An iPhone game that █████ made you ████.
Nothing to see here, in this latest entry in our classic game series – a
████ puzzler that cleverly dealt with the subject of ███████.
What was Blackbar?
A stripped back text adventure of sorts. But rather than pick your way through a branching narrative, your aim was to plug words into the titular black bars found within digital communications. These had been censored by the Department, part of a dystopian regime determined to fully control communications and crush any seed of defiance.
To make things more poignant, much of the game involved communications from a friend, who’d been so excited about moving to the big city and finding work. But before long, she became disillusioned and then scared as the world around her turned out to be horribly bleak – and the Department tightened its grip.
Why was it a classic?
The first message you received from your friend had a single word ominously blacked out. That immediately ramped up the atmosphere. Over subsequent messages, the puzzles became increasingly complex as a smart plot unfolded. What you read was at various times funny, brutal, charming, sad and very topical. Given today’s ongoing battles with censorship and the controversies surrounding even commonplace terms, Blackbar if anything now seems more relevant than ever.
Blackbar’s sparse, stark interface also gave the game a timeless quality. When you’re staring at black text on a white background, your imagination has to do a lot of work. That’s still the case today. As is the palpable sense throughout that you ultimately control nothing. Events happen and plans unravel, whether you want them to or not. Then and now, Blackbar was about going along for the ride, breathing in the tension and intelligent prose, and sagely nodding as a game held up a mirror to our own society that’s increasingly grappling with ‘security’ and censorship.
Where is it now?
Happily (or bleakly, given the tone of the game), Blackbar remains on the App Store. It’s rarely updated, but then it’s all text and black bars and so doesn’t really need any changes. However, it does appear to work optimally on current iPhones.
Prequel Grayout ($2.99/£2.99) is also still available. It explores aphasia – a disorder that impacts language processing – and is similarly beguiling.