I recently played Her Story, a mystery game available on iOS and other platforms. When beginning the game, the player is given very little context — they are just informed that they have logged into a portal with videos that they can search by key word.
Her Story is a completely video-based game, meaning that all information the player obtains is via watching videos. There are seven different recordings of a female suspect’s deposition that have been broken up into 10–20 second chunks; thus, there are hundreds of clips to sort through. You access a clip by searching for a word or phrase that appears in the transcription of that clip. Common words (like the name of the murder victim, Simon) will return many clips; however, the player can only view the first 5. This prevents the player from being able to just watch all of the videos using a generic word.
As the player watches more videos, glitches in the computer start to appear, such as a faint background of a woman. Eventually, towards the end of the game, the player gets a chance to answer who they believe murdered Simon.
These mechanics all advance the sense of mystery in Her Story, as they prevent the player from ever being able to obtain a great deal of information at a given point. Instead, the player must become clever in their word selection, choosing key words from the deposition (like ‘dollhouse’ or names other than Simon).
When playing Her Story, it is hard not to believe that you are actually searching a computer for proof of the murder in these depositions. The video is grainy and the actress’s performance as a suspect is extremely convincing.
This game relies heavily on emotional response to the aesthetic of its main character. As a player, we see our murder suspect become angry, sad, confused, and more — all of which we resonate with through listening to the tone of her voice and seeing her body posture and movements. The creepy glitching of the computer maintains a sense of suspicion and thrill for the player.
Types of Fun & Plot Development
The most prominent type of fun in Her Story is discovery. As the player realizes new words that could unlock parts of the story, they unlock juicy details and gossip about the players that completely changes their perspective on what is occurring. The player wants to continue to dig deeper and discover more of the hidden secrets.
However, this sense of discovery would not be possible without the strong narrative of Her Story. The player eventually realizes that our suspect, Hannah, is not actually Hannah at all — it is a twin sister who was separated at birth. The two sister became friends and eventually started a complicated marriage with Simon, who is initially not aware that he is married to twin sisters that are switching spots. The player is only able to uncover this by picking up on key words (wig, dollhouse, and blood, for examples) that uncover the suspect’s final deposition, in which she comes clean about the sister.
Ultimately, I found Her Story to be a fascinating mystery that utilizes a great deal of footage to advance its narrative. I think it opened my eyes to many ways that a strong narrative can be delivered utilizing unique mechanics.