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Thoughts on ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’

December 30, 2018
black mirror - bandersnatch

Black Mirror has become one of Netflix’s most watched shows. The Twilight Zone for the 21st century, it has made us ask questions about the world we live in and what the world is evolving into. But did the highly anticipated return of one of Netflix’s flagship shows meet the hype?

Well… from the moment I heard that Netflix were doing this, I have to admit my expectations were low. When I was a kid I had a lot of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books but if I’m honest the concept always seemed more interesting and exciting than any of the books every turned out to be.

But this is Netflix AND Black Mirror. I have to give it a chance.

So what’s it about?

Bandersnatch tells the ‘story’ of a young games designer trying to create a game based on a ‘choose your own adventure’ book for a big games company. But as he entertains the concept of multiple realities, he becomes convinced he’s losing control of his own decisions.

Was it any good?

Interactive storytelling treads the line between movies and gaming, yet delivers well on neither.

And while I would have to admit that it’s perhaps the cleverest example of ‘choose your own adventure’ that I’ve ever seen, with some particularly entertaining and laugh out loud bits towards the end, I still don’t see this type of thing catching on.

I believe when DVD first became the primary format for home videos, delivering the first deviation from forced-linear recording, the idea of interactive storytelling was raised but I’m not sure it was ever actually attempted. If it was, it certainly didn’t become mainstream.

And I think the same challenge will face this format now:

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I think I speak for the vast majority of us when I say that when I watch a movie or a TV show, I want to be told a story. I want to suspend my disbelief and be immersed in that story. My brain, to a degree, has to believe that I’m in the story such that I feel what the character feels and get caught up in the emotional rollercoaster that any good story offers me.

In Bandersnatch, I keep getting pulled in and out. And not only did I not much care for that, it started to get rather annoying. I would prefer to just click play, sit back and be told a story.

For a game, I don’t have enough control. For a movie I have too much.

As an audience member, I don’t want to be the storyteller. It limits my ability to enjoy the story. Especially when some of the decisions I’m asked to make seem trivial and some of them are even literally wrong and I’m asked to go back and try again.

It would be my guess that Netflix entertained this idea more for the headlines than anything else. As a company that treads the line between movie studio and tech giant, they need to be seen to innovate and have literally billions of dollars of cash to just experiment with.

You’ll notice that my criticisms are all of the format itself rather than the show. Because all that said, it was as typically clever and thought-provoking a story as we’ve come to expect from Black Mirror and as much as I’ve expressed my distaste for interactive storytelling, it’s probably worth a ‘watch’ given that it’s the first show of its type.

Will we be seeing more interactive storytelling from Netflix? I’d expect so. But as always, Netflix will use data and numbers to make that decision. Will I be ‘watching’? Probably not.

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