Last night I watched (played?) Bandersnatch, the new interactive Black Mirror episode. Sigh…
Ok, I’ll lay my cards on the table. I hate interactive fiction. I hate branching narratives that depend on your decisions. I think they are awful ways to tell stories. I see absolutely no value in having various endings, and the choices feel meaningless to me because what happens next is arbitrary. If you feel differently about this, then you’ll probably disagree with me about Bandersnatch.
The delivery is just tedious, to be honest. Once I’ve jumped back and forth a couple of times, I just become detached from the plot and characters, because they are no plot or characters in particular, and watching the same scenes various times waiting for the choice to come (or fast-forwarding) is a complete turnoff. I find it impossible to feel invested anymore. This is only made worse by the fact that you only have a few seconds to make a decision. You don’t have time to think and make your decision at least half-meaningful.
In a way, it’s stating the obvious: yes, we know the story could have turned out differently. There’s no need to actually tell it differently. Again, what happens is arbitrary, so branching is not an answer to the question “What would’ve happened if…?”, but rather, “Here’s another take, just because.”.
It’s also kind of a display of skills. “Look, I can make all these branching narratives work!”. Only they seldom can. It often feels as though they didn’t realize at first that the number of outcomes grows exponentially, and in the end they inevitably become fatigued with the whole thing and they just cram in anything that only just works so that they can conclude or cut off all pathways somewhat consistently. E.g., in Bandersnatch, if you decide to kill Colin instead of letting him live, you’re rewarded with exactly the same ending, only the news anchor says “the guy killed his father and Colin” instead of “the guy killed his father”, and the boss says something slightly different. Thanks for wasting my time, writers! And again, what happens is arbitrary, so there’s little merit to it.
They did dabble in a couple of ideas that I think had potential, but they didn’t really make anything out of them (1: The characters become somewhat aware of the fact that you’ve jumped back in time. 2: The protagonist realizes he is being controlled by an external force. But to make these work, I think it would’ve been better if they eventually ditched the “choose your own adventure” thing and somehow make a traditional episode about these quirks).
I hope this kind of thing doesn’t catch on. I love Black Mirror, but this was awful.
No stars out of five!