A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Her Story is less a downloadable game than a visual, interactive story. It was created using live-action video clips, and players search through and watch scores of police records where a woman is interviewed about a murder. There's no on-screen sex or violence, but both are discussed frankly and occasionally in some detail during the interviews. The woman sometimes employs strong language, including "f--k." This isn't the sort of game players can win; they must simply make it to a point in the story where they feel as though they understand what happened.
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What's it about?
HER STORY is less a game than an interactive film, complete with live-action video segments. The experience begins with players dropped in front of a police workstation desktop. You don't know who you are or why you've been provided guest authorization to a police computer. The fake screen has a few clickable items, including Readme documents that explain how to play and one accessible program: a police video database containing dozens of clips of a woman interviewed about the death of a man in the summer of 1994. The game consists entirely of searching through this database, watching video clips, and trying to work out what happened. All the interviews have been transcribed, making them searchable by any words mentioned during the interrogations. If players hear the woman mention a name, object, or place, they can type it into the query box to return a list of all videos in which she speaks the word. There's no winning; the player's goal simply is to understand who the woman is and what happened. It will take most players a couple of hours to get a good feel for the story, but they can keep searching the database for additional details both crucial and mundane until they've watched every video in the catalog.
Is it any good?
Games dependent on live-action video don't come along often and generally aren't well received, but Her Story is an exception. Easy to grasp, surprisingly interactive, and instantly engaging, it plays on our natural curiosity as to the circumstances behind and reasons for criminal acts while making us an active participant in the investigation. The clips are generally pretty short (many are only a handful of seconds), which means there's not a lot of time spent simply staring at the screen. And longer clips in which crucial information is revealed likely will lead some players to scribble notes on a pad beside the keyboard, jotting down names and other ideas for search terms to query the database. The crimes and fates of those involved may be decades old, but the game still manages to make us feel like a sleuth, discovering details on our own through a mix of inquisitiveness and intuition. The compelling performance of the game's sole actress -- who is convincing and rarely over-the-top in her depiction of an enigmatic and slightly suspicious person of interest -- is the icing on this delicious murder-mystery cake. This is one game armchair detectives shouldn't miss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the game's live-action video segments. How does video change the atmosphere and experience of a game? How does the performance of the woman who appears in this game stack up against that of CGI female characters in other dramatic games?
Discuss screen time. It's possible to play this game in about the same amount of time it takes to watch a long movie, so should it be broken into two or three smaller play sessions simply because it's a game?