Critical Play: Mysteries/Her Story

Game Screen Capture of Herstory

This week, I played Herstory, an award-winning, video-based, and single-player desktop game designed in 2015  by Sam Barlow. Herstory is a detective/mystery game with the main objective of uncovering the full, true story behind a case of a missing man. Visually, the game takes on a vintage/old-school aesthetic and has a really realistic feel which really makes one feel like they’ve traveled back in time and transformed into a real detective. In the game, the player must sift through and watch a large database of recorded police interviews, looking out for clues and helpful leads. The videos themselves span over multiple days and are organized horribly; the player can only access and view videos by searching for key/relevant words in the database. For such a reason, the player has to strategically select words that will best provide them with unseen/new content. Dealing with the dark topic of murder/adultery and requiring mature intuition/sense, the target audience of this game is young adults/adults who have an interest in crime and mystery. 

The interview videos in the database primarily showcase the thoughts/feelings/recollections of Hannah Smith, the missing man’s wife (hence the name “Her Story”). These clips are short in length and are initially fairly cryptic and sometimes almost sound unrelated. It is the job of the play to piece together the events of the story by analyzing these videos and searching for additional clips using hints in those videos to crack the case.  

This game does an excellent job of immersing the player into the narrative; personally, when I played, I felt like a real deal detective that needed to solve the case in order to serve justice. I was motivated by feelings of empathy that arose in me while reading the case and watching the emotionally charged interview videos. This sense of fantasy/immersion made the experience so much fun and made me want to complete the full game in one sitting. As mentioned previously, the vintage 90s-type UI (the cathode-ray-type filter, the color, .txt files, fonts, etc. ) and also the sound effects (mouse-clicking, key pressing, and retro music) made me feel like I was running an application on old computer software. The narrative/general architecture also contributed to the creation of an immersive and realistic experience. The game is completely based on the narrative; I mean, the objective of the game is for the player to uncover/piece together the full story by listening to a string of more stories. 

Key Mechanics: 

  • Searching for key terms to find videos (cap at five entries)
    • Contributes to the feeling of mystery by forcing the player to really think about how they can optimize their search results.
    • Also, the limit on searching and the uniqueness of the top keywords make the game all more challenging.
    • Some of the videos are completely unrelated too…
  • The ability to watch videos
    • This is honestly the main and most important mechanic of the game. These videos tell the narrative and keep the player engaged and motivated to see the game through.
  • The progress NPC
    • It makes you feel like you are actually getting assistance/help from someone in this space.

Types of Fun

This game uses challenge, discovery, and narrative to generate a sense of fun in its players. I thought the sense of challenge created by solving a case by using an outdated keyword search and cryptic video clips made the game feel like a puzzle to be pieced together. In addition, I think the fact that the videos are not necessarily watched in order makes it so the player must also decipher a story that isn’t even sequential. Also, regarding the keyword search mechanic, in addition to spurring challenges, it also promotes discovery, compelling the player to search for new clues and information.

If I was to improve the game, I would make the objective of the game clear initially because, in the beginning, I felt like sometimes I was just randomly searching for words in the database with no idea what I was looking for or a clear purpose. I would also maybe add a way for the player to be able to jot down their thoughts, searched words, and hints they have gathered. It got SO confusing keeping track of everything, my goodness. But, aside from that, I had a really great time playing Herstory. I love crime and mystery, so this game was straight up my ally!


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