First, a disclaimer: For those reading that haven’t gotten the chance to sit down and watch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, don’t worry—no major spoilers here.
Netflix recently released another installment of their very successful series, Black Mirror. But this time, instead of releasing multiple episodes, they experimented with an interactive film, making it a prime example of “choose-your-own-adventure” media.
This means that while you are watching the movie, you are the one making decisions for the main character. Each time you are put in charge of a decision, you receive two options to choose between. These decisions, which vary from simple choices to major, life-altering ones, can drastically alter the direction of the film. All in all, there are five different endings, and depending on some of the decisions you make, your viewing can last anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes.
While you may think that this is a groundbreaking concept, think again: Interactive movies have been around since the 1960s. The first, Kinoautomat, premiered in Montreal, Quebec in 1967. Throughout the film, there were nine breaks in the action where a moderator stood up in front of the audience and had them vote between two options to advance the story. Can you imagine this happening in our movies theaters today? (Editor’s note: No, Matt Dennis, I cannot.)
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is neat, but keep in mind that it's far from the first piece of "interactive cinema" ever made. Kinoautomat, for example was a Czech film made for a special cinema at the 1967 Expo where viewers could use buttons to vote on what happened next. pic.twitter.com/k3KTS49XA9
— Nathan Lawrence (@NathanBLawrence) December 29, 2018
Kinoautomat is not the only example of choose-your-own-adventure media. For any gamers out there, making decisions for characters is something with which you’re already familiar. Video games are the perfect platform for choose-your-own-adventure stories; they keep you engaged the entire time and immerse you in the story.
A recent example is Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that allows you to take control of the life of an old western cowboy. Similar to Bandersnatch, the decisions that you can make range from minor to major. If you ask me, it’s no coincidence that we were introduced to Bandersnatch in a time when we’re seeing a rise in video game hysteria.
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The concept of Honor is deeply integrated into Red Dead Redemption 2, influencing interactions with the world around you. Rescue townsfolk from danger, mercifully disarm a dueling opponent, peacefully surrender to a lawman – are among the many positive Honor actions you can take. While malicious actions like harming innocents or engaging in larceny will lower Arthur’s honor. Your level of Honor will have unique consequences and benefits based on the decisions you make. #RDR2
Okay, now for what I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: my personal hot take.
Black Mirror has been one of my favorite shows since I first binge-watched it on Netflix a few years back. My favorite part about the series is how well the stories are written. Each episode has a gripping theme that leaves you pondering how the world is constantly integrating itself with technology and what that means for us.
My fear with this choose-your-own-adventure film, though, is that I might not end up with the type of amazing ending that I know the Black Mirror writers are capable of providing. Giving viewers this much power seems like a major risk—if they get an ending that they don’t like, after all, they might not be enticed to go back and watch the others. (As I mentioned earlier, there are five core endings in Bandersnatch, and as someone who has seen all five, let me tell you: some are better than others, and there is a clear best.) This might be a little harsh considering it was their first crack at the format, but I hold them to a high standard.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was a success, and I truly think anyone interested in new media will enjoy it. Even though we have seen other examples of choose-your-own-adventure media, we have never seen one so readily available to the public. (Like anything else, being the first dog to the bowl counts.)
I hope that we continue to see popular media outlets take risks and experiment with this interactive format. What show do you think should create its own choose-your-own-adventure episode or film?