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We spend time with Sam Bar­low’s in­ves­tiga­tive drama, Her Story

writer re­veals his in­ti­mate in­ves­tiga­tive drama,

How are drink­ing straws made? An in­no­cent en­quiry from Sam Bar­low’s chil­dren was an­swered swiftly: within sec­onds of a Google search, he had found a video of a fac­tory in China which demon­strated the en­tire process. It was a re­minder of how much more in­formed we now feel with a wealth of in­for­ma­tion at our fin­ger­tips. “When I get an email from some­one I don’t know, I can go on­line, look at Wikipedia, their posts on Twit­ter, find out more about them,” Bar­low says. “Be­ing a de­tec­tive in a very loose sense is em­bed­ded in ev­ery­thing we do now. That [process] is in­trin­si­cally in­ter­est­ing, so hav­ing that as the main me­chanic for how you in­ter­act with a fic­tional story is in­ter­est­ing, too.”

If you know how to use Google, you know how to play Her Story. Your job is to sift through archived footage of sev­eral po­lice in­ter­views, in which a woman is ques­tioned by de­tec­tives about her miss­ing hus­band. The com­puter sys­tem has seg­mented the in­ter­views into short clips: en­ter­ing key­words into the data­base brings up any as­so­ci­ated footage. But there are lim­its. The woman’s hus­band, Simon, is ref­er­enced in 61 clips – the data­base can only re­trieve the first five, pre­sented in chrono­log­i­cal or­der. “It is slightly con­trived,” Bar­low con­cedes. “It’s my one wave of the wand. [I’m ask­ing you] to go with it and let’s agree that this is just how it works.”

It’s a smart gam­bit, as it forces the player to in­vest a lit­tle more ef­fort in un­cov­er­ing the truth, much as a real in­ves­ti­ga­tor would. It’s the kind of work, Bar­low says, that would be dealt with in a mon­tage se­quence in a TV drama. “But you will al­ways get that sense of the de­tec­tive hav­ing been there all night plug­ging away, dig­ging into this [case] un­til they’ve found that nugget of in­sight. So while we’ve ab­stracted you one layer from ac­tu­ally be­ing present in the in­ter­views, [ Her Story] gives you that metaphor­i­cal sense of play­ing de­tec­tive.” Given the pop­u­lar­ity of dra­mas like True De­tec­tive and the me­dia ob­ses­sion with the Os­car Pis­to­rius trial, it’s per­haps sur­pris­ing that games haven’t of­ten ex­plored sub­ject mat­ter that clearly has main­stream ap­peal, whether the crime is real or fic­tional. It’s some­thing that’s frus­trated Bar­low for years: he’s pitched ideas within the genre to pub­lish­ers sev­eral times with no suc­cess. “Some­one in the Steam Green­light com­ments echoed some­thing a pub­lisher once said to me: ‘I get my fill of po­lice shows on TV, I don’t need that in my games’. Which is weird to me. I mean, you wouldn’t launch a TV chan­nel with­out your cop show or mur­der mys­tery. But the core of that – the hu­man drama, the con­tem­po­rary set­ting – is the sort of thing games have strug­gled with.”

Her Story’s nar­ra­tive is non­lin­ear, though at first it’s more of a puz­zle to crack, re­quir­ing you to make cer­tain de­duc­tions be­fore later clips are un­locked. Hav­ing read through sev­eral real-life po­lice in­ter­view tran­scripts, how­ever, Bar­low be­gan to re­alise such re­stric­tions were un­nec­es­sary. “The setup be­came more about [feel­ing] em­pa­thy or sym­pa­thy to­wards the woman an­swer­ing th­ese ques­tions, rather than some­one try­ing to solve a crime or put [her] away.

“Rarely in life do you get the op­por­tu­nity to sit and talk about your­self, tell your life story”

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