Breaking Her Story by Sam Barlow

[..] the important thing is respect, honesty, appropriate listening, and the power and responsibility of negative and positive thinking
– Jeremy Douglass, talking about Aisle by Sam Barlow

Consider Her Story by Sam Barlow, a mostly non-problematic, ideological sandbox of Mr. Barlow’s ideas surrounding witness testimony in a modern, Gaming context. Portions of this critique were remixed copy-pasta from Mr. Barlow’s site

Note: two gracious pingbacks from Sam Barlow to Alien Fiction are now missing. (Wonder if this involved strictly fiscal calculations not to muddy the waters in player’s minds regarding the ‘correct’ readings of Her Story)

The first ping was a response to / about Her Story being Ballardian – which it now turns out it isn’t (remotely)

The second ping concerned games throwing out the Kitchen Sink – that is, not appealing to false myths of ‘removing all excess (ideological) gaming baggage’ and therefore leaving some ‘pure’, mythic ‘essence of gaming’ (splash it all over)

So what is Her Story?

Nothing too threatening. Her Story is a video game from Sam Barlow, creator (specifically writer and designer) of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Aisle, an interactive fiction. A crime game with ‘non-linear storytelling’, Her Story revolves around a police database full of live video footage. It stars Viva Seifert, potential actress and one half of the awkwardly talented band Joe Gideon and the Shark. The game is currently on Steam Greenlight but don’t let that put anyone off

Conceptually muffled testimony: Her Story

How does Her Story work?

Her Story grants players access to a police database of crappy archived VHS video covering seven dull interviews from ’94. Some thoroughly ‘British’™ woman is interviewed by detectives about Trevor, her bland missing husband. Players take on the role of the poor temp sat before a computer terminal. They just type search queries and the database returns clips of the answers where the woman speaks those words

Sam Barlow states that “if you can Google, you can play Her Story.” The barely-mechanic of searching for clips in the database is so simple that anyone can Pick Up And Play. A mechanic that also reveals an ideology of alleged richness and complexity. That, at times it will feel like you’re engaged in A Genuine Dialogue with this woman and Her Story

And yet – just like Google and the Youtube search results it spews forth mindlessly / automatically – it’s a non unique way to interact with a standard narrative, a slightly uninteresting way of viewing unstimulating, monotonous and tame narratives – yet something that can (apparently) only be performed interactively

Referring to the use of live action video – an anomaly in modern games – Barlow says “The aesthetic is True Detective via Blair Witch.” (So overrated Amerikan nonsense meets low budget cheese fest?) Also, too much talk of Aesthetics® nowadays masquerades as conceptual depth of meaning

While Mr. Barlow is no doubt interested in showing that ‘accessible technologies such as video offer a powerful way for indie games to showcase a performance’, its doubtful whether players or developers would be able to see this without first having read his stated intentions, though what weasel (marketing) words such as ‘accessible’ and ‘powerful’ mean here are as yet unknown

As for ‘performance’ – perhaps what’s more truly being performed in/as Her Story are Sam Barlow’s ideas about what he considers /thinks it’s all about, or should be. That is, the meta-game about how players should ‘correctly’ regard this game seems as important

Test: give the game to a player ‘blind’ – without them reading (/into) any of the surrounding marketing blurb – and see what they make of it. (In short, players should be wary of developer Texts about games, as they might make up the truer bulk of the game they think is being played)

Indeed, the following tweet by the developer can be read as suggesting that, whatever the press has to say about what they think about the game, holds more interest and meaning than the ideas of the developer themselves – a hardly confidence inspiring sentiment

Little conceptual confidence in Her Story
Little conceptual confidence in Her Story

Putting a game developer’s commercial spotlight on the vile modern phenomena of the Youtube Jury (in which police forces distribute the footage of intimate suspect interviews for armchair detectives to dissect) surrounding Jodi Arias and Amanda Knox – real life cases where the suspects’ stories get lost amongst the text of cliches and unexamined cultural prejudices that such videos violently elicit through their gaze – is acutely problematic

Perhaps one should carefully examine which particular sides of the sandbox of difficult issues entitled “Her Story” is game developer Barlow standing – how exactly Her Story is a ‘serious game’ directly tied to the criminally voyeuristic, public ocular flogging of women – andor is merely just another electronic triviality showcasing a privileged developer’s male cleverness; just how serious Sam Barlow is suggesting players take / read his game’s Seriousness

Her Story shares many touchstones with Barlow’s earlier games. Its (apparently) non-linear delivery is reminiscent of the fragmented narrative of his ‘cult’ text game Aisle, which also featured a simple text interface that led to apparently ‘hidden depths’

The VHS aesthetic® is familiar from the (award winning) Silent Hill: Shattered Memories – the use of the police interview setting in Her Story (barely) recalling the psychiatric interviews from that (by now long obsolete) game

Also note the game’s bizarrely headless female torso shot (with a hint of cleavage), used as the header image on Sam Barlow’s twitter account. A woman without a voice, reduced to an object. Yet Mr. Barlow states in the tweet below that his game’s main mechanic is ‘listening'; exactly what kind of ‘listening’ going on in Her Story is perhaps a realer question players should ask

Headerless header narratives: Her Story
Headerless narratives: Her Story

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Oldschool Left 4 Dead 2 mods: remembering Telius 7

There’s an oldschool Left 4 Dead 2 mod that reminds one of an imaginary location deep within player Robert What‘s version / perception of the/a Big Science polyverse

Telius 7 is a quiet planet with beautiful skies of purple tinged blue. There are mountain ranges with fantastical views, deserts of secrets and large, isolated lakes of crystal water. Nothing lives here, but neither does anything die. There’s no sun, simply a crescent moon that hangs alone in a silent sky of permanent dusk, high above the stark dead trees and odd, perfectly rectangular patches of bare ground that remind one of carparks. An evocative, contemplative non-place, perfect for travellers of deep virtual space who require somenowhere to electronically meditate on the artificial natures of the hypermodern unrealities of the video real. Zombies – often used to give the place a hint of existential spice and aesthetic contrast – are of course available upon request

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Alan Vega / Suicide – Ghost Rider

Right off the rusty nail-studded bat, a warning: a muddy pulse – heavy repetition. Martin Rev at the controls, dealing out the code. We awake to find ourselves like Kyle Reese (with the One Thirty Second under Perry, ’21 to ’27) running hard down some filthy dark alleyway of the near future dystopian megacity in the hard slap middle of The Nth Century Prime. No time. Out of luck, options or choices and thankfully love. Only cold digital steel and a steely-eyed sense of style. Alan Vega on stage, where he was born, challenging Elvis by way of Sal Paradise on cheap amp. Showing how it’s done. Flared Jerry-Lee collars. He twitches as though electrified by fate, moves with Kabuki-precise, driven purpose – smoking a cigarette  like reality itself just called Last Call at the bar and he was about to (once again) eject himself back out (ie. deeper into) hyper-digital antispace

Varying degrees of warp, detracking, magnetic damage, decolorization, smearing, paranoia, and other glitches assault the cheap tape from which this awesome concert was ripped. Dark rings of pain and acute artistic intent around his eyes, Alan rapid-scans the frozen darkness immediately beyond the flare of the surrounding sentinel studio lights which provide no heat. Flashing like Sarah Fawcett in Saturn 3 on Blue Dreamers. The way Alan tightly draws his elbows in, a musical Karateka, before delivering another devastating switchblade line like it was raw electronic judgement. The way he wraps his hand around the mike chord (a gesture later used to effect by researchers like Rollins)

A matter how you much you can take and how much you can feedback. Damaged stars in the universe – a sudden echoing cry sounds out into/as the night. Shake it out, deal with it. Deals long done before we arrived on the Scene with our flash bulbs, press kits and placeholder philosophy about What It All Means

Evoking The Video Real

The task is.. not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees
~ Erwin Schrödinger

Evoking The Video Real in Psychotronic Video Gaming

To Evoke The Video Real (eg. in Psychotronic Video Gaming):

To recall, arouse, conjure or awaken the particular (future nostalgic) ambiguous hyper-realities and imploding semiotic-aesthetic gestures, abstract representations and altered states of / suggested by (glitchy / janky VHS) Video – often with pelicans

Examples of electronic play experiences which ‘evoke the Video Real‘:

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