The Brilliance of Bandersnatch
After three continuous hours of spiraling into the rabbit hole, I can at least answer one question about the big Bandersnatch debate; it’s not a game. Still, I could argue that Telltale’s Batman isn’t really a game either. It’s a beautiful delivery of storytelling, yes, but you knew throughout that you were headed in one direction, maybe two, and these Telltale games’ demonstration of “free will” is the equivalent of a toy phone’s ability to showcase the power of Twitter.
Regardless of which box you're trying to shove it in, Bandersnatch transcended the child’s play “interactive” storytelling of its predecessors. It was kind of like Undertale on hyperdrive - without much of its wholesome comedy.
You start to lose yourself in this Black Mirror episode. Like Stefan, ironically enough - or was it? - you become similarly obsessed with tying up all the loose ends of every possible path. Making this episode a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, with a side of despair migraine.
Interactive gameplay (movieplay?) may be new, and Netflix completely blew the ante out of the water. Still, it’s hard to imagine that they'll replicate this success into any upcoming movies/shows without it being a failed cash grab. It works here because the interactivity device is the plot, so how could you implement the mechanism in a feature that can still illustrate complex storylines without relying on the mechanism itself to fuel the plot and replicating the exact same story theme, including trying to trigger an identical existential crisis to the one we already explored in Bandersnatch?
How can you possibly illustrate the concept of free will in something that makes it very clear that it's running on a script, without resorting to transforming it into an ironic meta-analysis of free will... every single time?
I’m absolutely a rookie in the realm of game design, so I hope that my skepticism for the future of dynamic storytelling is just the result of my extremely limited imagination. If you’re into exploring the variety of results you can get from well-executed interactive gameplay, I immediately think to Heavy Rain for early examples of decision-driven shifting plot points, L.A. Noire for its usage in the exploration of human expression, and Undertale for a different, gaming-related kind of existential crisis… That one’s my favorite.
If you have other titles that come to mind that play with decision-making mechanisms, games or otherwise, please let me know, ‘cause I’d love to check that shit out.