mac. Because this game deals with heavy topics and gives off an eerie and interrogative vibe, it can be inferred that this game is targeted at a more mature audience (17+).

Her Story on Steam

The objective of this game is for the player to figure out the mystery behind Hannah Smith, which there is an old computer filled with folders of her answering questions (with no context) through video. Essentially, there is a man that went missing, and the only evidence that the player has to work with is Hannah Smith’s recordings, who is the missing man’s wife. The video recordings are designed for the player to scope out certain words to unlock other recordings and connect the out-of-context videos together to figure out the story.

Her Story embodies the “discovery” and “fantasy” types of fun. Her Story is a unique game in the sense that one does not watch Hannah’s videos in chronological order to figure out the story. What is compelling about this game is how no matter at what point you start, players are still able to figure out what is going on because the story is very broad. There are also dummy tapes that have nothing to do with the story—there are so many extra recordings to explore and piece together that it makes the player feel like they are constantly discovering in this game. As a player, I kept wanting to explore and understand the story better through the many clues. It was very addicting to play—I couldn’t stop watching the videos.

Additionally, I think this game is very successful because of its ability to establish the right tone for the story. When I played this game, I felt like an old-timey police officer or FBI agent going through a retro computer to watch the recordings. This game had all the little details exactly resembling an old computer, such as the buzzing of an old computer, the slightly pixelated graphics, and the computer interface.

A suggestion to make this game even better would be to provide more context or potentially a synopsis of what you’re doing. While I do acknowledge that it does detract from the mystery of figuring out who the player’s perspective is, I honestly was very confused with opening the game to a computer interface with no context. I also had no idea how to use the computer interface and database because at first, I was randomly clicking around and got frustrated with the game that I almost quit at one point. I was also not mentally prepared for the topics presented in the story—Her Story is not the most telling name of the creepy story that accompanies it. All in all, I thought that Her Story was a one-of-a-kind game and is worthy of its recognition! I would recommend it to anyone who loves anything crime-related.

About the author

CS 247G (Spring 2022) + CS 377G (Winter 2023)

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