Would you bring back a dead loved one through artificial intelligence even though they’d never really be the same? Would you go to an amusement park for the purpose of torturing criminals convicted of heinous crimes? Would you have sex with a pig in order to save the beloved princess of your country? When we watched characters in Netflix’s Black Mirror face these decisions, wrapped up in its bonkers projections of our future, many of us prayed to the stars we wouldn’t be around for a future in which we’d have to make choices like that.
But now, Netflix has decided to put us to the test, seeing what path we would take in one of these technologically-enhanced dystopia/utopias.
Seven years after the shocking pilot of Black Mirror first aired on Britain’s Channel 4, Bloomberg has informed us that an installment of the 5th season of the critically-acclaimed anthology series would be an interactive episode. It’s set to arrive later this month. Certainly, the streamer couldn’t have picked a better way to herald the potential future of entertainment. But how will an interactive episode of Black Mirror actually work? What kind of story will it be and, more importantly, what kind of decisions will we have to make?
No Child’s Play
This won’t be Netflix’s first attempt at making an interactive story. That honor goes to last year’s Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale which had Shrek’s feline sidekick (Eric Bauza) enlist the viewer’s help to—you guessed it—escape a magical book.
Your first choice (appearing via a prompt on screen) is a tough one: will Puss fight a god, or a tree? It’s arbitrary, but at the very least it explains the gimmick clearly. Sadly, though, things never get more complicated. With each selected story feeling like a standalone vignette, viewers don’t have an actual say in shaping the plot.
It’s safe to say that the Black Mirror episode won’t be like Puss in Book, and not only because that “epic tale” was intended for children. Puss in Book’s decision-making structure harkens back to some of the most iconic, though rudimentary, interactive films. In 1961 for example, people who got tickets to see William Castle’s classic horror film Mr. Sardonicus were given glow-in-the-dark signs upon entering the cinema. They could use these to participate in the “Punishment Poll,” a popular vote that would decide whether the protagonist would live to see the end of his own film.
In these examples, the interactive stories involve simple decisions that put viewers above the story where they can feel like they have some control over the action. But while this may be fun for a little while, it gets boring quickly. Instead of handing their audiences the pen, the most popular interactive stories have attempted to incorporate viewers into the narrative, where their decisions actually matter.