At the end of a long day, there’s nothing like coming home, sitting down, and letting your brain drift along with the latest boxset. But last year, Netflix asked us to do a bit of extra work with its release of Bandersnatch, a choose your own adventure-style story that let the watcher decide which narrative path to follow. The show received a flurry of excited press hailing it as the TV of tomorrow – even though Netflix had already tested it out on several children’s shows – and is perhaps one of the first examples of interactive storytelling appearing on a mainstream platform.
Of course interactive stories on film aren’t new. An early version appeared in the late 1960s during the Montreal Expo, when cinema-goers were asked to press a red or green button to choose the next scene of the movie. Speaking more broadly, interactive narratives are also prevalent in the world of video games, and have appeared extensively in print thanks to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Brands – think Honda’s The Other Side – have also experimented with the possibilities of branching narratives, although with varying degrees of success.
“We knew the technology would eventually evolve into a really great storytelling platform,” says Shannon Gilligan, CEO and publisher at ChooseCo, which was set up in 2006 to relaunch and continue the Choose Your Own Adventure books. As well as publishing new titles, Gilligan has overseen the release of new audio versions of the books, is rumoured to be working on a film with 20th Century Fox, and is investigating the possibilities for augmented and virtual reality. “You can now deliver a pretty quick interactive film experience, in terms of telling a story, and what’s hobbled it in the past have been the delays between making a choice and having the material show up on your screen.”
But while technology might be catching up, Gilligan emphasises that doesn’t mean storytelling has become any easier. It’s tempting to think that Netflix has thrown open the doors for hordes of new interactive tales, but she says creators should remember that branching narratives are difficult to get right.