Netflix with short notice dropped Black Mirror: Bandersnatch as a late Christmas or early New Years gift to their subscribers.
But.. why am I talking about it on an arcade blog?
It is a movie (which are videos, right?) it is also an on-rails video game of sorts.
Set in 1984 (because, of course: 1984), Bandersnatch is a choose your own adventure-styled interactive film that follows the journey of a programmer creating a Zork (but with graphics) styled computer game based on a choose-your-own-adventure novel by the same name.
The film is said to have five main endings with many variants on each of the five endings. The story is recursive and meta at times with plenty of exposition on the nature of free will, the possibility that the characters (and viewer) live in a simulation and Government conspiracy. Also, some pretty cheesy but dark Pac-man references.
Charlie Booker apparently spent extra time pouring over Plato’s The Allegory of The Cave playing text adventure games in a cloud of bong smoke.
I say that more out of jealousy in comparison to how I spent my time in 2018. :)
The movie is so meta at times that it becomes meta about its own meta-ness. One ending includes a cassette tape being played that contains Differential Manchester Encoding audio tones (kinda like Modem noises) that when loaded in a ZX Spectrum emulator take you to a QR code that takes you to a link to download a ZX Spectrum game from the movie.
Unfortunately, Bandersnatch doesn’t run everywhere that Netflix runs. I was surprised to find the Apple TV 4k was unable to play the film. The latest generation Apple TV plays Angry Birds, Crossy Road and Minion Rush but not.. this. Go figure? It doesn’t play on ChromeCast either so this can’t be blamed solely as an Apple conspiracy. (“It’s a tech conspiracy, man! 1984, free your mind man…”) It does work on many other devices though; including PS4 and XBOne as well as many Smart TV’s. (Which, frankly surprised me because Smart TV’s apps are usually crap.)
Because this is Black Mirror, don’t expect a heart-warming Hallmark tale of family and virtue. I found the main character to be relate-able and as I steered his choices towards those options that I thought may bring him more happiness (or less pain) I was reminded that Black Mirror isn’t likely to reward such behavior.
Black Mirror clearly favors the darker decisions and this makes it more Grand Theft Auto than Zork.
If you are a film nerd like me, The Wikipedia article contains some interesting production notes that are worth a glimpse. Things like orphaned story branches and challenges in script composition that led the creators to use things like Twine instead of typical Script Treatment packages.
All in all, I don’t think Booker’s Bandersnatch will be to Interactive Storytelling what Cameron’s Avatar was to Real3D. But, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this viewing experience. More will follow, I’m sure..