Bars of Black and White

Gregory Weir, the creator of Majesty of Colors, recently released another Flash-based game. (He's been aiming for a game each month.) This time, it's a point-and-click "adventure" vignette with sketchy, two-tone images. Instead of Majesty of Colors' reflective tone, Bars cultivates a sort of confused investigation reminiscent of Memento.

You play a character who can't seem to remember anything beyond sitting alone and playing video games. The goal is to get outside, but you can't remember the last time you did that. Your door is locked, but you don't remember ever having a key.

The game's title implies bar codes, and the game delivers. There are thirty bar codes in all, and a semi-central mechanic involves scanning them to reveal messages. Some of the bar codes are obvious, but some are hidden. Instead of Majesty of Colors' multiple endings, the game tracks how many codes you've scanned. You can try to scan all thirty, but you can also bungle all the way through to the end without ever even finding a scanner.

Why You Should Check This Out: If you live in the northern hemisphere, you're likely itching for a return of warmer weather, and you might be turning into something of a Jack Torrence. Even if you can't go outside and enjoy a warm day, it's nice to at least pretend.

We can talk about the Platonic-cave themes when you get back.

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Comments

adam.greenbrier wrote:

No matter how many times I play this game, I can only find 14 barcodes. I'm holding out on an opinion of this game in case those missing 16 barcodes really heavily impact the story.

Where have you looked?

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]Have you looked to the sides in the final hallway?[/color]

wordsmythe wrote:
adam.greenbrier wrote:

No matter how many times I play this game, I can only find 14 barcodes. I'm holding out on an opinion of this game in case those missing 16 barcodes really heavily impact the story.

Where have you looked?

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]Have you looked to the sides in the final hallway?[/color]

That was exactly where I ended up finding them. Thanks.

I don't want to be the Fringe Busters party-pooper, but I didn't find this game to be particularly satisfying. Your description of "a sort of confused investigation reminiscent of Memento" was interesting, and I feel like the game largely delivered on that until it completely fell apart at the end. Like all point-and-click adventure games, because the gameplay itself isn't very difficult, the story is really the game's main attraction.

Bars of Black & White spoilers wrote:

[color=white]Unfortunately, this game's story leads nowhere and is terminated just as it gets interesting. There isn't much difference between the ending to this game and the classic short story cliché of "it was all a dream." The game creates an interesting, paranoid scenario; reveals it to be the imaginings of a lunatic; and then ... nothing. Ending a story by undermining its reality, unless done very well, removes any sense of consequence or relevance from the actions that have preceded it. What is the point of having done what we have done, or witnessed what we have witnessed, if nothing is real? At the end of this story, we understand the origin of the protagonist's obsession with barcodes but otherwise the world and its characters remain static. There is no indication that the protagonist has recovered his sanity or has any opportunity to do so; likewise, there is no indication of the emotional struggle that he or others might feel in dealing with his insanity.[/color]

I appreciate that discovering the game's story is the game's main focus. Discovering and scanning all of the barcodes is engaging and is a welcome alternative to passively dishing out story details via cutscene between gaming segments. If the game hadn't ended up as a bland and shallow mess, this would have been more appreciated.

Alternatively, I can see how the game could be read as a critique of video gaming as a whole in which case it hangs together better but doesn't make a point that I agree with. It's not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from the game's events and symbols, but I'm not sure it was the creator's intent.

Bars of Black and White alternative explanation wrote:

[color=white]The game's central objective is to the leave the apartment, and in the course of doing that you discover that the apartment itself is an illusion. The bird song is fake, the sky isn't real, and the protagonist's life is highly controlled and monitored. When you do finally escape, it's revealed that the entire experience was a form of madness.

It isn't hard to see how this could be a critique of video games. Every video game is a false world with fake skies and fake birds that is heavily controlled and monitored. If see the apartment as a video game, it is a small step to see the apartment as video gaming itself: a madness that prevents you from engaging in the real world in favor of engaging with illusions.

Consider the game's opening line: "I don't do anything anymore. I used to do things, but now I don't." The television is broken, and the protagonist refuses to eat or do much of anything else, leaving the apartment's computer game as the only thing the protagonist could do or could have been doing. The game itself, like Bars of Black and White isn't very challenging, so there is little sense of victory when completing it. The protagonist doesn't seem to feel this victory, either, as his only comment is "another game beaten." However, the game's central triangle changes to a sky pattern, indicating that the reward for playing the game is an illusory "outside."

The entire game could be read as a metaphor for stepping away from your computer and embracing the real world. It's an odd stance for a video game to take, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time a work of art in a particular medium had been used as a vehicle for questioning the medium's value.[/color]

For a game along similar lines, but with a better ending, I would recommend the text adventure game Little Blue Men, by Mike Gentry (author of Anchorhead).

adam.greenbrier wrote:

I appreciate that discovering the game's story is the game's main focus. Discovering and scanning all of the barcodes is engaging and is a welcome alternative to passively dishing out story details via cutscene between gaming segments. If the game hadn't ended up as a bland and shallow mess, this would have been more appreciated.

Alternatively, I can see how the game could be read as a critique of video gaming as a whole in which case it hangs together better but doesn't make a point that I agree with. It's not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from the game's events and symbols, but I'm not sure it was the creator's intent.

Bars of Black and White alternative explanation wrote:

[color=white]It isn't hard to see how this could be a critique of video games. Every video game is a false world with fake skies and fake birds that is heavily controlled and monitored. If see the apartment as a video game, it is a small step to see the apartment as video gaming itself: a madness that prevents you from engaging in the real world in favor of engaging with illusions.[/color]

We're on page 2 now, so that might mean we're ready to let slip the spoilers and get into talking about how this game works with Plato's allegory of the cave. Here's some food/fodder for thought:

For my part, I've always been a little fascinated by the notion of the allegorical cave-dwellers' eyes adjusting to new, brighter light sources. Looking directly at the fire after all that time staring at shadows would hurt. Leaving the cave for the first time and staring at the sun would blind.

That's sort of what came to my mind in playing Bars, except the illumination of Plato's allegory is bifurcated into 1) two-tone bars and 2) colors. The bars certainly signal that there is a greater truth, something like Plato's shadows. The colors show up as either the computer game or the "outside."

The "shadows" are everywhere in Bars. They don't hurt the eyes -- In fact, they seem to have been summarily ignored by the main character up until that point. The "light" represented by the colors, however, stands out starkly: Colors are the main focus of the character's obsessions (the video games and escape).

The story to me ends up having more of a "too much light makes the baby go blind" feel to me, in that I interpreted the escape as causing delirium.

I also see something in the definition given by the black and white images. They're clearer than the hazy outside view, and the most stark b/w images (the bars) are even the way in which the character interprets and understands the world. It's interesting to me, then, that the computer game's graphics are more starkly defined, like the black and white images. Games are often more clearly defined simulations, after all.

Is there a reason to connect this to Plato's Allegory of the Cave, a reference or author's note that I missed?

I find your interpretation to be an interesting one as it is very different from my own. We both seem to have started with the ending and worked backwards when interpreting the work; your theory presupposes that the narrator's institutionalization is caused by his escape, while mine views the madness as a preexisting condition. What lead you to conclude that it was caused by the escape? Was it the connection you saw to the Allegory of the Cave, or was it something else?

wordsmythe wrote:

I also see something in the definition given by the black and white images. They're clearer than the hazy outside view, and the most stark b/w images (the bars) are even the way in which the character interprets and understands the world. It's interesting to me, then, that the computer game's graphics are more starkly defined, like the black and white images. Games are often more clearly defined simulations, after all.

It's a small point, but the barcodes on the poster of the White House, the circus, and the zebra aren't any more clearly defined than the rest of the character's surroundings. In fact, because of them I found myself trying to scan everything from the shower walls to the table legs.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Is there a reason to connect this to Plato's Allegory of the Cave, a reference or author's note that I missed?

The conceit of nested (false) realities originally comes from the cave allegory. I also like to compare books against the seminal works in their genres. I may be a closet genre theorist.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

It's a small point, but the barcodes on the poster of the White House, the circus, and the zebra aren't any more clearly defined than the rest of the character's surroundings. In fact, because of them I found myself trying to scan everything from the shower walls to the table legs.

I admit I did that, too, though I think it was more from too many click-fest Roberta Williams games as a kid. I kept expecting something more convoluted and sinisterly hidden. Strange that I wanted to dig deeper within the room even after I had the ability to leave.