Fill in the blanks

A message arrives from your friend Kenty. She has taken up a new job at the mysterious Department of Communication. She seems quite _____ about her new role, but it’s hard to know for sure, since every letter from her has at least a ___ words redacted.

Welcome to Blackbar, an app for iOS that combines political commentary with puzzle game play and a bit of old-fashioned epistolary storytelling. The goal of Blackbar is fiendishly simple: fill in the blacked out text correctly to progress to the next letter. It begins easily enough, but progresses quickly to the mind-boggling. Like a good novel, the game stays in your thoughts, your mind hashes over problem texts, looking for the clue to the next stage. To progress, the reader must pay close attention.

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More than a few times, I’ve heard visions for the future of storytelling presented as ‘interactive’ and sometimes ‘immersive’. As readers, we crave richly imagine worlds we can climb into and explore. This is not a new thing. But today, words such as ‘immersive’ and ‘interactive’ are loaded. Stories described in such terms now heavily suggest the experience of gaming, and a certain type of gaming at that—from ‘virtual reality’ to World of Warcraft.

So, complete this picture. The future of storytelling is in immersive entertainment, and the writer’s role is in pure world building. Right?

Well, no.

That’s the kind of all-too-easy futurism peddled by Hollywood’s skewing of sci-fi or, worse, driven by sales pitch. Immersive virtual environments of this kind have been around for some time now. And no one showed the slightest interest in hanging out on ‘Telstra Island’ in Second Life[1]. I’ve long held that games are another form of writing, as different from prose as screenwriting or poetry. What makes Blackbar interesting is that it sits somewhere between prose and game. What makes it exciting is that its form presents a writing challenge and an active and rewarding mode of reading. But it doesn’t replace long-form reading any more than it replaces the Xbox.

The truth too often overlooked is that ‘interactivity’ doesn’t need motion sensors and ‘immersion’ is not a visual experience. Both happen in the minds of readers. We can read and we can play. And sometimes we can do both at the same time.

Now __ you’ll ______ me, I have a few _______ to ____.

http://mrgan.com/blackbar/

[1] I know, what a shocker! Check out http://bit.ly/ifbook398 if you don’t know what I’m talking about.