The Bandersnatch episode of Netflix’s sci-fi series Black Mirror recently picked up two Emmys for 2019: Outstanding Television Movie, and Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media within a Scripted Program. The episode itself is notable for featuring a branching storyline that presents viewers with optional paths at certain junctures, leading to multiple possible outcomes.
If we consider this a win for interactive video as an arguable branch of video games, it raises some questions: Are we seeing a resurgence for such a category? And if so, what value could it have for platforms like Netflix? If there’s a continued strong response for such productions, is the audience then better prepped to migrate to other suitable types of interactive content?
Games based on the idea of interactive video – minimal prompts overlaying high-quality video footage – have been present in the industry for decades. The zenith for such a category was the late 80s through to mid-90s. Titles such as Dragon’s Lair and Mad Dog McCree were common sights in the arcade, while the idea of FMV (full-motion video) experiences was often used as a wow-factor demonstration for the optical media toted by cutting-edge home entertainment platforms.
The intervening years saw the concept fade from view, but recent behaviours suggest a potential rebound: As well as Bandersnatch’s reception, video-driven titles such as Her Story by Sam Barlow won much critical praise plus BAFTA attention in 2016 (and generated a spiritual follow-up this year, Telling Lies). PlayStation partnered Flavourworks for the recently released Erica for PS4, and companies such as Wales Interactive are starting to specialise in games built around video (Late Shift, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker). Netflix also already carried interactive storybooks for children and has also adapted a version of Telltale Games’ Minecraft: Story Mode.
Conversely, while this category of game is well-suited to generating headlines, its history is, on average, one of underwhelming performance, propped by novelty factors. Itself an episode about video game development, Bandersnatch arguably has contextual relevance to add weight to its interactive conceit, and the series in general aims to tackle the ambivalent consequences of technology. So, in terms of suitable TV shows, perhaps the killer application has already been realised?
We plan to take a closer look at this topic, and the potential for video-streaming outlets as games platforms, in a report due later in the year.