Hidden Gem of the Week: Blackbar / Greyout

By , on January 17, 2018
Last modified 3 years, 8 months ago

Sometimes it can be easy to forgot the power of words can play in games. Often words are merely relegated to mere UI indications or the names of cool new loot. Dialogue, flavor text, and logs of lore remind us of their importance, while the text adventures and 80 Days of gaming show us how effective well-crafted prose can be

But outside of text adventures and word games, fewer still focus on blending the words themselves with the gameplay. Perhaps the most recent examples I can think of are Device 6's use of text to mirror the described environment and Type Rider's platforming journey through the history of typography. Blackbar and Grayout are two word games that use their text to tell their stories and as gameplay. Set in a dystopian future, both explore different aspects of the same world through different lenses and mechanics.


Blackbar draws us into its heavily surveillanced and controlled future through the correspondence of two friends. One works in the government, and thus her messages and letters are censored by the Department of Communication. As you progress through the story, you must use context, past knowledge, cyphers hidden in the letters, and other means to fill in the redacted text. The story it tells is a gripping one, ranging from black humor to chilling reveals as the letters grow more urgent and more controlled.

Grayout is a prequel to Blackbar, and explores a different element of its world. Rather than letters and messages, you're in the headspace of Alaine, a woman suffering from aphasia - a condition that affects one's ability to communication - and recovering from an industrial accident. At least that's what the doctors tell you. Grayout dives into the subject of medical experimentation, as Alaine (and yourself) struggle to express your thoughts to the queries and comments of doctors and others in the hospital research lab where she is kept. Choosing terms from a word cloud allow you to respond, and the means grow more complex and challenging as Alaine's emotions and other narrative elements affect the words and their style and appearance.


Both tell engaging stories that explore their world through interesting lenses but personally, I'd say Grayout delivers a more interesting mechanical execution in the way the story influences the mechanics, and how the words present aren't merely there as part of the puzzle but also contribute to the narrative. Grayout can also potentially be the more frustrating game, but in some ways, one might consider that a strength, as it mirrors Alaine's struggle to communicate the right words.

For those looking for an interesting narrative-driven approach to the word game, Blackbar can be purchased for $2.99 on the App Store and  Google Play, while Grayout is also $2.99 on iOS.