I should probably start this off by telling you that I have never seen an episode of Black Mirror. I do not watch a lot of TV — apart from trash American television. When I was told that Netflix had released a choose your own narrative adventure game on its platform, aimed at adults, I figured I would give it a go. Three hours later, nearing midnight, I am now in my room writing this while my housemates continue to play though the multiple paths and endings.
If you haven’t heard, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a one-off game that’s currently on the Netflix platform. You take on the role of God, controlling the fate of a young man named Stefan, as he embarks on a journey to create a game. Throughout the game, you are able to make choices that Stefan, most of the time, is forced to take. These choices need to be decided quickly — you only have ten seconds — before the scene moves onto the next part.
As you would imagine, this narrative adventure is quite story based and very cinematic. Much like The Shapeshifting Detective, you are seeing bits of recordings, with a quick moment to make decisions. Sometimes these decisions are followed, while other times Stefan tries to resist.
Stefan, as mentioned previously, is creating a game in the 80s on the ZX Spectrum, in Basic (according to my housemate who was alive in the 80s). Under the intense pressures of trying to deliver their first game, pared with a traumatic past and virtually zero relationship with his dad, Stefan isn’t set up to actually complete this task. The stresses of making and releasing his first big game become too much, and force him down a path of destruction. Along the way, he starts to read and watch information from a previous creator — the person who wrote the book that inspired his game. This individual, played by video game legend Jeff Minter, had gone insane thinking other people are controlling his decisions.
Much like you are controlling the decisions and outcomes of Stefan. Stefan starts to clue into being controlled, fighting back and sighing while listening to the decisions you make. He is making a similar game to the one you are playing — a game based on making decisions and following paths within a large maze. Another game developer within the story, Colin, also knows about the controlling nature of the world and has some very interesting theories on games themselves. He even creates a game called Nohzdyve, which you can play right now on a ZX Spectrum Emulator.
Fully taking on multiple timelines, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is skillfully created. Several times, when I felt I was being brought back to a checkpoint to pick the decision I had previously ignored, I was really being presented with new options that were not there before. The game is full of twists, turns, and timelines that just seem to appear out of thin air. The amount of endings, but also sub-scenes within the game are insane, forcing you to rewind and play again depending on which characters you are interested in. The story itself is just really, really captivating.
If you aren’t interested in the gameplay aspect of this, dare I call it again, game, then you can let the entire thing play through, showing you all of the different endings, and choosing them for you. But that’s really no fun is it? If you’re looking to sit down and make some tough decisions in a slightly horrific, really graphic game, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is even more fun to play with a few people — especially ones that can help you keep track of all the timelines you can go down.
You can play this game as long as you have a Netflix account.