Black Mirror’s latest episode, ‘Bandersnatch’, lets you control the story through multiple choice. Is this the start of an evolution in the way we watch TV?
Note: this article is entirely spoiler-free – let’s keep the comments the same!
For those not familiar with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, it’s a series of ‘what if?’ stories that generally explore the dark side of both present and future technology. Think a modern Twilight Zone with smartphones and social media.
The series is known for its innovative ideas and sinister twists, but the latest episode takes things a step further by putting you in control of the experience, with the decisions you make directly affecting the way the story plays out. The version I watched isn’t necessarily the one you did.
Filmed in my home town of Croydon, the episode focuses on a software developer adapting a mutiple-choice novel into a video game in 1984 (yes, the year it’s set is not so subtle!).
I won’t go into the story any further, as that isn’t what this Which? Conversation is about. What struck me about Bandersnatch is how it demands and keeps your attention.
I’ve written about ‘dead time‘ before – the pull of your smartphone when you feel like you’ve got nothing to do or there’s a ‘lull’ in normality. I’ve done it myself while watching TV – it can be easy to drift.
But Bandersnatch’s format prevents that. You’re not just a passenger to the episode, you’re in control of it. Even if you’re not majorly keen on the story (and opinion has been divided), the format itself offers a level of intrigue that prevents dead time and keeps you engaged.
In a modern world of distractions and dwindling attention spans, is this the path TV will choose to go down in the future?
The counter argument of course is that any TV show worth its salt will hold your attention, and not rely on any gimmicks to keep you there. But viewing habits are changing and technology advancing – might VR even insert us into a story physically in the future? Maybe that’ll be another episode for the show to tackle.
Home entertainment has moved on considerably in the last 20 or so years. VHS tapes became DVDs which turned into blu-rays then moved into streaming.
For more traditional live broadcasts, Sky+’s hard drive recording and rewinding facilities revolutionised the way we watch TV, only to be challenged by subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
With so much competiton for our attention, it’s likely we’ll see more interactive TV which stand out from the crowd. 3D sport may have failed to capture the imagination, but VR is on the rise – the BBC offered this year’s World Cup as a VR experience.
Have you seen Bandersnatch? If so, how did you feel about the experience? Did you feel it added to the entertainment? And what’s the future of TV and home entertainment? I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts and ideas.