Critical Play: Mysteries — Alex Tsai

Name of game, creator, platform, target audience

I played Her Story, an interactive film video game created by Sam Barlow. It is available on iOS, Windows, OS X, and Android and was developed with Unity. The game’s target audience is players interested in crime, mystery, and investigation games. The ideal player is someone who is 18+, as the game features mature content.

The game features a database of videos from fictional police interviews interviewing the main character, Hannah, following the disappearance of her husband. Players must search through this video database to attempt to solve the mystery.

The primary mechanic of the game is the player using keywords to search through the videos in the database. These videos are not organized in a logical manner, which means the player must use their intelligence, intuition, and deduction to search for clues and insights within the videos. The player can only use this search 5 times, which heightens the stakes for the player and encourages the player to optimize each search. The videos tell the narrative, but because the player is in control of what videos they watch, the player also controls the narrative. This supports the mystery as the player searches the database, attempting to solve the case and seek the truth from a series of disorganized police videos told by an unreliable narrator. One of the most notable elements of the game is the game display, an old-fashioned desktop computer monitor with a screen glare. The music and sound effects, including the sound of a box fan and various typing and clicking noises, allow players to feel as though they are immersed in the narrative and truly interacting with old police footage on an old computer screen.

Formal elements

Notable formal elements of the game include the game’s objective, procedure, rules, and outcome. The game’s objective is for the player to “solve” the mystery case of a missing man by piecing together information gathered from the police footage. Its procedure and rules lend to the game’s mystery and high-stakes atmosphere: players must use defining search terms to sift through the police footage, while the key rule is that players are limited to 5 searches. The outcome of the game is also unique in that there is no scripted outcome — the objective of the game is simply to search for meaning among the videos, which is entirely up to the player’s intuition, intelligence, and imagination. Thus, the outcome of the game is different for every player.

Types of Fun

The game’s primary types of fun are sensation, narrative, and discovery. The game successfully created sensation by evoking feelings of suspense, anxiety, and fear. The narrative fun arises from the game being an unfolding story that the player slowly unravels. Finally, the fun of discovery is met by allowing players to be in control of discovering the story as they continuously learn new information from their search queries.

Moments of success

One particular moment of success came at the end of the game, when it is revealed that the player is Sarah, Eve’s daughter. This reveal of the player’s identity is a successful plot twist that surprises the player by making them question the assumptions they had made in the game. Personally, I had simply assumed the role of a detached police detective, but when I realized I was Eve’s daughter, I took a much more empathetic perspective to the narrative.


One thing I would change to make the game better would be to give the player more closure at the conclusion of the game, given that the game ends with an open-ended interpretation to the story. I wish the game had given me an explicit answer to the whodunnit.

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