A younger version of me had some pretty clear ideas about what the future might look like. Somewhere between the emergence of the internet and the release of the first smartphone, we arrived there. This isn’t the future of warp drives and sentient robots; it’s the future of ubiquitous computing and reliance on technology.
And since a part of that future is now in the past, it still counts as living in the future if my wife and I finally got around to watching Netflix’s 2018 Black Mirror brain-twister, Bandersnatch.
Let’s start out by stating that I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid (as well as the less well-known Pick-A-Path variant). I’d read them forward and back, trying out all the permutations not only to find the way through but also check out all cool ways to fail. Bandersnatch takes that concept to a visual medium with an engrossing and nostalgic tale of a would-be computer game programmer in the golden age of early Atari games.
This show/game was a trip. After a tutorial decision slipped in early on, they present you with enough warning that you can make your choice without the film pausing. There’s no stutter or obvious break where your reality switches tracks and moves on a new path. And while the story starts out a touch bland, it really picks up and you can see your choices having an impact.
This type of relatively-seamless interactive experience spans the borderline between RPGs and narrative television. In a way, it reminds me of the old Dragon’s Lair arcade game, which was more or less a series of quick-time events stitching together pre-animated cartoon sequences. Bandersnatch does something similar (though without the frustrating and unforgiving timing) with live-action film. Like Dragon’s Lair, I can see it being the seed for something far more evolved once technology allows.
My only caution is to reiterate that this is a Black Mirror show, complete with twisted darkness. Make your own decisions about allowing your younger viewers to join you.