Screenshot: ‘Her Story’ offers a unique, non-linear approach to gameplay

Her Story
A complex narrative and a twisted mystery drive Her Story‘s gameplay — Video still via YouTube

If you had walked in on me playing Her Story over the past few days, you may not have realized I was playing a game at all. My play sessions — which consisted mostly of sifting through menus and scribbling in an old notebook — more closely resembled doing homework than playing a PC game. And in many ways, Her Story, which firmly refuses to divulge its secrets to gamers, does feels like work. That said, if you put in the time you will be rewarded with one of this year’s most unique interactive experiences.

At its core, Her Story it is a mystery game. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say that the game tasks you with scouring a police database for interviews and information pertaining to a specific crime. As a result, the gameplay isn’t all that different from searching through your own hard drive: You type a keyword into the search bar to find all clips containing that word, limited to the first five to keep you from seeing everything with one term. You can tag and save clips you think are important, though I personally found a notebook to be more useful. A word is preloaded into the search to get you started, but if you feel lost, the documents on the desktop will point you in the right direction.

Then come the interviews.

The personal narrative driving Her Story in the form of interviews is the game’s most notable feature. Every clip is a full motion video, meaning actual video is used rather than computer-generated graphics. The interview subject, and the game’s only actor, is a young woman played by Viva Seifert. While the story was written by developer Sam Barlow, the delivery rests on her shoulders. Fortunately, her performance is superb, and so natural you might just forget you’re delving through fictional testimony.

Your experience with the game relies entirely on your own ambition, which is the game’s greatest strength and weakness. Because the story is experienced non-linearly, as you scour through various records and clips, each player’s experience will be unique. Maybe your first few searches will yield huge chunks of story. Then an hour might pass with very little new information. The longer you dig, the closer you will come to seeing the whole picture.

Each new detail will add to your patchwork mental timeline, and each new character presents fresh opportunities for new information. Players will quickly begin to notice inconsistencies in the story, and pick up on strange character quirks. The story has a few big secrets for you to uncover, but sadly I think Her Story shows its hand a little too strongly in some scenes. No one moment reveals all, but some of the more blunt hints will steal away some of the player’s sense of accomplishment.

I experienced various highs and lows during my five hours with the game. Early on, I discovered many detailed clips. Each big reveal sent a chill down my spine, redoubling my interest in the story. However, as time went on, these moments became few and far between. I found myself struggling to find new and exciting clips at around the 60% completion mark, yet still feeling confident in my interpretation of the events.

Eventually, you are offered the option to end your investigation, at which point the story unveils its final twist. While this twist is admittedly a little limp, it at least offers some closure to an otherwise cryptic story.

Afterwards the credits roll, which would signal the end for most games. But in Her Story’s case, the story has only begun. The game’s cryptic narrative takes on new life outside the game, among the fans. Each will walk away with their own interpretation, meant to be shared and compared to the experiences of others. It’s this collection of stories that represents Her Story’s shining achievement: Straightforward plots are nice, but there is nothing more special than a theory that is all your own.

Developer: Sam Barlow
Platforms: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad
Price: $5.99 (PC, Mac) $4.99 (iOS)

Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV »


The Iowa City Human Rights Commission needs you!

Apply Today

@ICHumanRights »


Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!

The Future is Unwritten

You look to Little Village for today’s stories. Your sustaining support will help us write tomorrow’s.


$10/mo or $120/year
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.


$20/mo or $240/year
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.


$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW) connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.

Coralville Public Library Online Summer Reading Programs

For ages 0-99+