The concept behind Netflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch ought to be familiar to anyone who's ever read the Choose Your Own Adventure books, created games with Twine (or played Twine-developed games), or played anything from Zork on up.
This isn't the first time people have tried to fuse movies and interactive fiction (IF), not by a long shot. There was Mr. Payback, an "Interfilm" that used audience voting to determine how various scenes in a (very stupid) story unfold. There was I'm Your Man (apologies in advance to Leonard Cohen fans), billed as "the first interactive movie on DVD". What's different this time around is that a major, extant entertainment platform is trying to do something with the idea, specifically by making the whole IF concept into a meta-element of the story itself. The bigger implications to me are whether this will induce other video platforms to follow suit, and open the doors to a whole new kind of indie moviemaking and storytelling by way of existing video delivery platforms.
Brian Tallerico, one of the contributing editors at RogerEbert.com, played/watched/experienced Bandersnatch and had this to say:
... why do I feel kind of hollow at the end of “Bandersnatch”? It’s not really a game, in which you invest multiple hours and get deeply involved with the characters whose narrative you’re authoring, and it’s not quite a movie either. I tried to imagine watching someone else “play” “Bandersnatch,” making the choices instead of me, and it’s simply not as well-written or involving as the best episodes of “Black Mirror.” Several of the thematic ideas are underdeveloped no matter how you branch the story, and it ends abruptly. I was waiting for a result of a choice that really shocked me or felt like something that would tie the entire experience together into something that transcended the gimmick. It doesn’t quite happen. There are ideas in “Bandersnatch” about control and creativity that are worth exploring, but they feel like they were often sidelined to maintain the interactivity.
In other words, just because you have a story about an IF, doesn't mean making it into IF is going to necessarily make it any more profound.
I'm willing to chalk up limitations like these to the fact that IF is, like video gaming in general, a relatively young art form. We've only just started exploring how adding interactivity and choice to the experience of something changes it. My feeling is that it can be useful in the way certain kinds of entertainment work as empathy machines — that you can explore, for instance, the way some situations contain only the illusion of choice, and how that can be an opportunity for the player to have their assumptions about choices in a situation reflected back at them. (I know of at least one game that does this quite intentionally.)
Still, I always felt one of the things about storytelling is that it is very self-consciously not interactive — it's reified from beginning to end — but despite that it's still possible to read the same story many times and come away with radically different experiences each time, because of who we are at each moment of encounter. I think that is as powerful a fictional device as IF itself. Maybe even more so, since there's a magic to it: the work hasn't changed, but somehow it casts a whole new spell over us.
But I still want to see people with more on their minds than just what makes for good TV take a crack at it. If something like Bandersnatch eventually motivates, say, YouTube to create branching video as a native feature on their platform, that might really blow open the doors for indie storytellers of all persuasions to start pushing that envelope.
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