PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

'Blackbar,' The Epistolary Game

Blackbar is the only epistolary game I’ve ever played.

Blackbar may have beaten me, even though I still refuse to admit it, but just because I’m beaten doesn’t mean that I can’t still appreciate the game and its clever presentation of puzzles. Blackbar is the only epistolary game I’ve ever played and manages to turn a narrative style that’s all about passivity into something interactive.

The structure of Blackbar sets up its story as an especially passive experience. The epistolary structure is already inherently passive because it revolves around us reading about events after the fact. Something has happened, and we’re being told of those events by someone who experienced them or knows of them. If this writer, this narrator, chooses to change, twist, or omit certain facts, we’ll never know. We consume their story helplessly. Blackbar then casts the player as an actual character within the story, so we’re not just reading the letters of a stranger and piecing together the past. Instead, the author of the letters is talking directly to us. This seems to imply some interactivity since Kenty (the author) even responds to our own letters, but we never actually see or write those letters. Also, as I wrote last week, we can’t actually help Kenty when she asks for our assistance. We may be involved in the story, but that doesn’t mean we can affect it. We’re still just a passive observer of Kenty’s story.

This goes against everything a video game is supposed to embody. Most games are about doing something, usually that something is a physical action that is repeated indefinitely, but even if it’s a mental or abstract action that is the central action of a game, then we’re still acting to impress ourselves onto the world, to affect it somehow. A game is defined by our participation, and Blackbar refuses to let us participate.

Yet it still works as a piece of interactive entertainment and fiction because even if our actions don’t affect the story, they reinforce its themes and Kenty’s struggle. The game is about overcoming censorship, and so the gameplay has us doing just that. It makes literal this abstract battle: Kenty’s letters come to you with some words redacted, and the player's role is to puzzle out what that redacted word is based on its length and the context of the sentence it exists in.

Even though I’m reading these letters, not speaking or writing for myself, I still feel like it is my own speech that is restricted. The puzzles have me constantly struggling to find the word on the tip of my tongue. I know what I want to say, but I can’t say it because I don’t know exactly what I want to say. I’m almost able to speak, but not quite, and my mental block mirrors the physical block employed by the Department of Communications within the game. Same result, different means. Even if we can’t affect the world, we can understand it and what it truly means to struggle against censorship (again, see my previous post on Blackbar).

Blackbar turns the normally passive act of reading into an interactive experience because it makes reading comprehension the key to its puzzles. This is Close Reading: The Game. And maybe this is just because I was an English Major, but I think that’s a pretty awesome game.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.