As 2018 was—thankfully—reaching its end, Netflix decided that it was going to give people a farewell gift: A new Black Mirror standalone movie/interactive experience. As a fan of the series and video games, I could not be more excited, and having seen/played through it twice, I am glad this experiment was made and released for me to enjoy.
Let’s make a few things clear: Bandersnatch is not a revolution of how TV shows are made. In my mind, Bandersnatch is a pretty solid merging of TV and video games—specifically narrative-driven, adventure games often called “walking sims”—all working in sync with each other to tell a story themed around the “lie” of free will; going into this expecting a solid movie with meaningful interactions and a new, dynamic method of story-telling will only make your experience middling. Bandersnatch is the story of Stefan Butler, an aspiring game designer who wants to adapt a “choose your own adventure” novel, called Bandersnatch, from notorious writer Jerome F. Davies (aptly portrayed by notorious video game designer Jeff Minter), before starting to lose his grip on reality. The story is not great: Stefan and the surrounding cast are serviceable and the narrative does not go into any weird trajectories, as is the case with most Black Mirror episodes. But treating Bandersnatch as a traditional Black Mirror episode may be fair, but it will only lead to a middling reaction; there are no real technology considerations or philosophical questions asked, it’s just a dude trying to make a video game losing his mind.
Instead, let’s look at it as an FMV game: Decisions do not direct the story or its focus, they are merely different colors for the same picture; choosing a path does not lead the player down a separate street, it just takes a detour to the same end point. Furthermore, let’s add the “free will is a lie” theme with Brooker’s ability to create a “mindfuck” experience; looking at Bandersnatch in this perspective yields a far more enjoyable experience. Do not go into this expecting to make choices that have tangible consequences (as you may expect), rather go into this expecting to make choices that challenge and alter your moment to moment experience (as with most video games), make the weird choice just to see what happens, and for the video game-esque fourth-wall breaking moments. It’s not a perfect experience in this perspective, but it is an enjoyable one that holds a lot of enjoyment and entertainment…at least for the first time. Subsequent viewings are far less enjoyable and compelling, and Bandersnatch is not going to be regarded as one of the best of the series, but it is a fresh and risky proposition from the show, one that does not fully deliver on its premise, but does deliver some new experiences for the show.