Most episodes of Netflix's Black Mirror leave viewers a little shaken up — but the anthology show's most recent chapter is taking things to the next level. "Bandersnatch," a new choose-your-own-adventure installment of the series, has left viewers with plenty of questions. For instance, is Black Mirror's Bandersnatch a real video game?
In the episode "Bandersnatch," which dropped on Netflix on Dec. 28, a 21-year-old video game designer named Stefan decides to adapt a book called Bandersnatch into a video game. According to The Guardian, the video game in the episode is "very loosely based on a real-life unreleased game also called Bandersnatch," which is detailed in the BBC documentary Commercial Breaks. According to the documentary's description on YouTube, a team of designers at a company called Imagine Software were working on a video game called "Bandersnatch" in the mid-1980s. After about 18 months of work, Imagine was forced to shut down, so the game was never released. As reported by Radio Times, Black Mirror's version of "Bandersnatch" is not the same as the original video game. However, Black Mirror writers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones took inspiration from the original game and its 1980s-style advertising when creating the fictional "Bandersnatch" game.
Additional inspiration for "Bandersnatch" may have also come from Lewis Carroll. Carroll created the fictional character the Bandersnatch, who first appeared in his poem “Jabberwocky” and later in several other Carroll works, including Alice in Wonderland. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Bandersnatch as a "fierce mythical creature immune to bribery and capable of moving very fast." Perhaps the Bandersnatch's strong agency over itself is meant to provide a contrast to Stefan's lack thereof.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the Bandersnatch has come up in Black Mirror. According to The Wrap, the Season 3 episode “Playtest" shows a magazine cover with the name of Bandersnatch the video game on it.
Even though Bandersnatch is not exactly a video game, viewers do sort of have the chance to play it. As mentioned above, Black Mirror's "Bandersnatch" is an interactive film. In the opening moments of the movie, a narrator tells viewers that they will be presented with choices at the bottom of the screen during various moments during the viewing.
And viewers are given so many options. David Sims of The Atlantic wrote that he played around with numerous choices for Stefan, often going back in the storyline to try out another choice or another ending. However when he finally exited Bandersnatch and went to Netflix's homepage, he discovered a new layer of genius in the story:
Next to “Bandersnatch” was a typical red progress bar, which usually indicates how many minutes you are into any given TV episode or movie. In the case of “Bandersnatch,” the bar was barely full; I’d just completed the story, but there are plenty of other completions to find.
And as Stuart Heritage of The Guardian explained, the viewer's control over Stefan starts to get to Stefan, driving him into a madness similar to Jerome F. Davies, the author of the fictional book Bandersnatch. Heritage wrote:
During the film, Stefan doesn’t just start to question his free will when he feels that someone else (you) is making his decisions for him, but he ultimately rubs up against the constraints of the binary choices that he’s presented with.
The interactive features of "Bandersnatch" set the film apart, and it will be interesting to see if Netflix produces more choose-your-own-adventure movies in the future.
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