For the past three hours, I’ve been clicking on my computer screen — but this hasn’t been my average internet wormhole. Instead of hitting the spacebar to glide through Twitter and Reddit, I’m using my trackpad to guide the (sometimes questionable) life decisions of Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), an aspiring game designer in London in 1984. Stefan may be the protagonist of the Black Mirror movie Bandersnatch, but we’re the ones in charge (kind of).
Bandersnatch, which launched December 28 on Netflix, is quite simply unlike any other viewing experience on the streaming service. With its interactive component, Bandersnatch straddles the line between “game” and “movie” (think the opposite of Netflix and Chill – more like, Netflix and Play). Though the gameplay is unusual for now, I can’t help thinking: So this is what the future looks like. This is the day we met the new normal. And in that case, we might as well get used to watching (or playing?) works of entertainment like Bandersnatch.
So, how do we do we play along?
It’s surprisingly intuitive. After a quick tutorial at the movie’s start, the narrative begins to unfold. Stefan's first choice is a simple one. But the choice also serves to underline the movie’s Sliding Doors-esque point: We simply can’t know how the effects of our choices will reverberate throughout our lives.
According to this incredibly detailed flowchart created by reddit user alpine-, even the movie's more innocuous decisions, like whether Stefan should listen to Thompson Twins or Now2 on his way to the Tuckersoft Office, affects his relationship with the uber-successful game designer Colin (Will Poulter).
Does it take forever to load?
Gameplay — if that's what we should call it — is remarkably seamless. After making a selection, the Netflix movie immediately transitions into that reality without any buffering or commercial breaks. This is thanks to a new technology, Netflix is now able to pre-cache (or pre-download) both story paths before the decision bar appears, something older versions would've been unable to do.
Are there do-overs?
Making decisions in the real world can be paralysing. In Bandersnatch, however, it's a blast. Of course, the key difference between life and the game (aside from the fact that one is fictional) is that there is room for do-overs in Bandersnatch. Colin is convinced of the fact of multiple realities, and in Bandersnatch, we get to experience them all.
However, do-overs only come when we're directed back to them. You can't rewind to a decision point. Instead, when you arrive at a natural ending, the movie will give you the option of going to credits or rewinding to a pivotal moment to try it all again.
How many endings are there?
Officially, Bandersnatch culminates in five endings, but that's not entirely accurate. The game ends in some places, and then directs you to go back to a pivotal decision-making moment to direct Stefan on a different route. Each time around, the story's texture will be changed slightly based on your decisions. The possibilities are near endless. Do the math, and it comes out to about a trillion permutations (really).
In an interview with the New York Times, creator Charlie Brooker threw his hands up when trying to identify the endings. “I don’t know how many endings there are,” Brooker said. “We don’t know what we’ve created here.” A Netflix spokesperson later clarified his answer ("“there are five main endings with multiple variants of each") but we're going with Brooker on this one.
Are any of them happy endings?
No. “Whatever path you take, there’s darkness ahead,” warned director David Slade in an interview with the New York Times. Ironically, the creators of Black Mirror used cutting edge technology to create a movie about the perils and darkness inherent in technology.
Where can I watch it?
Here's the rub. According to the New York Times, Bandersnatch is available to watch on TVs, game consoles, web browsers, and smartphones running the latest version of the Netflix app. For now, Bandersnatch cannot be viewed on Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV for technical reasons.
How long does it take to watch?
Ah, perhaps the hardest question to answer. The quickest run-through is 40 minutes, though the average viewing time is 90 minutes. But it's really up to you.
Can I expect more interactive shows from Netflix?
Odds are, yes. In fact, the technology has been used on the site since June 2017, when the kids' show Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale premiered (though that show only had two endings). "We felt that if it didn't succeed in the kids' space, it wouldn't succeed with grownups," head of product Todd Yellin told Wired. "Kids don't know how something's supposed to be, they just know how it is." And it worked: "Not only do they want to get involved with characters, but they want to dive in and be with the characters." Yellin said.
Ultimately, the future of interactive media on Netflix comes down to audience response to Bandersnatch. So far, the response has been viral. It's easy to understand why. In the age of streaming, viewing experiences are so personal — two people can be watching different shows in the same room. Interactive media just personalises an already individual experience.
We can't predict the future of interactive shows and movies on Netflix, but we do know one thing: Brooker guaranteed to the Times that future episodes of Black Mirror (like the upcoming season 5) will not be interactive. Creating Bandersnatch took 18 months and a revolutionary new mapping software. For now, he'll stick with the linear narratives.