Her Story (2015) is a game developed and published by Sam Barlow that mainly relies on the use of searching for and watching videos in order to enact its narrative to the player. The player must search for keywords to find clips of a particular case from 1994 and watch the interviews to figure out what exactly is going on. Through the use of one actress, Barlow dictates several relationships within the game and how the interactions between them are managed by the restriction of information and performance.
While these videos are not in chronological order, piecing together the clips tells the story of a pair of twins named Eve and Hannah (played by Viva Seifert). Eve was taken at birth by a midwife who wanted children, but was unable to conceive, and was presumed dead at birth by her parents. The midwife kept Eve inside as much as possible to keep her away from interacting with other people, but eventually Eve escaped and met Hannah. Hannah hid her twin away in the attic of their home and agreed to lay out rules for each other so Eve could become “Hannah” on occasion and live a semi-normal life. This worked well until Hannah started dating a boy named Simon and became pregnant. Hannah married Simon and moved out, leaving Eve alone as Eve could no longer pretend to be Hannah due to the pregnancy, but there was a miscarriage in the third trimester that left Hannah infertile. Years later, Eve (now donning a blonde wig) runs into Simon at a bar and he becomes infatuated with her. They eventually have an affair that leaves Eve pregnant. Eve tells Hannah that she had become pregnant by one of her boyfriends she had met at the bar, and later that night when Hannah tells Simon about her sister and how she’d like to help her by having Eve move in, both of them realize that Simon is actually the father. After a short fight between the sisters, Hannah pretends to be Eve and goes to Simon who tells her that he wants to be with her and presents her with the same mirror he had given Hannah for her birthday. Enraged, Hannah breaks the mirror and swings it around, accidentally cutting Simon’s throat and killing him. Eve returns to find Hannah in hysterics and they decided to hide the body and report Simon as missing, using Eve’s solid alibi (she was in a minor car accident and went to the hospital as Hannah) to cement Hannah’s innocents. Once the detectives find out the truth about the twins at the end, Eve reveals that while Hannah was in fact present for some of the interviews, she is now “gone” and that while Hannah did commit a crime, Eve herself is not guilty of anything. The game ends with the reveal that the player was in fact a character themselves all along, as the person really looking into this database turns out to be Eve’s daughter trying to understand everything that went on with her mother.
Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective applies to the narrative of Her Story quite well as dramaturgy is described as ”…Examining individual and collective social behaviors as if people are actors performing characters onstage for an audience. These actions reflect how we locate ourselves to others and act out identities” (Hewitt & Shulman 66). All of the characters within the game, even though we only get to actually see two of them, are all acting out roles that they have assigned to themselves. Most of the game is spent in what is called the front stage, this is the ‘area’ in which the people assuming roles must believeably act it out, while the back stage is where roles may be dropped and typically relieves the burden that the role puts on them. Very little of the game takes place in the back stage and only one character ever shows it, which is when Eve admits that she is not Hannah and puts down her role to ‘tell the real story’. Each character is trying to only show what’s acceptable to their role and they do this through impression management which consists of strategic moves made by an individual to manipulate what people think of them and how those people will then react to them. In particular, Hannah and Eve routinely adjust their impressions after using Cooley’s looking glass self, a method in which we imagine how others are looking at and reacting to us, to acquire information as “we are alert to their responses and engage in self-evaluation in accordance to these responses” (O’Brien 112).
While Eve seems to be more successful in her use of impression management, both of the twins do engage in this concept with the detectives working on Simon’s case. By restricting the flow of information, particularly the fact that Eve exists, they are able to control the perception of the ongoing situation. Part of their failure with impression management though is that Eve is the one that initially goes to the police, but Hannah goes in for the second interview and messes up the perception as she needed to perform as Eve pretending to be her, and not actually as herself. In their paper “Self-Other Agreement in Happiness and Life-Satisfaction: The Role of Personality Traits”, Dobewall et al. explain that “It is also possible that other people’s views about a person affect that person’s self- reports about SWB [Subjective Well-Being]. It is well known that other-views play an important role in the construction of the self (e.g., Cooley 1902, the looking-glass-self)” (Dobewall et al. 481). This concept is closely applied to Hannah in this situation, due to the fact that her well-being is threatened if she cannot keep up a consistent image with the detectives by using her looking glass self, and is quite aware of this fact as you can see Hannah become increasingly distressed during her interview on June 25th.
Both of the twins also do this in times of duress when they’re caught off guard by a question, or statement, said by the detectives running the interviews. Although it is not explicitly stated due to not having access to the tapes of the detectives, they are clued in to the possibility of Hannah having a twin due to some odd behavior exhibited by Hannah and Eve. For instance, in the June 25th interview the real Hannah has a bruise on the left side of her face, but in the next interview on June 27th, Eve comes in pretending to be Hannah and tries to explain why the bruise has healed so quickly while touching the right side of her face. There is implicit context that the detectives were asking about this, which caused “Hannah” to immediately react as “In the absence of any indicators of threat, people can perform their activities as a ‘normalcy show’, but if they detect an ‘alarming sign’, then consideration must be given to behaviour modification” (Innes 341). By once again using a form of Cooley’s looking glass self, Eve realizes that she must explain/modify her story and actions to become consistent as to not raise suspicion on herself, and by proxy her sister.
The blurring of roles between Eve and Hannah is quite interesting on its own, but it becomes much messier once other people are introduced into the mix. In her paper “Power and the Ability to Define the Situation”, Alicia D. Cast explains that “When an individual claims an identity in a situation, he or she also “casts” others in the interaction into identities that reflect the individual’s conception of who the other is in interaction. In many ways, the individual simply behaves toward the other in ways that are consistent with how he or she sees that person, thereby encouraging the other to adopt that identity” (Cast 187). Since Eve and Hannah concocted the plan to share Hannah’s life, there was no separation between them, or their roles in various situations. This becomes a habit that seems hard for Eve to break even after they go their separate ways as when Eve runs into Simon, she’s not pretending to be Hannah, but uses the likeness to assume the role of lover as she did with Simon when they were teenagers both pretending to be Hannah. Despite knowing that Simon is her sisters’ husband, Eve interacts with Simon with the intention of casting him in the role of romantic partner. This, along with the fascination in her appearance due to his wife, encourages Simon to assume the identity being pushed onto him.
Barlow, Sam. Her Story. 2015. Sam Barlow. <http://store.steampowered.com/app/368370/Her_Story/>
Cast, Alicia D. “Power and the Ability to Define the Situation.” Social Psychology Quarterly 66.3 (2003): 185-201.
Dobewall, Henrik et al. “Self-Other Agreement in Happiness and Life-Satisfaction: The Role of Personality Traits.” Social Indicators Research 114.2 (2013): 479-492.
Hewitt, John P. and David Shulman. Self and Society: A Symbolic Interactionst Social Psychology. 11th Edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2011.
Innes, Martin. “Signal Crimes and Signal Disorders: Notes on Deviance as Communicative Action.” The British Journal of Sociology 55.3 (2004): 335-355.
O’Brien, Jodi, ed. The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction. 5th Edition. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press, 2011.