I didn’t know what to expect jumping into Her Story, but it was certainly not for the game to instantly ensnare me with its central mystery and never let go. After starting up the game, I found myself buried deep in its story, hours passing in what felt like minutes before I came up for air.
So what is Her Story? Imagine the experience of listening to Serial or watching your favorite anthology mystery show (The Killing, Fargo, or True Detective come to mind), but when you hear about a person or a name that sparks your interest, rather than waiting for the show to dive into it, Her Story lets you immediately follow your curious instincts.
Her Story focuses on a woman named Hannah whose husband has gone missing and is eventually found dead. The story is told through tapes of a few separate police interrogations with her. Hannah is played by Viva Seifert, the only actress who ever appears on screen. Not even the detectives interviewing her are heard.
The entire game is told through a unique perspective. Players control a character accessing a database of interview tapes, all on a computer that looks like it’s operating on Windows 98. The database first boots up with the word “Murder” typed into its search bar. Four videos pop up, and from there, it’s up to the player to search for whatever they think will help them see the entire picture.
Players can search any term they want, but only up to five videos will appear at a time. To find new videos, players will have to think up new search terms and combine others, but the choice of what to search next is left entirely up to you.
But what’s incredible about Her Story is how much agency it puts into the player’s hands despite the player not actually doing anything to create the story. Most game narratives are about giving the player the chance to play through plot points. But in Her Story, every action has been acted out, every decision has been made in the main character’s tale.
So Her Story tasks you with piecing together what has already happened. It’s entirely up to your sense of deduction for how long that takes. It’s quite possible to find out the big twists or turns with a lucky search or two early on. It may mean very little at the time, but you may come to the technical “end” of the story (and you’ll know when that is, as the game will prompt you if you want to continue researching).
I initially uncovered what I assumed to be the central turning points in Hannah’s story with about a third of the videos left to watch. That freedom to stumble upon clues and story beats at your own pace is both the game’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. After what felt like several hours of methodically chosen keywords (by the game’s end I had a massive note entry on my phone) and the story essentially told, I began to haphazardly throw words at the game in the hopes of completing the database.
But even by that time, I had felt so satisfied by the experience that I didn’t need to view every single clip. Her Story lives or dies by Seifert’s performance, and she’s so captivating, playing through a surprising range moments that nearly all felt believable. The game includes a few moments that fall flat and feel like bizarre inclusion, but they are so few and far between the moments Seifert excels in delivering that they don’t truly hinder the experience.
A game’s story hasn’t grabbed me in quite the same way as Her Story since Gone Home. Its incredible ability to make me feel involved in a story that had already been told is an unexpected but welcome take on the medium. There may very well be games I have more fun playing this year, but I’d be surprised if any experience will come close to grabbing hold of my full attention, never letting go, and continuing to linger in my mind for days like Her Story did.