Interactive experiences are nothing new if you’re an arcade goer from the 80s with Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair being the first of its kind, being a full animated movie that had you make fast-paced decisions through quick time events. This trend has been in the gaming sphere for quite a while now - from Night Trap in the 90s, to the recent Life Is Strange. And now, it has entered the mainstream through Netflix.
At this point, anything that goes onto Netflix becomes a trend almost immediately. From a reboot no one knew they wanted like Queer Eye, or an obscure comic book adaptation like The Umbrella Academy, Netflix has become a proving ground for new franchises to flourish. One of the biggest cultural milestones was the advent of Black Mirror being on Netflix, and its Twilight Zone-esque approach to tackling the philosophical problems we have in the modern age.
Black Mirror has always prefaced their episodes with a hypothetical concept that could or couldn’t be real in the near future. What if you could erase people from your life? What if you could upload the consciousness of your coworkers into a Star Trek-like virtual reality? When they announced the latest season of Black Mirror, they prefaced their main attraction, Bandersnatch, with the question: what if all your decisions weren’t yours to make? And to hone in on that premise, they decided to make it a complete interactive movie.
Take Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, for instance. To make it even more unnecessarily meta, the movie had you watch the life events of a game programmer named Stefan, who himself is making a game that required the gamer to make choices similar to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The theme of it all was just very heavy-handed, and by the end, the choices didn’t actually matter. There are some drastic joke endings for the laughs, but most of the time, the movie rewinds back to crucial points for you to relive both consequences of a decision. It’s pandering and ultimately takes away the decisions from you, which if that is the point of the movie, then they’ve really achieved that goal.
With the massive success of Bandersnatch, Netflix is now capitalising it with a new show called You VS. Wild, which stars everyone’s favourite survivalist, Bear Grylls. And while the interactive movie barrel isn’t too deep, this is scraping it for sure.
So why is the Bear Grylls’ one bad? Besides the fact that it’s an interactive movie/show/ whatever, l it’s actually the fact he is a reality TV star which is the main appeal of his original show, Man VS. Wild. He’s a real guy, taking on real parts of nature. Him coming out and surviving at the end is what makes it awesome. But with this interactive movie, everything is pre-planned. He’s not going to lose an appendage because of a decision YOU made, he’s just going to stand back up and tell you to try again. It’s not really “versus the wild” if everything is staged.
Maybe watching the show with a ton of friends over will be fun- bantering and arguing over the decisions. But all in all, the appeal of these kinds of movies are shallow at best. Knowing Netflix, it’s not going to stop here. They’re going to milk it as much as they can. Until the fad goes away, I think it’s best to just stick to video games.