Blackbar Is a Creative Look at Censorship

Who would have thought that a text game could be one of the most creative and innovative games available on iOS? Blackbar is a game about censorship that functions partly as a puzzle game and partly as a commentary on oppressive oversight and freedom. It also uses the tools of gaming to tell its story in ways that can’t be done on other narrative platforms. It’s worth supporting for that reason alone.

The game is very bare bones — it has no title screen or sound, and the only interface is the letters exchanged between yourself and your friend working for the government.

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It’s immediately clear that something is wrong. Someone is censoring the letters from your friend, Kenty. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to guess what the missing words are, but it doesn’t take long for the government censors to introduce themselves.

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You progress through the game by filling in the blanks, each time receiving a new letter from Kenty. Things start out innocently enough as Kenty tells you about her day and how she’s adjusting to her new job. The exact nature of the world and even what time period the story takes place in is left up to your imagination. Soon the censorship starts becoming arbitrary and oppressive. And then you start to get hints that there is a rebellion afoot…

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What ties it all together and makes the game work is the brilliant writing which conveys the different personalities. Kenty is developed effectively and economically, starting out as a naive and eager young woman and slowly growing disillusioned with the government that imprisons her. Meanwhile, the censors work by very strict rules. The irony is that it becomes clear that the rules are also restricting the censors. Kenty and the various other characters you correspond with can work around the censorship using clever word play, and there’s only so much the censors can do to stop them. The missing words are almost always guessable with a little thinking and creativity. I only ran into one instance where the solution seemed impossibly arbitrary.

Blackbar is the creation of a two person team of whom one grew up in 1980s Yugoslavia experiencing government censorship firsthand. The game is a true artistic endeavor, using the medium to tell a story in ways that can’t be done in either a book or a performance medium. To say much more would be to spoil the fun and discovery. At $2.99, it is less technical and probably a lot shorter than other mobile games of the same price. But this is a game that deserves to be played by as many people as possible because it reaffirms what videogames and independent developers can do.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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