Her Story brings up some interesting points regarding how we approach every day internet usage, and makes one of the best gameplay experiences out of those tendencies along the way.
The search bar has become the library; the place curious individuals go to quench their incessant thirst for information and knowledge, and rightfully so. Sure, there’s something serene about a library, but the immediacy and friction-less nature of the search bar are hard to resist. Google processes, “3.5 million billion searches a day,” according to Internet Live Stats. The search bar has become an integral part of our day-to-day life and it was only a matter of time until a game translated that literacy and familiarity into some rock-solid game design.
Her Story, a game from Sam Barlow, capitalizes on the newly-developed, innate curiosity of internet users in its search bar based mechanics. The game takes place entirely on a machine with running an operating system akin to Windows 95-98 — the attention to detail when it comes to this is impressive. A filter on the games screen even imitates the curvature and glare a monitor from the ’90s would have. These little aesthetic touches contribute to the atmospheric underpinnings of Barlow’s game, and help create the framework for which the games limitations make narrative sense.
The player is a detective looking through the L.O.G.I.C. Database — an antiquated system the South East Constabulary used to archive pertinent police interrogations — to give another pass through the testimony of a women, and possibly find missed information on the murder of Simon Smith.
The first word the player is tasked with searching is already in the search bar — murder. Upon searching that term the L.O.G.I.C. Database rummages through the women’s dialogue in its database to find interviews that she used said word in; the player then watches the magnificently filmed and performed Full Motion Video (FMV) segments to find relevant terms to subsequently enter into the search bar — can you see how the search wormhole is forming? It’s a design choice that only works because of the interesting mystery at the center of Her Story — withoutwhich the motivation for database searching is gone. There needs to be a reason for the player to dig into the L.O.G.I.C. Database.
Her Story parallels certain unfortunate byproducts of the internet such as the perceived need for sleuthing. Pseudo-detective work has been documented countless times; two examples are the bumbled situation with the Boston Marathon bombing where two innocent men were falsely identified as possible suspects, and the Facebook group dedicated to solving the tragic murder of Jessica Chambers. These individuals use Google in the exact same way the player uses the L.O.G.I.C. Database in the game. Gathering clues, and piecing together bits of information in order to form some semblance of an answer as to what transpired. The glaring difference being that L.O.G.I.C. Database is a proprietary, focused, limited database, not the open-ended, infinite internet. However, both Her Story and the Boston Marathon bombing capitalize on the zealotry that forms around the internet, the unknown and the usage of the former to eradicate the latter.
There are also similarities in the way resolutions work in internet-sleuthing and this enigmatic game. After gathering all clues, what do you do with the information? In the case of Her Story you do nothing; there is nothing you can do. You interpret your findings and post them to the internet, hopefully, finding a cabal waiting to iron out the details with you. Of course, there aren’t any real consequences to interpreting the overall arc incorrectly, hell, they may not even be a correct interpretation.
I can’t say for certain the intentions of Sam Barlow were to invoke in Her Story some of the problems I see with the pseudo-detective work done on the internet, but, to me, it did. It’s an excellent showcase of interface-based game design that prods at the internet’s –and my– relentless need for information.