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Video Game / Telling Lies

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"You lie to people, and they believe you."

Telling Lies (stylized as telling l!es) is a Full Motion Video Interactive Fiction game, developed by Sam Barlow and Furious Bee, and published by Annapurna Interactive.

You have obtained a hard-drive from the National Security Agency that contains hundreds of videos of calls and recordings taken on the phones of four individuals over the course of two years. You must search through the database to figure out why the four central characters have been the subject of electronic surveillance, as well as the nature of the player-character's role in these events. However, each video you uncover only contains one side of a conversation, requiring the player to find the complementary video to fully understand the conversation.

Telling Lies is the Spiritual Successor to Sam Barlow's previous game Her Story, with a similar presentation and highly similar gameplay. It also expanded the scale - while Her Story has just under two hours worth of video to watch, Telling Lies has about 10. Additionally, Telling Lies has a diverse range of filming locations and stars a wide cast of actors, whereas Her Story was restricted to one location and only had one actor.


This game stars the talents of Logan Marshall-Green, Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bishé and Angela Sarafyan.

As a large part of this game involves figuring out what's going on and who the characters are, details as small as a character's name can damage the experience, as such there will be unmarked heavy spoilers below; read at your own risk.

This game contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Kerry Bishé, who played Lucy Bennett in Scrubs, plays a nurse in this game.
  • Age-Gap Romance: David and Ava have at least 10 years difference in age. In one video, it is said that the FBI chose Ava because of her likeliness to be interested in an older man.
  • all lowercase letters: The title is stylized this way.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Emma believed she was in this type of relationship with David after she saw him kill her abusive, staklerish ex Paul. She then married out of fear and pretended to be the perfect wife out of fear, but by the time you spy on their personal videos, she is tired of living the lie and starts to openly defy him. The fact that he is also away on a deep cover mission for the FBI makes it easier for her.
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  • Anachronic Order: The game is experienced in whatever order you decide to watch the videos in.
  • Anti-Hero: David, bordering on Villain Protagonist; while he's not an outright force of evil, he's definitely an asshole and a murderer.
  • Author Appeal: Just like in Her Story, the main character's surname is Smith.
  • Becoming the Mask: David infiltrates a group of eco-activists, comes to believe their cause and dies in an act of eco-terrorism.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: One of the main themes in the game.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Emma, Ava and the camgirl, respectively.
  • Blood Knight: David believes in stopping the bad guys by any means necessary, and even his wife Emma calls him this word for word in one of the videos.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: David suffers from a form of this but, since he's not a good person, a lot of his "saving" and "protecting" is unwanted by the other parties. Even his suicide is directly tied to this character trait.
  • Consummate Liar: Both the federal agent and the camgirl, as befits their professions.
  • Creator Thumbprint:
    • The game has a gameplay similar to Her Story.
    • The theme of dual identities was a part of both Her Story and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which Sam Barlow also worked on.
    • Fairytales and their symbolism are relevant to the plot (Rapunzel in Her Story, Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin in Telling Lies).
    • Like Her Story, Telling Lies references the concept of mirrors, both in-game and out.note 
  • Death Equals Redemption: Attempted by David, who commits what he believes is a Heroic Sacrifice by blowing up the bridge supporting the pipeline which, according to the Green Storm activists, is a threat to clean and drinkable water. However, none of the other main characters (including his wife, girlfriend and both his daughters) watch his suicide tape and none seem to retain any strong feelings for him (good or bad). They go on with their lives, completely forgetting about him.
  • Deep Cover Agent: This is David's job at the FBI. In most videos he is working the Green Storm leftist group.
  • Domestic Abuse: Emma's ex Paul hit her, and David murders Paul when he starts dating Emma.
  • Driven to Suicide: After ruining his relationships with his wife Emma, his job at the FBI after going rogue, and his new love Ava, David decides to commit suicide by turning his boat into a giant bomb to blow up the pipeline bridge that Green Storm was protesting against.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: All the characters with the exception of David, who committed suicide, and Karen, whose fate is left ambiguous, are said to live long satisfying lives.
  • Eco-Terrorist: The FBI believes Green Storm to be this, and David is definitely one by the end of the game.
  • Epic Fail: Maybe not completely epic but David's attempt to push the environmentalist protesters into a violent action meets with absolutely zero positive reaction from the group.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The camgirl, the only person David is completely honest with, turns out to have consistently lied to him and tries to blackmail him.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: The camgirl puts on a French accent for one of her personas due to this trope.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: According to the camgirl.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The game involves quite a lot of lying, which is appropriate for such a title.
  • Flock of Wolves: While they are likely a larger group, we as players see roughly a dozen of members of Green Storm. At least three of them are undercover spies.
  • Friend in the Black Market: David's contact Harry, who provides him with drugs and explosives at various points in the game.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Invoked; the camgirl says she slept with a woman to draw the interest of her viewers.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: David has a really bad jealous streak with women he's in relationships with and often results in him taking violent action against the men he is jealous of.
  • Going Native: David goes deep undercover to expose and destroy a far-left radical group named Green Storm, who the FBI believe is a rising threat. While there, he meets Ava and falls in love. Overtime he really starts to believe in their message and becomes the most radical of them all, resulting in him committing a terrorist act by using his boat and bombs to blow up a pipeline bridge, while he is on board.
  • Happily Married: David and Emma's stable marriage is part of why he was chosen for this mission.
  • Heroic BSoD: David has one of these, late in the game.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: David starts the downward spiral with his wife Emma when he starts to show jealously over a doctor named Steven, who she was talking to about her mother's possible growing neurological condition. This brings back the memory of David killing a man named Paul in the past for that same reason. Things were mostly going great between them with the occasional disagreements couples have, until this happens.
    • The FBI as a whole, who sends David undercover into a leftist group and provides him with a boat. At the end of the story, David flips to the environmentalist side and uses the boat to blow up a bridge.
  • I Have Many Names: As an FBI Agent, David uses many surnames when going undercover. He explains to Camgirl that the FBI trains their Agents to use their real first name in case they run into someone they know personally. It usually won't blow their cover, because when a person know someone personally they, in most cases, call them by their first name, not their surname. Camgirl also admits she uses fake names and that's how the conversation starts. And you will eventually learn them.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Ava believed she was destine for glamour and fame as a music star, and travels to California to fulfill her dream. It doesn't work out. She gets raped by Peter, the leader of a rock band she joined, she falls in with a far-leftist group and she gets pregnant by David and becomes a single mom.
  • Last Lousy Point: There is an achievement for watching all video files available. However, videos cannot be listed all at once. They need to be searched for by using words that appear in the video, and the program will only show a max of 5 videos at one time. This means a player attempting to find all 170 files will be trying as many words as possible to find the last unplayed video.
  • Lucky Charms Title: The title is stylized as telling l!es on the posters.
  • Multiple Endings: The game has various epilogues; which one you get depends on which of the characters you focused on the most.
  • Rape As Back Story: David finds out from Eric, a member of Green Storm, that Ava was raped by his friend Peter, who is the leader of a rock band Ava joined in her pursuit to become a famous singer.
  • Real Stitches for Fake Snitches: Mike thinks that the activists will stay away from Eric once the FBI lets him out of the prison because they will believe he got out by betraying them.
  • Rule of Symbolism: David tells the story of Rumpelstiltskin to his daughter, twice; the fairy tale, much like the game, is centered around the questions of identity and names.
    • David, his boss Mike and the other people undercover in the activist group (who are at least implied and mocked for being vegan) are associated with eating meat.
  • Sequel Escalation: While not a direct sequel, this game expands a lot of the ideas from Her Story, going from one character to four main characters and over 20 minor ones.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: The motto of David and everyone in the FBI.
    • Especially Karen, the player character who also appears in a few of the videos, who ends up leaking the recordings to reveal FBI's dirty work.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Her Story.
  • The One Guy: David is the only man among the game's four main characters.
  • Theme Naming: The camgirl's names all start with an M. David's surnames are all among the most common English surnames, and most are also names of professions.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Ava is the Child, Emma is the Wife, the camgirl is the Seductress.
  • Time-Passage Beard: You can navigate the timeline by the state of David's face.
  • X Meets Y: As stated by creator Sam Barlow, the game is "sex, lies, and videotape meets The Conversation".
  • Yandere: Rare male example. David killed Emma's abusive, stalkerish ex Paul, despite the latter being unarmed and not actually harming her at the moment. Emma married David afterwards purely out of fear, which she admits in a video where she uses one of her daughter's doll houses and dolls to confess to everything while building up the courage to leave David.