As I write this, I’m sprawled across my sofa with a bag of leftover holiday snacks and about 15 Chrome Tabs open with various articles about Netflix’s (and Black Mirror’s) latest release called “BlackMirror: Bandersnatch”. I just finished the episode (Movie? Short Film? Unclear.) and my brain physically hurts.
To oversimplify, its an interactive choose-your-own-adventure produced by the Netflix/Black Mirror team about a young boy who is developing a decision tree based video game inspired by the book “Bandersnatch”. Viewers are given 10 seconds to respond to a handful of options throughout the experience that will dictate what happens next. You essentially become not just the audience but a main character in the plot.
Are You Still Watching?
Netflix has flipped their classic mindless binge-watch model of ‘Are You Still Watching’ to one that is very likely is going to bring them millions in advertising dollars — and a massive amount of new subscribers.
The idea that us as viewers, who once could passively watch television or movies while practicing extreme multi-tasking, want to sit down with extreme focus and excitement is the definition of a game changer.
They found the one thing that can keep an audience focused — being the star of the show.
The Perfect User Testing Audience
In an early part of the episode, you are asked to decide what cereal the main character eats for breakfast. Seems simple enough — until you realize later on that the cereal you chose is now showing up later in the episode. It’s a noticeable nod to advertising we see all the time in movies and television but this time it’s my fault that its there.
Imagine you are marketing luxury vehicles. Your user testing could present viewers of the latest Bond movie with an option for which vehicle our good friend James is going to take that day — the Lamborghini or the Audi.
Suddenly you are gathering dark data from your customers about things we think don’t matter. I’m not in the market to buy a luxury car but do I want to see James Bond ride around in a Lambo? Hell yeah. Will I be bothered you’re asking me if it feels like its part of the story? Absolutely not.
The opportunities here are endless and I for one am excited to start seeing how they’ll use this new technology to influence advertising.
“They found the one thing that can keep an audience focused — being the star of the show.”
A Web of Complexity
The concept of a decision tree in its simplest form is easy to understand, but what this particular episode has done has used the topic of mental health and the appearance of a simple choice between two options to start to make you question every single decision. Answers you made start to show up later on in other timelines and scenes and suddenly it feels like every answer is the wrong one (but in the most fun way imaginable).
From an interactivity standpoint, it’s a very straightforward interface. A single left or right arrow click will choose your fate. However, when you start to think of the versioning of footage, and how your answer two questions ago could have changed this part, etc. It really starts to mess with you.
The execution of a digital CYA (choose-your-own-adventure) was done flawlessly here but I can easily see this being attempted by others too quickly and too much to simple of a format where it could lose its thrill.
This is my formal love letter and notice of encouragement for anyone reading this to go and watch “Bandersnatch”. It’s an experience unlike one we’ve had since children reading the Goosebumps series and one I’m not sure I’ll forget.
Thanks to Netflix, we are now the directors of our own movies and those guys, well — they just changed the television and movie industry forever (again).