Black Mirror: Bandersnatch & Detroit: Become Human – Why interactive story telling sucks

I can’t help it but to compare the new episode/Christmas edition special/movie of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch to Detroit: Become Human. They are of different platform but very similar. Both are based on making decision and different path of the story will play out.

There are a bunch of good things about both of them. I enjoyed both of them very much. Detroit was great for going back and fort trying to get all the different outcome. While Black Mirror *spoiler alert* surprised me with the interactivity with the character, it was a surreal experience.

But, both titles left me confused at the end. To simply put it in words, not all of the alternative endings make sense and some even contradictory to what the characters are there for.

I think there’ll be lot’s of spoilers going forwards, so this is going to be the big warning.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Let’s start with Conor, the character in Become Human. He’s a detective android and although his “destiny” (air quoted because it’s super limited, I’ll explain later) options are simple, to be or not to be a deviant, he didn’t have much choice but to follow order and hunt all the deviants down. He had choices for moral decisions, like if he would kill the androids or let them go etc. But those doesn’t decide what he is, but merely a game mechanic, not a story telling one. Because in the end, you can choose to let every deviants go and still turn into a psycho android killer in the end.

One of the Conor’s ending is that CyberLife planned this whole chaos, making them the ultimate evil. It sounds like a great arch, but none of the other endings or story progression actually support this. It’s a totally unrelated destiny. Even when Conor succeeded in eliminating the deviants, CyberLife simply thanks him and didn’t mention anything about their other bloody plan to push him into leading the deviants. Because I’d love to see an option to be a pretend deviant from the beginning, but there’s no such option.

And that leads me to Bandersnatch. One of the ending is that Stefan was in a studio but he didn’t know it, but everyone knows about it except him. The other kinda a branch from that is that he is a subject of an experiment. The movie make it very vague that it might all be just a dream. But it was also an ending nevertheless. And the same problem with Detroit that the lack of singular truth makes the story telling inconsistent and dodgy.

Arguably, the creators meant to have a “canon” out of all those story branches. The “real” ending if you may. And that strikes me as lazy? I think. It can not be an interactive story telling, or players decide the actions if the destiny is so fixed and limited. In all of the characters in both titles, everyone have a set limit of endings. The decision you make throughout the story/game will lead you to one of these said endings. Now the limitation is that you could arguably do everything in random and you end up in one of the ending and it won’t make any sense.

The idea of a 100% accurate prediction came out again last night while I was debating nihilism with some friends. “Well, it’s not a prediction if it’s going to be 100% accurate” said one of them, which was funny. Anyway, I argued that if we have all the variables of the universe, we can “predict” everything in the future. “prophesy” maybe?. So, the idea of a making decisions in games like Detroit or Bandersnatch is that it’s not a decision making at all. It’s a set of predestinated choices. In real life, we have a much wider freedom of decision. We can walk off a cliff, or say some million different other things and see what the universe respond. And this makes me think of The Sims. It’s more interactive than Detroit or Bandersnatch. There’s no set “endings” per se, there’s no ending at all other than death. But what you do will influence the variables in the world. Although limited, it’s a world of freedom. I guess most sandbox games like Minecraft or Kerbal Space Program would fall into this category.

Ultimately if it’s about telling a story, there has to be a story, the truth. The aesthetic of how the story is delivered would be of much more importance than having the audience choosing their own ending. After all, I walk into a cinema to listen to a story not making one, else I’ll just walk into a bar.

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