After the success of Black Mirrors Bandersnatch, the streaming platform has revealed ambitions to use the decision-making dynamic for future projects
Bandersnatch was many things. It was a Black Mirror episode. It was the first seamless, mainstream choose-your-own-adventure TV show. Its possibly how Benedict Cumberbatch pronounces his own surname after a heavy blow to the head. One thing it was not, however, was a one-off.
True, Charlie Brooker might have ruled out making any more branching episodes of Black Mirror, given the complexity of even making one. But the Netflix product VP, Todd Yellin, has made it very clear that this is just the start for the platform.
Expect over the next year or two to see more interactive storytelling, he told a Mumbai audience on Tuesday, adding that whatever came next wouldnt simply be a Bandersnatch rip-off. It wont necessarily be science fiction, or it wont necessarily be dark. It could be a wacky comedy. It could be a romance, where the audience gets to choose: should she go out with him or him?
Now, obviously there was always going to be more interactivity at Netflix, because economics demand it. Bandersnatch was such a process of discovery requiring new user interfaces, new tracking technologies, new interactivity departments, new ways of writing and shooting and editing that it would go down as an immensely expensive folly if it remained Netflixs sole experiment in the form. The question now is: where next?
If anything, the second interactive product that Netflix releases will have more hinging on it than Bandersnatch. Bandersnatch was a novelty, a fun little romp that you could fiddle about with for an hour between Christmas and the new year and then forget about it. And, in that sense, it worked perfectly. It also benefited heavily from its chosen genre; Bandersnatch was an interactive sci-fi about an interactive sci-fi. It was a game and an instruction manual at once, geared towards an audience that has traditionally been quite open-minded.
Its also the most successful genre for interactive narrative. If you look at all of Bantams Choose Your Own Adventure books of the 80s and 90s, sci-fi overwhelms the list: theres Space and Beyond, Inside UFO 54-40, Prisoner of the Ant People, War With the Evil Power Master, War With the Mutant Spider Ants.
Cracking a more mainstream genre will be much trickier. Im willing to bet that horror will be high on Netflixs list, since it has a similarly partisan fandom that has historically been eager to try the next new thing. Whats more, video games like Resident Evil have shown how possible it is to instill abject dread in the heart of the decision-maker, which would be fun to replicate onscreen.
There will almost definitely also be an interactive erotic thriller. There has already been one, in fact; the John Hurt-starring 1998 CD-Rom Tender Loving Care, which rewarded comprehensive exploration of all the narrative possibilities with, well, boobs. If its going to encourage a wider audience to experiment with a brand new form of storytelling, it would probably be wise of Netflix to use gratuitous jiggly bits as a carrot.
After that, God knows. Yellins suggestion of romance as a possible avenue is a good one. Imagine a version of Dating Around, for instance, in which you get to make the decisions. Imagine getting to control Gurki from episode two, as she navigates the very worst first date in all of history. If Netflix were to release an interactive version of that, where you could make Gurki turn around and walk out before shed even clapped eyes on Justin the Entitled White Prick, I would play it again and again and again.
Bottom of the list of any interactive story Id ever want to watch, though, is a comedy. Comedy is such a magic act of a form so heavily reliant on timing and surprise that asking viewers to participate in one would most likely kill it stone dead. But, hey, Im always willing to be proved wrong.
Still, whatever steps Netflix takes next are crucial. A couple of failures in a row and well be talking about the whole doomed experiment as another War With the Mutant Spider Ants.
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