My eyes are unfocused. My hands judder. My legs are jelly. I'm about to meet Gintendo's Muss and for the first time document his thoughts on Her Story. I have followed Muss my whole life and shadowed his every move, but this would be the first time I would get to speak with him head-to-head.
Predictably, but no less embarrassingly, I am unfashionably late for our appointment at the spiritual heart of Gintendo, the Victorian Strongman, Luke Summerhayes' flat. "No" is the first word I hear upon entry, but it is of no concern to me for the voice does not belong to Muss. I sigh in relief, a brief inspection of each room reveals that Muss has in fact not arrived.
I guzzle down a pint of water and begin microwaving a ready meal, gazing at the plastic film as it begins to ascend on the shoulders of heat radiation. I consider what the film would be thinking if by some curious chance it gained sentience: "Why am I here, What smells so good, Surely this kind of culinary convenience isn't sustainable."
An outline appears on the microwave door. High cheek bones, gaunt cheeks and two dark voids where eyes should be. Unable to resist, I stare into the abyss. A cackle escapes from my throat. This is Muss.
I am Muss.
I pass out.
Summerhayes exits the stage.
We sit across from each other, separated by a rickety and ungainly large table. Minutes or hours pass (I do not own a watch). I drink another glass of water, washing away the thorns in my throat. I grab my notepad and begin to talk. Moments later, I realise I am not actually emitting any sound. I try again.
Muss: Her Story. You've played it, completed it, and evidently loved it. But what is it about the game that really spoke to you.
Muss: The narrative style. It really plays with expectations, with a gamers' expectations and with what it means to actually be a video game.
Muss: Could you elaborate?
Muss: Yes (a pause). When you played a game in 2015 you expected a failure state, something triggered by running out of an arbitrary number of health points or failing to achieve a certain objective in a certain amount of time, things of that nature. Well Her Story does away with all of that and just gives you a database, a search bar, and five short video clips from the first search result - murder. It then says, 'my job is done, player over to you' and expects the user to figure everything else out for themselves.
Muss: So it's not a game?
Muss: It is.
Muss: How can it be a game if you don't have a failure state? I mean, at the moment it just sounds like a jumbled up film.
Muss: Look, from the outset it's made clear that there has (a pause) been a murder, and your goal is (a long pause. The sky darkens outside. Several times I open my mouth about to speak but Muss silences me, indicating that he has not finished. I wait) to piece together shards of plot, presented in short video clips and obtained via user search terms, in order to figure out what happened. The game doesn't care whether or not you come to the right conclusion, or to any conclusion at all. The game simply gives shows the player how to search for clues before leaving them to it.
Muss: So the gameplay boils down to googling stuff?
Muss: If you want to be utterly reductive then yes, but I can reduce a quality shooter down to a process of centering the screen and pushing a button too.
Muss: Well no, a shooter is different because of how significantly that process of centering the screen and pulling the trigger is influenced by other factors. Level design, other players, explosions...
Muss: But so too is Her Story, except the limitation is all in the player's mind!
Muss: Fuck off
Muss: Listen, every single user is going to approach the mystery completely differently. Some will search for terms mentioned in the first five clips, dates and characters for example. That's how I played. But others will quickly search for terms like stab, gun, shoot, framed or other thematically murder like things. From there, everybody is going to start searching through different terms that they think relevant. What that means is that each player is going to have a journey through the game's narrative that is completely unique to them en route to their solving the core puzzle at the heart of the game - who done it? If you're still being super reductive, then puzzling stuff out differently via the search engine isn't all that different to your shooty bangers.
The clips generated are all based on whether or not the word(s) typed are in a clip. A match brings up a clip, up until there are 5 clips. I think they're then showed in date order or something because the same 5 will always come up even if you get 70 results - like you do if you type search for "and" or something. In that regard the game forces players to really think about what they're searching; throwing ideas at a wall will only get you so far. There are 7 or so different interviews in the database as well so keeping tabs on when the interviews happened is also important. So there is a challenge, an interactive challenge.
Muss: How long did you spend playing Her Story?
Muss: My first play-through? I did that in one sitting, which probably took 3 or 4 hours. I didn't find every single video clip, but I pieced together enough of the mystery to satiate myself.
Muss: Can you tell me more about the mystery.
Muss: No, I think you should play through the game and figure it out for yourself. If I told you I would literally be ruining the experience.
Muss: Oh, well as it happens Her Story is in my Steam account.
Muss: Good, you should play it.
Muss: I think I have. (an awkward pause) But going back to length, how can you justify such a short game as your game of the year? Why not a Splatoon or Metal Gear Solid?
Muss: Because I think it achieved everything that the developers set out to achieve flawlessly. It confounded, surprised, enthralled and mesmerised me. I don't deny that a Metal Gear Solid will keep you occupied for longer, but that's a long game with a lot of content and I just didn't find the whole package as compelling. The same goes for your Splatoons and Witchers: great games in their own right, just not as pure in their execution as Her Story.
I actually think it's great to have a game that I can play and feel satisfied that I've finished in one sitting. I already have far too many games that I play but don't finish because they are too long. What's more, the mystery in Her Story was still in my head long after playing - and just discussing the game with friends and reading what other people had to say about the game kept me engaged with the title long after I'd ceased searching within it.
Muss: The writing and acting must be good if the game was flawlessly realised?
Muss: You're right. The snippets of info are just enough to keep you wondering while also giving just enough information to make you feel like you're making progress. But Viva Seifert does a phenomenal job bringing it all to life. Watching her, and how she changes between interviews, and how brilliantly she conveys every single line is a joy to behold. They should make an Oscar category just for her.
Muss: Who would you recommend Her Story to?
Muss: Yes. That's the honest truth. It's really cheap, a fiver or so, will run on pretty much anything, and like I've said it's an interesting deconstruction of a gaming narrative. I think the real kicker though is that it's going to evoke a strong reaction in anyone who plays it. There are folks like me, who really appreciate everything that the game does, and then there are some folk who absolutely hate it. Obviously, not every opinion is going to coincide with such binary stances, but considering how unique Her Story in terms of its execution, coupled with how its murder/mystery genre, it's definitely something that anyone is going to find interesting.
Muss: I think that's all we've got time for. (Muss is forcibly removed from Gintendo HQ).