Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has been an internet phenomenon for the past couple of years. And while some dismiss the show as basically asking every episode, “What if technology was a person?” others love the show’s often bleak look into our all too near future. Black Mirror’s latest episode, Bandersnatch, is no different.
A warning for those who haven’t watched it yet: part of my argument considers what the message of the episode is, and it involves some of the multiple endings. Definite spoilers for Bandersnatch ahead.
What Is Bandersnatch?
The latest episode of Black Mirror involves the concept of free will. What better way for Black Mirror to demonstrate this concept will than with a choose your own adventure story? You follow Stefan and make choices for him as his time as a game developer continues. With decisions ranging from which music to listen to whether to bury your dad in the backyard, Bandersnatch cleverly plays with the fact that your main character knows that the choices you make for him are not his own. And honestly, if it weren’t Black Mirror, I’d say it was a cute idea. But Black Mirror is anything but cute.
The problem enters as people all over the internet are arguing as to whether it counts as a game or not. In my opinion, this all comes down to whether or not you see visual novels as games or not. And that’s what Bandersnatch is. A visual novel.
What Does It Mean?
You can basically make any decisions you wish, but from the few times I “played” it, it seemed to give me an infinite amount of retries until Stefan ends up in prison for killing his dad. And the ending, in which the game Stefan has been working on gets 5 out of 5 stars, really spells out what Bandersnatch is to us, the viewers/participants.
Stefan’s therapist asks him how the game is going and he says that it all fell into place when he realized that he had to give the player less choice, not more. And it echoes what we as the participants have seen. No matter how many “endings” we get, the experience doesn’t seem to end for good until Stefan ends up in prison for killing his dad in any ending. Sure, there are the endings in which Stefan himself dies, but those always seem to give you a retry.
This means that Charlie Brooker knew what he was doing when he let us “play” his version of Bandersnatch. He deceptively gave us less choice than we initially thought we had. We had no free will. Stefan either dies or he completes the game to varying success and kills his dad. Every other ending affords you a retry.
When you play a “real” video game, you can’t really wind up with an ending that the developer didn’t intend, unless you glitch the game. I’m sure there must be an example where this is not the case. This all makes me think that it has a number of ways to experience the episode. It has a story that it’s telling, that we as the viewer have to participate in. I’m leaning towards it is a video game. But it doesn’t matter if it is or not. I had no choice, but to write this.
What do you think? Do you think Bandersnatch is a game? Does it even matter? Let us know in the comments below!
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I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been playing video games. I also do standup and improv. The game that made me realize that video games could be more than just a toy, was Metal Gear Solid 2.