How the life box package builds up to the murder case depicted in Her Story

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Contains Major Spoilers

 

Itʼs no surprise that everyoneʼs early life shapes the way they behave in their later life. It can also serve as a driving force for even that one pivotal moment that can easily land someone a seat in the interrogation room. In the police procedural game, Her Story, the main character(s), Hannah and Eve (played by Viva Seifert) are a fictional representation of how oneʼs early life and relationships with other people influences their decisions in their adult life leading up to that moment. Her Story, written and directed by Sam Barlow, who is known for his work in Silent Hill: Origins (2007) and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009) as lead designer and writer and his early interactive fiction, Aisle (1999) delves into his influences in the making of the game in his talk from Fantastic Arcade on October 1st, 2015 (Sam Barlow on the origins of Her Story). In this panel, Barlow discusses how his early work played a role in the conception of Her Story. Aside from going into his past projects and other influences, he also describes how and why Her Story was designed without any other characters speaking other than Hannah/Eve (who at first seems to have a split identity, but there is some evidence pointing out to the possibility of them as twins separated at birth).

As Barlow describes his process which lead up to the final game design and gameplay mechanics, he talked about the television series, Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999) and Cracker (1993-1996), both of which spoke from the perspective of the detective and putting them in this type of ʻgladiatorialʼ position. Barlow also brings up real-life murders committed by women, such as Jodi Arias and Amanda Knox and how the media responded differently to those cases than when the murderer was male. In contrast to how the media reacted to the Christopher Porco case, he indicated how it was different when a murder is committed by a woman. The media would handle the subject in a way that was representing the ʻIce Queenʼ and ʻfemme fataleʼ archetypes. When on the topic of the Jodi Arias trial, Barlow recounts how this case reshaped the direction the development of Her Story was molding into. The whole ʻshowboatingʼ and ʻgladiatorialʼ feel are the common tropes displayed by the media, but by ʻgiving some power back to the voiceʼ of the woman the detectives are interviewing in the game offers insight into how the early life influences the murder. To humanize the main character and the narrative of Her Story, Barlow came to the conclusion for the final product:

“[O]ver a week or couple of weeks of watching all this footage, there was a big shift in my mind now where I was now seeing this process from the perspective of the people sat in the chair being interviewed…[T]he name, Her Story everything kind of came together then and I started to see the game as being potentially a way…of…giving some ownership of the story back to the woman whoʼs in the seat talking. So the idea of removing the detective’s questions from the whole experience, removing that showboating kind of gladiatorial detective, that felt kind of important to me. This mechanic of…searching out the story through the words that the woman is speaking herself, that felt like a way of getting [the player] closer to her and getting [the player] more enmeshed in her story…It became much more now about the story of this women and why sheʼs here and whatʼs happened in her life.”

By deducting any source of bias and focusing solely on the woman who committed the crime herself, learning her backstory and how the events of her early life contributed to the crime, Her Story leaves room for players to be more active listeners. They assemble the pieces of the puzzle according to the video bits they search on the police database. The story is also left open ended and the player can keep searching the database even after the ending if they decide they want to find more information to piece together. As the player watches the clips of Hannah/Eve, the character is always bringing up recurring themes and motifs from their shared past. From when Hannah discovers she has a twin, how Simon came into the picture and the tension amongst those in Hannahʼs life that lands her in the interrogation room are the building blocks.

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The literary allusions to fairy tales like Rapunzel and the significance of the mirror reflection are two of the prominent topics in Her Story. There is also a reference to gender roles and how it forms tension in Hannah and Simonʼs marriage as well as the other women they know. Another subject is how songs reflecting the difficult feelings add to the life box package. When these details are taken to account without sensationalization, the phycological factors that would normally be overlooked are highlighted, humanizing the person opening up about the events of her life that contributed to her odious actions.

With fairy tales as a frequent motif, Hannah and Eveʼs attraction to them, (specifically Rapunzel), parallel the story Hannah (and Eve posing as Hannah) tell the detectives in connection to her own past. At first glance, it would seem Eve is Hannahʼs alter ego and that she made up this fictional twin sister. Upon delving further in the details and subtle differences between the two women physically and personally and that Hannah uses being in Glasgow at the time of the murder as her alibi (when it was actually Eve who was there), the twin theory seems more credible a scenario, (though not confirmed). Interactive Fiction writer and game designer Emily Short concluded in her June 24th, 2015 analysis of Her Story  that perhaps “Hannah and Eve actually did manage to deceive their parents for many years, living as one person while the spare hid in the attic: a story that is bizarre and gothic but not supernatural”. She also indicates that there are moments in the game “where the story demands that one of them be in one place while another is elsewhere, and eventually thereʼs enough evidence to work out when it is Eve weʼre seeing in the testimony and when itʼs Hannah”. After much of my own observations, Hannah and Eve as two separate characters seemed more consistent with the narrative and the characterʼs behavior and appearance on screen during interviews.

 

It is revealed that Eveʼs life was kept secret from Hannahʼs parents by an eccentric midwife named Florence. After discovering her existence, Hannah and Eve would switch places in the attic and keep track of each otherʼs actions through a meticulously detailed dairy. Even so, if one twin had a bruise, the other had to bruise herself. If one had short hair, the other had to cut hers to match. Given those details, Hannah and Eveʼs fondness of fairy tales is spurred by how they were living their lives. It was the story they related to the most. Florence is similar to that of Mother Gothel who kept Rapunzel locked in the tower in the sense that she kept Eve in the attic like in the fairy tale, though according to Eve, she “was a warm, kind person”. The literary allusion to magic mirrors aligns with the twins as a matching reflection of one another. In addition to the twins as the mirror image is that the names Hannah and Eve are not a mere coincidence. Both being palindrome names is a symbolic representation of the twins and the mirror image they try to mold themselves into as if they were the same person, Hannah. Throughout the interview sessions, the womenʼs recurring mentions of Rapunzel, stories and princesses and drawing comparisons to their own lives is their way of drawing the literary comparisons as anyone would connect with any work of fiction to their own experiences.

 

Even so the mention of Rapunzel and magic mirrors continue to be brought up as the way they perceived the world around them and even within Hannahʼs relationship with Simon. During a Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), when asked to look at a set of hand drawn images and describe what is happening in each one, Hannah/Eve compare it to the part in the Rapunzel story after Mother Gothel cuts Rapunzelʼs hair and is left in the woods prior to finding her prince. The image is in fact depicting a women tormented by her guilt and is seen running away from her inner demons, but she is caught. On the drawing of the woman with the knife by the door and the clip where Hannah/Eve is examining it, Sam Barlow talks about the thought pattern someone in such a situation has taking place in their head:

“People who are guilty or are trying to obscure something from the police will often tell stories that have somewhat sad endings or unresolved ambiguous endings because the person thatʼs sat speaking to the police, their brain doesnʼt know how their story is going to end. Theyʼre kind of shitting themselves thinking I could get arrested or caught here, so they kind of are unable to provide a kind of concrete ending to their stories, which is very interesting.”

As it happens in real life where the person in the interview chair will avoid discussing the crime in the drawing and thus make up their own story with a vague conclusion, Hannah/Eve is seen doing that as well. When an image that looks close enough to draw literary similarities to Rapunzel is presented to her, she brings up the ambiguous ending where it all ends as it does in the fairy tale because Hannah and Eve donʼt know how their situation will end. At this point in time, it makes sense to create a scenario reflecting her own life and relate to the drawing the way she wants to. With Simon, Hannah brings those fantasies into their marriage. She states how complicated things were between her and Simon and nothing ever works out like in the fairy tales. To her fantastical mind, Simon was her Prince Charming figure, but reality diminishes her romanticized image of her husband. Simon, who worked as a skilled tradesman at a glazier (where Hannah also worked) handmade a mirror, resembling one seen in a fairy tale as a birthday present for Hannah; the specific type of mirror she would always want. She describes the mirror as “[t]he kind of mirror a princess would have in a story” and that Simon “made it specially for [her]”.

Like fairy tale characters, elements associated with those stories are one of the most crucial details within these charactersʼ life box package. Just like how anyone identifies with fictional stories, Hannah and Eve relate to a familiar, magical tale everyone knows in different retellings and variations since pre-school. During their interviews, they constantly bring up Rapunzel (and fairy tales in general) and connect those stories to their own life. Eve compares the TAT to the Rapunzel story. Hannah has Simon craft the mirror to have a specific appearance, which is to match one that would be fit for a princess. With all of these factors in mind, itʼs no wonder that both Eve and Hannah reciprocate their situations differently, yet identify with the same story; a reminder of how stories play a role in and influence peopleʼs lives.

Gender roles is another factor in the life box package in which build up to the consequences the twins are confronted with. Hannah recalls her marriage with Simon was never easy. In one of the interviews, date June 25th, 1994, Hannah tells the detectives that she has a job at a school. She worked there as a dinner lady under a recommendation made by Simonʼs father, Doug. After making a joke about her poor cooking skills, her tone and face drop back down to a somber, reflective disposition. She then goes on to describe what kind of relationship she and Simon shared. “[I]tʼs always been complicated between me and Simon. Itʼs never just been the two of us. Thereʼs always been pressure.” Despite having worked at the same glazier as Simon, Hannah appeared to have had the least say in their marriage as Simon was the dominant figure. Putting the damsel in distress trope Hannah and Eve romanticize aside, when reality crosses their minds, Hannah is reminded that most of her life never was and never will be like the fairy tales she and Eve admire so greatly. Hannah had given up part of her identity by switching with Eve even though Eve was the one assuming her role. Maybe even more so with the way her marriage with Simon turned out.

 

It isnʼt just Hannah who conforms to the stereotypical motherly figure expectations, but even the other women in their lives. Eve eventually reveals in one of the final interview tapes that she discovered a secret side of Florence. Hannah also mentions a secret Dougʼs wife, Eleanor had been keeping from him. Florence and Eleanor behaved as products of their generation and therefore Hannah was slowly conforming with the roles a mother figure is generally thought up as based on the mind set of that era. Although Eve is participating in such a lifestyle, she does so in a way that doesnʼt really define her and thus maintaining her authentic self in some form of manifestation, (which Emily Short pinpoints in her follow-up post, Her Story, Further Reflections).

Eve tells the police about Florence as a person, describing her as “warm” and “kind” and goes on to say why she never remarried after the death of her husband during World War II. “I guess it was different then. You know, you married for life and she felt she could never marry again…Honour the dead? Maybe there was more to it than that.” Florence married when she was in her twenties. She would never remarry after her husbandʼs demise, presumably based off the social standards and the way society thought women should respond to such a tragic loss at the time. Eve seems to understand even though it might not define her own principles. She appears to be questioning societyʼs standards from back then. Hannah tells the police about her mother-in-law and that Doug never find out she smoked. This was not something he expected of her. Eleanorʼs role in their marriage was she did the cleaning and Doug never has to lift a dust pan or broom. According to Hannah, Doug “ran an ordered house” and based upon the standards of his and Eleanorʼs generation, women were always “putting on a brave front”. Eleanor kept a “secret stashes of cigarettes” which Hannah discovered while she was dusting. She concludes that “all those years, of marriage and she still has a secret like that”. This goes to show that as Hannah continued to conform with the social standards of the time Simonʼs parents lived by during their youth, she was also seeing first-hand how even a woman from that generation was channeling her genuine self or at least part of it within the role she was expected to partake in.

 

Regarding how the twinsʼ discoveries affected them as individuals, Eve appears to have let her life box package define her on her own terms, despite having always taken on her role as Hannah. Hannah on the other hand, seems to have not only submissively set herself in the gender role expectations throughout her marriage with Simon, but also let Eve be more in control of her even though Eve was the one posing as ʻHannahʼ. As Emily Short pin pointed about the contrast between the twins in her blog post, Her Story, Further Reflections:

“There is something really engaging especially in [Eveʼs] final interview, the combination of self-knowledge and highly disciplined self-presentation, and the depth of the love-hate-identity relationship she has with Hannah. Her loyalties may be perverse, but they are clear… Here is a woman who has gone through her life willingly being, for instance, punched in the face in order to maintain the illusion she has to maintain. Its is bizarre and twisted, and it is also loyalty and self-defense”.

Where as “Hannah…seemed more closed and self-deceiving as well as less capable. She was constantly using Eve to make up for her deficiencies”. In either case, the gender expectations plays a major role in filling in their life box package and influences what they did to Simon.

This leads us to the final aspect of how Her Story demonstrates to the player whatever goes into the life box package is a factor that escalates to the moment Hannah kills her husband. How people relate to songs and their emotional connections to certain events that a song would remind them of is another piece that add to a personʼs history. The more the player listens to the interviews and is able to identify when Hannah is speaking and when Eve taking over, the more the player learns about their complicated relationship as sisters. Apparently both the sisters share equal respect for one another as they do a resentment.

Hannah openly expresses about the time she tried to drown Eve at the beach by holding her head underwater during one of their fights. For a split second or so she wanted to kill her, but failed to go through with it. “There was no one else around, it was at the far end of the beach…And for a moment I just wanted to kill her and watch her drown. But that was it. It was just a moment. We made up afterwards. It was a love hate relationship”. From the tone of voice Hannah gives when describing what that fleeting moment felt like, she sounded like she really wanted cease Eveʼs existence. She may have bad blood towards Eve to a certain extent, but doesnʼt have the stomach to successfully kill her and if she ever would have, it would not have been intentional.

 

Oddly, Eve plays a murder ballad on the guitar, known as the Twa Sisters or The Wind and Rain. The lyrics she sings connect precisely with what Hannah attempted to do to Eve. The song starts off with “[t]here were two sisters came walking by the sea” resembling Hannah and Eve. As she continues to sing, she adds that “they both had a love for the captainʼs son”, which is similar to their relationship with Simon. Simon married Hannah, but without knowing, he had a baby with Eve as Hannah was infertile. The lyrics also reveal that “the eldest envied her sister fair”, which in some ways Hannah envied Eve, though Eve held some bitterness toward Hannah. This is most likely in reference to how even though Hannah and Simon were married and they were hoping to start a family, Eve was the one who had their baby. Regarding this, Eve disclosed that she “told [Hannah] it was one of [her] boyfriends” whom she had interactions with at a bar. While this intended white lie put Hannahʼs mind at ease, Eve admitted that she was able to recognize “that she was thinking why couldn’t it happen to her and Simon?” considering that it was Hannah and Simon who had “the real life”.

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The fact that Eve expresses this through a song with such twisted lyrics is a way to place a portrait of the ambivalent emotions she has towards her sister and the kind of lives they were living. According to Sam Barlow, the reasoning for using real songs like The Twa Sisters is because “songs are such a big part of our culture and…you have so many memories and emotions associated with songs, that using real songs in games for me is like a real, neat way of pulling in all sorts strange and complicated feelings”. And such “complicated feelings” the player sees, not only through Hannah, but Eve as well. By the end of the interviews, her disgust towards Hannah is apparent in the way she speaks about her when explaining what happened during Simonʼs final moments.

While Eve was away in Glasgow, Hannah dressed herself up as Eve, wearing her wig (which sheʼd normally wear in order to avoid being recognized) and clothes. Simon, believing Hannah to be Eve expressed a desire to be with her and gave her a mirror similar to the one he had given her earlier. This lead up to Hannah revealing herself to Simon and using the shattered glass to scare him away, but instead she accidentally kills him. While Eve discloses these details to the police, the tone of her voice and face shows a hint of mockery, resentment and slight sarcastic pity towards Hannah when she says “[s]heʼd enjoyed being me”. Minutes before mentioning all this, she openly let her emotions out while looking back on a fight she had with Hannah. With frank indignation in her reply to the policeʼs inquiry in this video, she recounted one night she and Hannah “screamed at each other” and that she “hit her back, left a bruise”. In return, Hannah ripped Eveʼs wig off from her head. The fight eventually ends afterwards.

 

Based on the rundown of information Hannah and Eve made known to the police and how they communicated their sentiments towards each other, they both have different ways of articulating. Hannah comes off as being more reserved and tends to hold back any rage and ill feeling even when she shows signs of it where as Eve is blunt and even when within her pretense as Hannah, her plain-spoken nature manifests. The way she confidently utters the fatalistic lyrics in The Twa Sisters ballad is very telling of who she and Hannah have become and this song was the best to openly display those inner-most thoughts and feelings. Regardless of how the twins dealt with their struggles, they had a shared perception of each other in which a song would best let those feelings go.

In the end, Hannahʼs accidental murder of Simon out of her fit of rage and Eve helping to conceal the corpse is shown to have a significant back story building up to that moment as with real-life cases. Her Story removes the media style “showboating” and the “gladiatorial” grounds for the detectives to let the women in the interrogation room tell the story that built up to such a ghastly action. The game substantiates that the life box package, the analogy where life experiences shape the person, all play an important role prior to the crime. The characters of Hannah and Eve are a representation of such. As disturbing as their actions were, listening to just these characters narrate their story sheds light on the who, the what, the where and the why. Specific contributing factors such as the connection to fairy tales, how the expected gender roles of the earlier generation plays a part and the attachment to songs as a form of expressing complicated sentiments accumulate until that last move that would next involve the police interviews. Her Story is a rare example that takes the time to explore the contents that make up oneʼs life box package as other forms of media often overlook that it is those contents that lead up to that moment. Therefore, in order to understand a case and the motives in a meaningful way, itʼs best to start with the underlying specifics that took place prior to that moment. Her Story demonstrates that although it doesnʼt make the scenario any easier, in the end it provides a genuine sense of closure.

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