Her Story Review
She's guilty. That is not a spoiler. Her Story must concern itself with the murder of plainly named Simon Smith because fiction is not typically interested in the innocent - less they're Liam Neeson and he is shooting people to prove his case.
The objective is thus only discovery, discovery of moments, places, things, events, and people with an instant fascination toward the twists and turns as they unfurl. Her Story is, abnormally, about finding a narrative from nothing instead of having it presented. That's it. No evident goals, no checklists. All fill-in-the blanks story which begins with an empty canvas.
Her Story would not work in any other medium, its exposition too thick for a book or film, its visual tells too definitive for cinema, and its simple click-happy interactions too illogical for anything else. There is but one character, Hannah, Simon's wife. Others are far off in the background as recounted memories. There's Diane, Eric, midwives, bosses, lovers, and parents. Hannah herself (and only Hannah) will speak of them all, but they are never on camera. Visual evidence is lost to the murkiness of the digitized VHS interview tapes, low on resolution, splattered by bleeding color and hazy artifacts.
Technology has moved forward. Her Story is locked in the '90s. The faux-CRT display which acts as an interface sits upon an unseen but undoubtedly horizontally-laid computer plastered with a “Multimedia” advertising sticker.
The audible fans are straining to cool the 486SX processor as the hard drive accesses data loudly, as if out of spite. On Windows 3.1, it would have been a miracle to see this work with such speed. If anything, video quality is too clean, considering.
Murder is so tantalizing a subject and Her Story makes it voyeuristic.
Type, deduce. That's all the interaction Her Story allows, a release loosely defined as a voluminous word hunt. In pre-recorded interview sessions, Hannah speaks about those keyword inquiries; that's how these videos have been cataloged by police. Clues are then decided and followed - is the dollhouse important? The mirror? Maybe that trip Hannah mentioned to Glasgow is a trail? The search for truth and the extraction of vague information continues this way; the why is Her Story's pressing issue and purpose, more than the how.
It's irresistible, that feeling of being on the inside, sitting at a simulated police computer stuffed with what was once an unheard of MBs of data. Murder is so tantalizing a subject and Her Story makes it voyeuristic. This is behind the news that sells domestic killing sprees and behind the live courtroom feeds. The attraction to the thrill of someone unknown committing the unthinkable is weirdly instinctual.
Game/not game. Labeling is superficial. Does it matter? There are more interesting things to dissect. In one sense, it is more game than a litany of Sega CD video affairs with their boney acting and (admittedly catchy) B-level narratives. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Interactive Encyclopedias. The San Diego Zoo. CD-ROM spilled “non-game” 64 and 256-color video for a generation. No one seemed to care then. Everyone was merely excited, then later, confused.
Her Story is a work of interactive fiction. That's the hook. A digital Choose Your Own Adventure for adults about murder instead of dragons or time travel. Not new, not old. Somewhat fresh, slightly innovative, maybe a bit poignant, and certainly divisive amongst a population of answer seekers. That's critical. 1994's interactive basketball lark Slam City with Scottie Pippen? Not so divisive. It could never be (nor could Tomcat Alley, Who Shot Johnny Rock, etc.) although there is an odd connection that Hannah's interviews, also placed in 1994, were being surrounded by the systems and ideas which would fuel a related genre resurgence 20 years later.
Her Story is refreshingly mature – not because of guns or blood - if not erotic than unarguably sexually frustrated.
Ambiguity in Her Story is brave, and also a problem. It assumes much, but deserves praise for letting go and trusting the systems can be figured out. A screen with a search bar. This is the the interface. It expects impulsiveness to touch or click things to see what happens. There is an additional game in the recycle bin if you so choose. Most won't. It's boring. So it's off to search for more video in similarity to Google, picking up on lies and tells. How the information reaches you is personal. Her Story is refreshingly mature – not because of guns or blood - if not erotic than unarguably sexually frustrated. Hannah's life was, at times, unpleasant.
There is but a miniscule chance you will have seen it all when Her Story informs you the story is closed. Credits only roll if you let them though. That could be too early or too late. Indirectness can spoil things before the full breadth of the narrative's concoction is understood. But, Her Story can be broadly appealing, creating a sort of imperfect magnificence, inviting to anyone who can use a keyboard. It can be read or solved differently by different minds and different thought processes. There is one goal with hundreds of potential pathways, and funny enough in context, more “open” than most “open worlds" purport to be.
All of Her Story is up to Hannah, played with an unnatural if unavoidable focus on keywords by Viva Seifert. Hannah is cruel, vindictive, sick, and a little hidden. A villain in the broadest sense. She did murder someone. Somehow, anyway. And still, she is a compelling, angered personality, enough to keep driving Her Story until a mistaken or thorough conclusion.
It's interesting and experimental, although those merely appear as glowing adjectives. There are errors in storytelling logic to consider which cannot be excused because Her Story tries something unique. It's overly verbose too in order to ensure important things are emphasized. Even then, some things are overly clear, others not enough. Those are person-to-person issues, interesting ones to have for sure. Her Story allows for all kinds of detective work and thought processes. That's the openness and ingenuity to be celebrated.