Personally, I’ve always wanted to write a story with multiple routes and plots. A book that begins with a scenario, and you choose which route to go, A or B, and then you’re stuck on that path wondering what the end is. I think that’s what makes storytelling so interesting; you never know what the ending will be, and you will reach that ending as if it was fate. This was my initial thought when I was introduced to the video game Her Story.
As a brief summary, Her Story is an interactive game where the player begins with gaining access to a police database of the investigation records of a woman, and the goal is to uncover the story, or the truth. As the player watches more videos, they learn more about the situation, can use keywords to explore more, and soon learn more about their role as the player, too.
I think the beauty of interactive games is that it keeps the audience engaged and attentive because they’re in charge of the story—they want the good ending. Her Story allows you to dig through Hannah and Eve’s backstory from an outsider’s perspective, as if you were Sarah and searching through this database with no knowledge of what happened. The interactive feature of the game not only gives engagement to the players, but to others watching the players as well. When I was watching others play the game, I couldn’t help but also formulate my own theories of what was going on. Who killed Simon? Did Hannah or Eve have mental disorders that contributed to their erratic/suspicious behaviour? Who is the girl that keeps flashing up during the game and why are there police sirens going off? Interactive stories influence a wide audience because everyone is thinking of the next action to take to get to that good ending. Another element besides the engagement of the story that I really enjoyed was the setting/atmosphere that the game sets up. I personally am a big fan of mystery, which made me love this game more for its creepy/eerie setting. The setting and design of the game helped put me in the perspective of Sarah, and I really felt like I was a part of the game, as if it was real.
There are many other movies and books that are similar to Her Story, and the one that came to my mind was Bandersnatch, a Netflix interactive movie that is a part of the Black Mirror series. (If you haven’t watched Black Mirror, I highly recommended it—but don’t watch alone if you are weak-hearted, as it gets intense.) Bandersnatch begins with a boy who wishes to make a game based off a book called Bandersnatch, and the book is also in an interactive, “choose your own adventure” format. You as the watcher get to choose what action the boy takes, from big decisions such as accepting an offer in a video game company to seemingly small actions such as choosing what song the boy listens to. All these actions seem to have an effect on the story, and the overall goal is to get the best possible outcome, letting the boy create one of the most highly recommended games (“5 stars”) of all time.
When I was watching Bandersnatch and choosing the actions along with the film, one thing that really stood out to me was the possibility that small, insignificant actions such as choosing the music we listen to, play a huge role in our lives. This reminded me of Her Story because even though the player can search thousands of keywords, the order and the information the player determines is important to affect how the player interprets the story and how they may react to the story. For instance, when I was watching someone else play Her Story, my initial reaction was that Hannah (or Eve, I didn’t know who was who at the time) may have some mental disorder because the way she spoke made it sound like she was hallucinating. Yet, someone else who may have found the Hannah and Eve murder description clips may think she has a split personality, or is a liar. Overall, the way interactive stories seem to teach you about the impact and consequences of your actions helps you realize more about yourself, which may also be why we try so hard to get a good ending (well, most of us, anyways).
Interactive stories also have the power of storytelling, of course, allowing not only the audience to engage in the story, but to also learn and retain the moral of the story. What I mean by this is that because we are actively participating in the story and can see the results in the end, interactive storytelling can potentially be a tool to help others learn social cues, life lessons, or observation skills. For example, a game that I thought of when it comes to learning about consequences is Life is Strange. It is about a girl named Max who has the ability to time-travel back in time, but only for a few seconds, and to be able to correct the mistakes she has made in order to achieve a better outcome in life. Life is Strange shows us that our actions have consequences, and it can lead to dangerous results if we are not careful and paying attention to things such as social cues that someone is being bullied, a teacher being a murderer, or that a storm is coming to destroy the town. Though I may be looking into it too much, I think the game serves as a caution, as everything in the world is not as simple or easy as it seems. Even though Max submitted a photo for the photo contest, there were countless other events that followed. Similarly, if Max didn’t submit a photo, many bad and good things would still happen, even though we believed we escaped the bad mistakes made from when we did submit a photo. Though Her Story did not have clear cut actions such as choose path A and B as we saw in Bandersnatch or Life is Strange, Her Story contains the same element that, depending on what Sarah learns and does, if Her Story continued on, I believe Sarah could have infinitely different types of routes to take, such as whether she started to hate her parents, or if she was able to forgive them and understand where they were coming from.
Thinking about it, our hobbies, what we learned from our parents, our music tastes, how we interact around others, and what we see and remember are all things that influence the outcome of our lives. The catch is that because we can’t turn back time, we should treat each second with care and caution if we want to reach our happiest ending.