I tend to prefer playing games by myself. I’m not fast enough to play be good at any competitive multiplayer, and I maintain a pretty leisurely pace in cooperative games, for that matter. But this proclivity for singular experiences means that gaming is often a rather solitary activity. But sometimes, I have the great pleasure of sharing a gaming experience with people that I care about.
One time, I handed my mom a DualShock 3 controller to see if she could figure out thatgamecompany’s indie classic Flower. That experiment failed. Last year, I played the Yawhg with my fiancée, which was a blast. My most recent shared gaming experience involved me putting Sam Barlow’s Her Story in front of my wife.
The concept of the game is simple. You access a database that contains videotaped interviews with a woman whose husband Simon has gone missing. You search the database for any terms you think are important, which reveals new footage, and you slowly start to piece together the truth of a rather complicated series of events.
My wife figured out the mechanics of Her Story almost immediately, and for the next few hours I paced around while we came up with new search terms in an effort to figure out the truth of Simon’s disappearance. It was a fun challenge, but we walked away only partially satisfied.
I’m conflicted in my feelings toward Her Story. I have a great deal of respect for Sam Barlow for making a game that doesn’t have a traditional win state. At no point did the game hand us a neatly packaged conclusion. And in spite of the fact that we’ve seen all that the game has to offer, I wouldn’t say that we finished with the game; we still have questions as to what really happened. And I think that this is wonderful.
The problem is that Her Story doesn’t give you any hint that it’s alright to stop looking for answers, so you’re likely to continue searching long after the slow trickle of information stops. The remaining questions would have been so much more striking if I would have received some subtle hint that there would be no new revelation waiting for me if I could just come up with the perfect search terms. In fact, there’s a subtle plot twist that you uncover in Her Story that seems perfectly suited to punctuate—with a question mark—the game’s non-ending. However, this mic-drop moment is deprived of nearly all of its power because it comes (most likely) while you still think that there’s more to discover. Granted, this is a narrow distinction between good and bad frustration, and it’s only painful because Her Story comes so close to perfection.
While not perfect, Her Story is an experience that gently nudges the boundaries of what a game can be. Go play it… and invite someone who doesn’t usually play video games.