Is the way forward for TV & movie interactive?
After Bandersnatch, an interactive episode of Netflix's Black Mirror series that allowed viewers to choose multiple endings to the story, the film and television industries lived with gossip about interactive narration. The 2018 thriller sparked a wave of thought about how it would drastically change storytelling, and many predicted the rise of an entirely new category of entertainment. But two years later we don't have much evidence of this.
Pre-Covid, interactive experiences in the real world flourished. People flocked to escape rooms and interactive theater shows and find ways to immerse themselves in stories. And the games industry has dominated screens for decades, offering ever more complex narratives and experiences. Regardless of the medium, people are clearly fascinated by stories that encourage participation. Why did the anticipated onslaught of interactive TV shows and movies not come?
Writing these narratives is incredibly complex at first. While a novelist, screenwriter, or filmmaker may only need to have a few key storylines in mind, an interactive experience requires tracking various branching narratives and their intricate relationship to one another. Speaking about the experience creating Bandersnatch at a festival at the BFI in 2019, Charlie Brooker stated, “I used Twine, an interactive fiction coding, to write it, and it was a bit of a lonely process that took a few weeks I just made sense to myself. In a way, it would grow sideways, you'd add something and suddenly it's like you've built a new wing of your home that you then need to furnish and upholster. "
Above and Above: Still images from Stornaway.io promotional videos, created to demonstrate how the software's interactivity works