Hello everyone! I, like many others, spent the entirety of my winter break staying up far too late and catching up on media that I missed. As a “Black Mirror” fan, I was pumped for Bandersnatch. It wasn’t the best episode of “Black Mirror” that I have seen, but it served its purpose and I found it to be a fun romp, even if at times tedious.
For those who don’t know, Bandersnatch is the choose-your-own-adventure special for the television series: “Black Mirror.” The episode had been teased and rumors had been spread about its creation, but it was officially released on Netflix on Dec. 28, 2018. Not to spoil too much, but it follows the story of a programmer in the ’80s trying to adopt a choose-your-own-adventure novel into a game. Bandersnatch had mixed reviews in regards to the raw quality of the episode, but many viewers lauded the creators for implementing such a creative concept into a TV show so successful.
The primary reason I am writing this blog at the moment is to discuss the larger concept at hand and the future of choose-your-own-adventure movies. Though the idea has been pioneered in the past, Bandersnatch has brought it to many new modern audiences within a much more serious and critically rated show.
Here’s my verdict: This kind of content isn’t sustainable long term. I think this kind of interactive media won’t be a mainstay in television content, at least for the near future.
Lack of Wholeness: While watching the interactive episode, I felt as if on every replay I got a weaker strand of a story, instead of another aspect of a whole fleshed out world. The Bandersnatch world is built in a way where all of the choices diverge so aggressively that depending on your decision, it feels like you’ve entered a completely different dimension. A much more cohesive narrative of choices about the world and the characters would function better. And until this subtlety can be achieved, interactive media seems to be weaker overall.
Resource Constraints: These movies are inefficient. In our current time, it takes so much manpower, money and time to create all the branches of interactive shows. It may be fun as a cool aspect of one movie or one TV show, but it isn’t sustainable. Though there isn’t currently an exact figure on the budget, Bandersnatch cost about twice as much as the average “Black Mirror” episode and took almost three times as long to film. There won’t be a time in the next few decades where interactive content is able to be made in a way that respects choices and isn’t too costly or time intensive. This is especially important because the production of this episode pushed back the release date of season 5 of the show significantly. Until a more sustainable way to create this kind of content is created, I don’t think this will be able to fully replace standard movies.
Impactful Choices: With Bandersnatch, the choices seem to actually matter because of the splitting realities concept. However, an issue that may present itself in the future is producers cutting steps and making their story out of pseudo choices. I have a feeling post-Bandersnatch success will lead to many movies coming out in the next few years riding on the coattails of this episode with only half the effort. Who knows how much the story could actually be changing as you choose different options?
Video Games vs Television: Often times when people criticize Quantic Dream games or Telltale games, they say the lack of gameplay makes it hard to justify the monotonous actions that are implemented as quick time events. However, after seeing Bandersnatch, I’m of the belief that video games are able to offer a much more fluid way of completing choices and exemplifying character growth and role play than a single episode can. Constraints that keep TV from making longer and more elaborate plots are simply skirted by with video game stories. If there was a way for these episodes to remove the constraints of time and budget as well as make their stories more long form, then maybe a future with more of this interactive medium would be positive for everyone.
The Meta-ness of Bandersnatch: Another thing that’s very important to remember is what keeps this episode fresh and interesting for most people. Not to delve into many spoilers, but the whole concept of this episode functions as a critique of the choose-your-own-adventure book as a whole. “Black Mirror” making a similar episode or any other TV series being built on this concept would be derivative or fall into the trappings that the episode itself critiques. The episodes self-referential qualities are what makes it so unique and recreating that magic without completely copying the episode does not seem currently plausible.
If I’m being honest, I’m glad Bandersnatch exists but I’d rather have a holiday “Black Mirror” special episode that didn’t rely so hard on this interactive concept. I cannot imagine a future with exclusively this type of media, especially if it is not treated with the care it deserves.
Photo provided by engadget.com