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Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” & The Future of Interactive TV

This article is a collaborative effort between Ally De Leon and Sariah Hossain.

Constant evolution in technology directly influences our future. With human-like robots, smart appliances, and the influence that World Wide Web holds, one can argue that humanity can no longer live without technology. There’s no doubt that technology makes our lives a lot easier and more bearable, but time and again, it has exhibited its compromising dangers. The hit sci-fi TV series, Black Mirror, is lauded for its speculative yet somewhat feasible takes where technology leads us in the near future. Its newest movie Bandersnatch further highlights the aforementioned premise.

However, Bandersnatch is unlike all previous Black Mirror instalments for one glaring reason.

The latest Black Mirror instalment is a choose-your-own-adventure movie which is part of Netflix’s dabbles in interactive television. The online streaming giant has put out child-oriented interactive content previously, making Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch the first of its kind focusing on an adult market.

Bandersnatch revolves around budding game developer, Stefan, who creates a choice-oriented game based on a choose-your-own-adventure book of the same name. He pitches this idea to gaming giant Tuckersoft, and everything is based on the viewer’s discretion from there. In Bandersnatch, the viewers are given the freedom to control Stefan’s narrative, but in true Black Mirror style, they question whether or not this freedom is yet another well-developed illusion. According to the creators, Bandersnatch has 5 possible endings, which gives us a running range of 40-90 minutes depending on which ending we get (and on how many times we choose to repeat specific choices).

Like a good number of Black Mirror episodes, Bandersnatch is described to be very “meta” due to its numerous fourth wall breaks. However, since the movie is heavily based on the viewer’s choices, one can expect Bandersnatch to be more self-aware than usual.

Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch is highly addictive due to a majority’s desire to experience all five endings (here’s an obviously spoiler-filled guide on how to watch all five). It dominated social media on its day of release, with various people sharing their frustrations and memes about different aspects of the movie.

With the success and reception of Bandersnatch, we’re left wondering about the future of interactive TV.  Will the trend prevail or fizzle? How can it be made more feasible?

To some, it could be seen as the logical next step in the evolution of the entertainment industry. We’ve progressed from black and white to color and from chunky TV sets to flat screens. From the consumer’s side, a significant part of why we push for improvements in technology is control over content and materials, along with the prospect of new and exciting.

Interactive experiences like Bandersnatch give viewers both. In allowing them to decide the path characters take to one of several ultimate fates, both choice and control fall in the hands of the user. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, this is Netflix’s first notably popular foray into interactive entertainment, which naturally brings a fad-like enthusiasm into the mix. For some time, this will be all people are talking about.

But is that all the public wants from television — excitement and power? Oftentimes, people watch TV and movies in search of a reprieve from real life. It’s a chance to lightly dissociate and melt into a word completely separate from one’s own. It’s a time when the brain can rest. With this breed of interactive TV, however, is that the case? Bandersnatch called on viewers to make decisions for Stefan, making it seem as if his fate was literally in their hands. While watching the movie, they had to decide matters sometimes of life and death. This kind of pressure could be the opposite of relaxing. Choosing to watch movies made in this fashion that bring on emotions like these seems almost counterintuitive.

One of the interactive option screens from Bandersnatch Via The Wrap

Of course, Black Mirror as a series aims to challenge norms and leave us reassessing. It’s in its very nature to make viewers uncomfortable, so said pressure is due in part to that. But that doesn’t entirely nullify the effort it takes on the consumer’s part to engage with content like Bandersnatch. If people don’t want to put that effort in, there may not be room in society now for interactive entertainment.

Still, it’s not like this kind of interactive media is an entirely novel idea. We’ve been through decades of choose-your-own-adventure books and comics. We all flipped back and forth in Magic Tree House books, some staying true to the mission and taking the ending they land upon while others fell guilty to a mixture of curiosity and fear of missing out (FOMO) and read every ending there is. Either way, the choose-your-own-adventure aspect of it remained the same.

In applying this principle to the small screen, Netflix relatively easily jumped a barrier and became the first large-name company to popularize a choose-your-own-adventure movie. It meticulously shot and edited footage to provide a seamless experience for the viewer. It also worked to form clear, logical paths to numerous potential endings.

Netflix stayed with the curve in the entertainment industry. New iterations of technology are increasing in speed and frequency, and in what could be the dawn of interactive TV, they turned away from the catfight — unscathed by opponents. The presence of such media in our lives in the future is yet to be seen, but to count it out entirely is a travesty. The public’s reaction could lean either way, but for now? Your move, Netflix.

Featured image Via Screen Rant

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14, from California, Canada, and Bangladesh. Sariah takes two full run-throughs to like a movie and even longer to articulate her thoughts, but ultimately she manages to do both.

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