In my previous post I compiled some of my thinking and study notes around the notion of implementing interactive, branching narrative using the smartphone medium. This got me thinking more about the uniqueness of the smartphone app as a creative interactive medium as opposed to book or video. I considered how the Choose Your Own Adventure books I played as a kid were in fact book-games just as games I played on a tv screen or monitor are video-games. More recently I played the 2018 Netflix movie-game called Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
Bandersnatch requires the player to makes decisions for the main character using the TV remote control. An intriguing twist [spoiler alert] within the Bandersnatch narrative, to me at least, is when you, the player, are able to inform the main character about the nature of what’s actually going on. The narrative leaves the confines of the inner story and blurs with the player’s own reality when the main character demands some kind of sign from the invisible entity [you!] they feel is controling their actions.
“I am watching you on Netflix. I make decisions for you.”
“[it’s] a streaming entertainment platform from the early 21st century,”
“it’s like TV, but online. I control it.”Bandersnatch narrative
At this point, should you reach it in the gameplay, the main character’s father enters the room and sees his son in a state of shock. When he tries to explain to his dad about how he is being controlled by someone from the future (the game is set in the 1980’s) using Netflix; his dad invites him to take a trip to the psychiatrist – the main character agrees and the game ends.
What I find most intriguing about this sequence is the subtle blurring of boundaries between the overarching fictional narrative of the main gameplay and the player’s own reality. You, the player, become directly implicated in the narrative and the worlds on either side of the screen bleed into one another when the main characters learns about you.
This is relevant to my work in a few different ways; it demonstrates how the CYOA format is still relevant and popular – Bandersnatch won two Primetime Emmy Awards and a 2019 Broadcasting Press Guild Innovation award for “a ground-breaking form of storytelling” [http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/2019-2/]. Bandersnatch was nominated for, and won, a 2019 Nebula prize (recognition for the best works of science fuction in the USA) for ‘Game Writing’ [https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/19/18624664/nebula-awards-2019-winners-novels-books-novellas-kowal-calculating-stars-science-fiction-fantasy] which is noteworthy for it’s nominated category – game writing.
Furthermore, Bandersnatch demonstrates how interactive narrative content continues to adapt to new platforms – Netflix invested in specific technological innovations for Bandersnatch to enable the branching nature of the narrative and for players to go back, try different choices within gameplay. But, that which interests me most of all is the way this innovative work bridges the domain of video with the real world. Or, at least it hints at this; as set out above in respect to the player revealing themself to the fictional character.
Edward Castronva, writer of Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games (2005), considers that there is a kind of boundary between the real-world and electronic synthetic one which is a kind of protective membrane between the rules of either world. He describes this membrane as the Magic Circle – a term borrowed from Jogan Huizinga, 1938 who used the same term to mean “a state in which the player is bound by a make-believe barrier created by the game” (Huizinga, 1938)
For Castronva, the synthetic world is:
“an organism surrounded by a barrier. Within the barrier, life proceeds according to all kinds of fantasy rules involving space flight,fireballs,invisibility,and so on.Outside the barrier, life proceeds according to the ordinary rules.”Castronva, 2005 p.147
But, Castronva admits, this membrane is not sealed completely. In fact it is quite porous and people are “crossing it all the time in both directions, carrying their behavioral assumptions and attitides with them.” concluding that the result of which is that:
“The valuation of things in cyberspace becomes enmeshed in the valuation of things outside cyberspace”Castronva, 2005 p.147
Coming back to Bandersnatch, a further blurring of the boundary between the synthetic and realworld is the addition of a hidden QR code during the final sequence of one of the possible endings. The code, leads the player, should they scan it with a mobile device, to a website bearing the name of the fictional software company from the game’s narrative on which you can play the 1980’s style computer game that another character within the movie-game had been building within the fictional world of Bandersnatch. The secret website and the Netflix production are from fictional worlds allowing the player to further experience elements of the story across different multiple platforms.
References & Resources
Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga, 1938
Penguin Random House
Nebula Awards 2019
https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/19/18624664/nebula-awards-2019-winners-novels-books-novellas-kowal-calculating-stars-science-fiction-fantasy [accessed oct 2020]
Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games, Edward Castronva, 2005
University of Chigaco Press
Rules of Play : Game Design Fundamentals Salen, Katie & Zimmerman, Eric. 2004
The Magic Game Circle as a tool Ellis Bartholomeus
https://ellisinwonderland.nl/wordpress/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/magic_game_circle.pdf [accessed Oct 2020]