Her Story is a nonlinear narrative detective game that experiments with story the same way some of my favorite books and movies do.
When you open the game, you find yourself faced with a ninties-era desktop with a few Readme documents that explain the only mechanic: the database. Detectives have pulled old interview tapes from 1994, but they are in small segments and out of order. Luckily the police tagged the films with keywords you use to sift through the evidence. The system limits each search to the first five entires though, so as you listen, you must find ways to narrow down the results.
Now all the clips are multiple interviews with a woman whose husband turned up dead. When you first pull the database up, it suggests you start your search with the keyword “murder”. From there you will discover names, places, and other clues that will help you piece together what really happened to the victim, Simon.
The game gives you a couple of different ways to organize what you find. You can tag each fragment with your own keywords if you start to notice a pattern. You can also use the “Add to Session” function in the database to try to place clips from the same interview in order.
But despite these two mechanic’s usefulness, they in no add to your progress in the game or the story–it’s what makes this game different from other detective games. Not only is the story nonlinear and its interpretation up for debate (Seriously, the Reddit is getting heated over this), but it also has no formal ending. After you uncover certain video clips, you get the option to end the game yourself, an instant message popping up to ask you if you found everything you are looking for. Because in the real world you get no certainty. You might have all the DNA, confessions, and other kinds of proof, but you know the validity of neither the evidence nor your conclusions. Reality is never simple.
When reading previews and articles about Her Story, one of the biggest discussions is about whether this title is a game or experience. While a game’s definition is subjective, I feel this is definitely one. Though the win state is nontraditional, it still exists. The developer made the player responsible for the ending of the game, and for that I am grateful.