Writer/director Sam Barlow’s video game Her Story, released in June of 2015, works to trouble the boundaries of just what makes a game a game. Indeed, because Her Story makes use of innovative structures like its narrative framework, interface, and mechanics, it is the kind of game that not only allows us to reopen, in new ways, the long-running debate of what makes a game a game, but also to consider what makes a story a story. And as a result of the ways in which Her Story allows us to consider such wide-ranging questions, questions that seem significant for multiple fields and genres, it is a game that warrants deeper investigation.

The single-player Her Story, available on Microsoft Windows, OS X, and iOS, features the performance of actress Viva Seifert, whose role in the game is presented through live-action footage. This live-action footage, while a throwback to an older era in games, feels innovative amidst the contemporary video game landscape. Much about Her Story—the choice in presentation, the deceptively simple mechanics, the focus on narrative and performance—comes together in such a way that players are encouraged to think more deeply about the potential of the medium of games. How does a game like Her Story challenge the ways we think about what video games have to offer? How does a game like Her Story allow us to more fully interrogate the manner in which we engage with and interact with video games?

Her story

An image from Her Story of the protagonist in a red shirt.

Her Story is a narrative-driven mystery game in which players are tasked with building the story from short video snippets revealed by keyword searches. Anyone familiar with search engines can master the interface; a single typed word, phrase, or punctuation mark yields new results.

An image from Her Story of the protagonist in a blue shirt.

"There’s something about interacting with the ‘reality’ of video that is more intimate, disarming. It’s everyday, whereas so much of video games is fantastical and special," Barlow said of his choice to rely on video footage in Her Story (Cobbett, 2015).

An image from Her Story of the protagonist in a white shirt.

Her Story draws on postmodern literary conventions, such as the ability to question truth and knowing, and that many of both may exist at the same time.