Her Story is obsessed with drawing parallels between reality and fantasy, most cleverly in the way it forges a mirror out of the player’s own computer screen. Every key pressed, every click of the mouse is replicated in the game, as we adopt the humble role of a daughter who, like us, just wants answers.
Words are of the utmost significance in the process of playing and (quite literally) piecing together the events happening throughout Sam Barlow’s innovative (though flawed) masterwork. The player uses specific terms or phrases to search through the police database, on a humble quest for the truth; to sweep away the digital fog and obtain the insight within. This brilliantly allows motifs to naturally sprout throughout, from princesses to mirrors to twins and children.
Hannah Smith, the complicated “heroine” at the center of the game, harbors a curious cadence herself, speaking with the detectives investigating the murder of her husband, as though she were instead attending therapy. She remarks at one point that her name is a palindrome; in a word, her very being serves as a mirror image. Though the game fails to prove satisfying after finally recovering every video file — an inevitable consequence given the methodical fabric of its design — Her Story effectively channels a very contemporary sort of relationship people have with technology, even as it extends its hand back into the past.
We peruse the police database on a now antiquated computer, wandering through relics from over 20 years prior, as though piecing memories back together again. Her Story thus feels more akin to a subconscious exploration a la Silent Hill 2 than, say, the influential Digital: A Love Story. Grief begets curiosity; a desire to understand history as a means of preserving one’s own stability. Why do mystery games often so compel us? And why do they so often prove futile? or, more often, unsatisfactory?
Barlow constructs what is perhaps the first true, rewarding mystery game with Her Story, a game built around the notion of asking questions, instead of arbitrarily performing functions to progress. The game never strips control away — it even allows the player to decide when they have finished for themselves. Her Story (a conflicted sense of being enshrouds that title) lingers long after the credits roll because it considers the fact that no mystery can ever fully be explained. The perplexity of the human condition allows for a million stories to coalesce from a single specific instance in time. Her Story is, genuinely, worth a thousand words.
The broken watch tells one time; though its manipulation marks it immaterial. Is this the present? the past? future even? Ava is a palindrome, as well; Hannah refuses to allow any more of this confounding charade to carry on. With a singular, violent shave, glass is shattered, the image recedes, and the truth comes pouring out in waves of inaccuracies.
Her Story wears its heart on its artificial sleeve with the confidence of a meek bystander. Like a fairy tale, it breeds magical resonance, illuminated by brief moments of light in its thick dark atmosphere of deception and betrayal. Her Story is our story; a deliberate moment of inarticulate expression. A paradox enriched with sincerity.