For my Critical Play, I went through the game Herstory on desktop created by Sam Barlow in 2015. Given that it deals with murder and high-level reasoning skills, I’d say the target audience is people 16+ who enjoy mysteries, aimed at both the young adult who may take novelty in the 1990s aesthetic or the older one who may reminisce.
The key objective of this single-player game is to understand a crime case by watching a series of video clips. The videos— from multiple days—are all chopped up. You access them by searching for a relevant term. Thus, you are constantly trying to figure out better search words to uncover unseen content.
The aesthetic, narrative architecture and general architecture are excellently crafted, truly allowing for full immersion. Together, they create an evocative space, transforming the player into a detective searching for files on a computer/database from the 90s. The color, the music, the .txt files, the fonts, the video clips of the actor— all create feelings of immersion. In addition, the narrative and objective of the game are fully intertwined; finding out the narrative is the goal of the game, and the narrative is fascinating to piece together! It’s impressive that you can watch the clips in virtually any order and maintain the mystery.
SPOILER ALERT: The woman that you are investigating turns out to be a twin, and this is genius narratively speaking because it introduces surprise and requires even more deduction.
One great support mechanic is a chit-chat bot to check in on your progress. This minimal interaction reminds you that you are indeed part of this other world.
One key mechanic is that searching for a relevant term produces all the relevant videos. However, there is a constraint: access is limited to the first 5 entries. This adds to the mystery and forces the player to be more creative in finding words to unlock the other videos. Although it can get frustrating trying to find the right keywords, it adds to the challenge.
The types of fun are discovery, narrative, and challenge, the primary being the narrative. Discovering and pieceing together new clips is addicting; I found myself writing things out with a pen and paper. To improve the game, I would add an in-game notes doc. Although they do provide user tags you can add to each video, this is not as helpful. Another potential pitfall/tradeoff is the lack of closure at the end of the game. You essentially decide when you are done; this doesn’t necessitate having watched all 271 of the clips. At the end, you discover that you’re one twin’s daughter and are watching the video for personal understanding of your mom. I would add a bonus feature where you could arrange all the clips together as a reward. I do understand the allure of maintaining the mystery; online, I looked up explanations and rather than concrete answers I found player-generated theories. Great game and I would recommend a play!