As a group who is always intrigued when escape rooms or immersive events elevate their experience with multiple endings or win conditions, Bandersnatch had peaked our interest from day 1.
This Black Mirror one-off episode is structured as an interactive viewing experience. Users make choices which then guide and transform the story. The narrative focuses around Stefan, an aspiring video game programmer working to develop a game formatted like his favorite choose-your-own-adventure novel. While much of Stefan’s stress comes from the pressure to create a complex game on a tight deadline, he also grapples with issues around his relationship with his parents as well as his struggles with his own mental health.
The viewing experience starts off with lighter, more seemingly menial choices including decisions like which cereal to eat. As you make your decision, the video and characters continue without skipping a beat. The level of seamlessness was impressive – no loading time or lagging moments. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the episode to grow darker and present deeper and more twisted choices with equally as intense outcomes.
It also doesn’t take long for Bandersnatch to flip the script on the viewer themselves, driving home the notion that free will is all just an illusion. Although there are choices that dictate the plot, these choices are limited. If we wait too long to decide, they are decided for us. And most thematically, sometimes our choices are deemed to be the wrong. No matter how many times the selection to accept the job offer is made, the story branches back and we are re-routed to make the choice to refuse it. Following that decision, regardless of how lightly one tries to tread, the inevitable always seems to return, steering the plot towards a similar fate for Stefan.
In addition to the meta-aspect of it all, Bandersnatch is filled with tons of Easter eggs including callbacks to other Black Mirror episodes, references to beasts in works by Lewis Carroll, and coats it all with a healthy dose of 80’s nostalgia. The overall themes focus around common Black Mirror commentaries including lack of privacy, our inevitable destruction driven by technology, and even the ways in which we contribute to our own downfall.
While there are tons of iterations to run through, as time goes on, each feels a bit limited, like a small maze with several dead-ends. Perhaps this lack of free will we, as viewers have over the game is the whole point entirely, but in terms of interactive experience, I found myself waiting for some sort of flip or “a-ha!” moment. However, in the end, Bandersnatch didn’t go to any unexpected places.
While not ground-breaking, Bandersnatch was a good introduction into the types of interactive viewing experiences that will inevitably improve over time. We’re excited to see how other ventures tackle this concept and how even the escape room industry will continue to stretch towards these elements of re-playability. It’s different and it’s interesting and it’s worth giving it a go.