Netflix went ahead and introduced the world to the new media of one-off interactive television episodes. The popular streaming series Black Mirror released an episode in 2018 in which the viewer can choose their fate. Black Mirror, known for its futuristic, eerily accurate technology-based episodes, takes this one a step further.
Bandersnatch is an interactive Netflix film. Based in 1984, a young video programmer develops a dark fantasy game. As the viewer makes decisions for him, he begins to question the reality of his situation. The way in which this episode is done is fantastic. That is all I am willing to give you because I urge you to experience it for yourself.
I would consider this to be an object of new media because it challenges your standard concept of the film. Where before you could not interact with film and television now you can decide what path you want to take within the episode. There is a lack of originality within the umbrella of the entertainment production industry and I believe that this is the first leap toward interactive film and television.
Parker and Jordan’s Essential Characteristics
Paker and Jordan developed a list of five characteristics that defines new media as a medium different than others. Defining and Locating Digital Rhetoric by Doug Eyman mentions, “this list focuses on
observable features of new media rather than principles” (Eyman pg. 54). I believe that these five elements will help define interactive streaming films as an object of new media.
Integration is “the combining of artistic forms and technology into a hybrid form of expression” (Parker & Jordan pg. 54). Bandersnatch combines both the art form of film and the interactive technology of a video game. The acting, plot, and directing make the experience of this movie. This made it extremely realistic and perfectly executed for what it needed to do it. The interactivity is what makes it feel like a video game. As the viewer, you get to choose what path the main character (Stefan) takes in his journey. Some lead to other choices down the line and others lead to dead ends. Making it an almost addicting experience to get to the “end”.
Interactivity is “the ability of the user to manipulate and affect her experience of media directly and to communicate with others through media” (Parker & Jordan pg. 54). Netflix gives the users the ability to decide what actions and choices the main character (Stefan) makes. Throughout the film, two boxes appear, and with the TV remote you choose the option you want. Thus, giving the viewer the opportunity to decide the fate of the characters creates this interactive space that is very new for TV and film.
Hypermedia is “the linking of separate media elements to one another that creates a trail of personal association” (Parker & Jordan pg. 54). There is a specific plot choice in Bandersnatch that asks the viewer to choose a symbol. One of those symbols is the Netflix logo. Although this film was produced by Netflix it showed that is a possibility for ad placement within these interactive shows. Instead of commercial ads, ads would use a more product placement approach to reach audiences.
Immersion is “the experience of entering into the simulation or suggestion of a three-dimensional environment” (Parker & Jordan pg. 54). The plot of Bandersnatch actually mimics and reacts to the choices you make throughout watching. The story follows a video game developer that makes a game based on user interactivity and making choices. Much like what the viewer is doing throughout the film and providing that simulation feeling. As choices are made by the character the other characters react and sometimes even address the watcher. In these instances, the characters will ridicule or address that the choices had been made before or even question the decisions being made.
Narrativity is “aesthetic and formal strategies that derive from the above concepts, which result in nonlinear story forms and media presentation” (Parker & Jordan pg. 54). It is really impressive how Netflix and the creators of Black Mirror went about this episode. It was on theme and followed the aesthetic of the other Black Mirror episodes. The difference was the interactivity of getting to choose how the episode flows which was super engaging.
This form of new media allows other series or franchises to mimic or consider this idea of interactive films or television shows. Allowing viewers to have a say in the plot is an innovation in this industry of entertainment. It’s new, interesting, and exciting! With dwindling originality in Hollywood, I feel this new media will evolve into a bigger genre down the line.