January 9, 2019

'Bandersnatch': How Choosing Your Own Adventure Affects Writers

How are "choose your own adventure" stories changing Hollywood? 

Now that it's not good enough to just be entertained, you have to be part of the entertainment as well. 

It's about time that the "choose your own adventure" genre hit Netflix. The Black Mirror brand was rife with excitement, craziness, and weirdness. This is a true cashing-in on what it promised us since debuting on Netflix a few years ago. The idea of choosing your own adventure was popular in books in the 70s and 80s but has since become a staple of video games. While other formats have been releasing content like this for years, Netflix enters the game in a big way, utilizing one of their most popular shows as the launch pad. 

Black Mirror has always focused on humanity and insanity, so it's nice to see those themes come to fruition in this "choice-based" narrative.  

But choice-based narratives got me thinking...

What is Bandersnatch? 

Bandersnatch is a film based on the anthology series, Black Mirror. It was written by series creator Charlie Brooker and directed by David SladeNetflix released the standalone film on December 28th, 2018. 

A Bandersnatch is also a fictional creature described by Lewis Carrol in his work, Through the Looking Glass

Okay, now that I sort of get the idea behind the title, I need to know how to watch it. 

How Do You Watch Bandersnatch?

You have to log into Netflix to watch Bandersnatch. As you let the video play, you are prompted to pick different choices along the way. These choices affect which scenes you see next, and can change the ending. 

Every time you make a choice in these kinds of entertainment, you alter what happens next. Sure, there are finite solutions to these kinds of narratives, but how do you know if you got the best Bandersnatch experience? 

The Bandersnatch Possible Endings Flowchart

This flowchart, conveniently provided on Reddit, shows you all the possible outcomes of watching and choosing. SPOILERS AHEAD. 

It diagrams every possible Bandersnatch combination that you could experience as you get deeper into the story. 

 

 

This is all a lot of fun, but does it matter outside of being a gimmick? 

How Does Bandersnatch Affect Writers? 

Basically, places like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu greenlight content based on an algorithm. They have to estimate who will click on the title and stay tuned in. Aside from the fear of big data influencing the stories we get, what Bandersnatch does is give Netflix an idea onto the choices people find the most entertaining. That means if you think people like a certain beat more than others, you can tell the other shows in your network to create more scenes that reflect this choice. 

Sure, that all sounds conspiracy theory-ish, but it's not. We are entering an era where we know when people click Play and when they leave what they've been playing. Since streaming places need to keep people attached to their episodes to make money, you're going to have a lot of notes delivered about when people turned episodes off. That may lead to more twists, or romances, or even deaths. 

Shocking things need to happen to keep you engaged. 

Bandersnatch capitalizes on people making choices, but it also does a good job at hiding the conflicts behind writing something this way. 

How Do I Write Something Choice-based? 

I've done some work with these choice-based narratives, and they can be a pain to write. 

Basically, you're always writing toward bridge points. They're parts of the story that happen no matter what. And then once you cross that bridge, you usually have a set of choices. 

This all sounds like an interesting layout for storytelling, but you have to build in a ton of character motivation to make each choice seem plausible. 

Also, each of these choices need to take your characters on a wild ride but still make your way back to a bridge for the next series. 

Oh, and each choice has to feel distinctly different so that no one feels cheated. 

Then there's the problem of whether or not you are the main character or the person you're seeing. Are the choices you make about your feelings, and therefore nullify character motivation? Or are you separating yourself so much from yourself that you're relying on what you think will work for the character even if it goes against your direct beliefs? 

That's a total mind-maze and there's no clear answer. 

As entertainment blends with gaming, these lines get drawn and it's up to creators to continue to define them. 

Summing Up The Effect of Bandersnatch  

So these are all your possible Bandersnatch outcomes. Which are your favorites? Did any of this change the way you'll write things moving forward? Obviously, this represents a huge leap forward for Netflix and choice-based content. It will be interesting to see how they expand on this model in the future. 

As you know, we're always wondering when gaming will overtake other forms of entertainment. If we truly are headed toward a Ready Player One future, this might be the first step. 

What do you all think?      

Your Comment

1 Comment

First to comment! I will say, I loved choose your own adventure games growing up, and I've always wondered how it would translate to video. There's been some interesting experimental and music video attempts, but I haven't seen it done like Bandersnatch did it. It was expected, inventive, and also intentionally lead you back down the same paths in order to discover more meaning in the same scenarios. Absolutely fascinating. I also had the experience of finding the secret ending before some of the major endings, and was so lost on it. Finding these Easter Eggs stuck in my head, and led me to the additional free content one can find. It's just another way to engage with the story, and enjoy it that much more.

I'd love to see more of this on Netflix, and see how stories can use decision making to their advantage.

January 9, 2019 at 3:52PM

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Ryan Burdick
Multimedia Specialist
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