This post discusses the Black Mirror event ‘Bandersnatch’ (very minor spoilers) and Quantic Dream’s videogame ‘Detroit: Become Human’ (spoiler-free). I’m looking forward to discussing Detroit’s storyline in a future blog post!
Over the Christmas period I found myself in the fortunate position of reaching the end of two interactive movie experiences within the same week. One was a deep, thought provoking, incredibly complex and satisfying example of the genre. The other… was Bandersnatch.
I’m writing this post after a recent news story I read containing the headline “Bandersnatch has an ending so hidden, the director can’t get to it“. I’m a massive fan of the Black Mirror series, and love every episode of all four seasons, but this kind of sensational rhetoric is completely unnecessary. Of course, this is a headline derived from a much larger article the day after Bandersnatch’s release. The same article makes mention of ‘millions of storyline possibilities‘ which is a great line to say to the press, but obvious and unsurprising to anyone with a basic understanding of probability.
In reality, the ‘branching’ in this Netflix-described ‘Black Mirror Event‘ feels incredibly basic. Many of the paths very quickly lead to a ‘game over state’ returning you to the prior decision to make the one remaining choice, and therefore continuing the storyline along the path you are ‘supposed’ to take. Of course, when people mention that they felt ‘funnelled’ through a linear story, devotees of Bandersnatch are quick to point out that the episode is about “the illusion of choice” as explained in a key scene (should you pick the correct path to watch it). My argument would be that this scene exists for the sole purpose of conveniently explaining away the narrow design choices.
Allow me to summarise in a similar style to the pretentious game critic in the Bandersnatch episode,
“It’s a good attempt, but sells itself far too short. It’s nowhere near as clever as it could have been and relies on its audience being as naive as it thinks they are. Two and a half out of five.”
My views on this Black Mirror episode may have been tainted of course, as I was also playing through the interactive experience Detroit: Become Human during the same time period. Both could be described as ‘interactive movies’ but they exist at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their success in being so.
The most significant difference is that Detroit never forces you to re-make a decision, and you never experience an early end-game scenario. You’re never made to feel like you ‘wasn’t supposed to make that choice‘. The decisions you make are part of your story and you must live with the consequences of them, no matter how dire.
The way you interact with the characters you meet, the decisions you choose to take (or not take), and your responsiveness in stressful situations and action scenes can all impact the paths that are available in your future. And just to prove its complexity, the end of each scene shows you a full flowchart of the possibilities that were available to you and the path you chose. Towards the end of the game when three separate storylines start to converge… it’s pretty mind blowing stuff.
“The scope of Detroit: Become Human is incredibly impressive. It weaves three beautifully crafted, but very different storylines in a way that inspires and fascinates the imagination. It’s intelligence and well realised cast of characters are fully deserving of a full five out of five.”