Enlarge / That's Netflix's Emmy award-winning original film, Bandersnatch, thank you very much.Netflix

By being eligible for, and winning, this year's Emmy for Outstanding TV Movie and Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within a Scripted Program, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch effectively exists at a crossroads between television and interactive fiction. The Netflix-produced narrative adventure merges choice-based interaction with the high-production value of prestige TV to create something that resists easy definition, not least in established awarding bodies.

This isn't a first for the format, though its last wave was dormant for nearly two decades (and nowhere near the Emmy threshold). TV shows in the '80s tried involving viewers with toys as "interactive" add-ons. The CD-ROM era invited TV-grade drama to computers and game consoles.

In recent years, several smaller creators have resurrected the form, blurring the lines between straight live-action drama and video game. This August, two such works were released—Flavourworks' Erica and Sam Barlow's Telling Lies—to tell stories that go far beyond FMV (full motion video) games of the 90s and stretch the simple 'either-or' branching nature of Bandersnatch.

"Not taking turns with the game designer"

  • Holly Earl stars as the character Erica in the FMV game of the same name.
  • A fingerprint cursor appears when players can make choices or affect objects in the real world. Flavourworks
  • Decisions, decisions.
  • Press down and move a joystick to open this desk.
  • Erica uses video in clever ways to animate real-world objects as you manipulate them in game-like fashion.
  • Players must piece together Erica's mystery, Flavourworks
  • Title screen.

“People had been trying to make film and games work together for decades, and it always felt like it didn't serve either medium very well,” Jack Attridge, Creative Director and co-founder of FMV game studio Flavourworks, tells Ars. “The production value and quality of storytelling wasn't there for it to be a good film, and the fidelity of interaction wasn't there in video for it to be a good game.”

With a background in filmmaking, Attridge founded Flavourworks to reconcile these disciplines. Rather than taking the Black Mirror tact of infusing rudimentary choices into an already polished tele-drama, Flavourworks developed a game through filmmaking, creating a symbiosis between the two forms. Erica, their first release, is a first-of-its-kind attempt at this seamless blend of film and gaming.

“For us, it was important that we made a game first that happened to be filmed,” Attridge says. “The big thing with that was, would we make the same design decisions if we weren't filming it? And the answer was yes.” In this interactive drama, the audience is neither watching nor playing, but participating, from directly telling the titular Erica what to do, to sometimes controlling the camera in the scene and exploring the environment. The pacing was key, Attridge says, to balance the lean-back nature of movie-watching with the lean-forward nature of gameplay.

“We had this important rhythm we wanted to create of making sure the player was interacting every 15 to 20 seconds,” Attridge says. “Then rather than having these token interactions, rather than having this character that can just say whatever they want, and go on this big adventure, they're taking the player along for the ride, and then if the player doesn't feel like they want to speak or act, then the character doesn't have to speak or act. This is to try and allow it to feel like they're not taking turns with the game designer at playing the character.”

The timing of the meet-cute

  • Behind the scenes shot of Barlow working out some conspiracy theories, probably.
  • This faux computer desktop is your interface for searching through the game's clips. The "Solitaire" is pretty good…
  • Who is he talking to? You'll have to find out for yourself.
  • Don't we all.
  • You can scrub through the videos at will, but only slowly.
  • Oh, did I say something funny?

Sam Barlow's Telling Lies, published through Annapurna Interactive, takes a different approach. Instead of building on the FMV framework of being a live-action choose-your-own-adventure, Barlow's interest is a study of a modern trend: how taking in media piece-meal through YouTube and social media has altered the way we understand stories.

“If you see the meet-cute first, and then you see the relationship going horribly wrong, there's an emotional journey there," Barlow tells Ars. "But if you see the relationship going horribly wrong, and then see the meet-cute, now there's some dramatic irony there because you have already foreshadowed where this is going… this additional thing of encouraging people to skip around in videos, to watch them forwards and backwards, was another way to kind of screw around with that experience of what it means to actually sit and watch video.”

Functionally a police procedural, there's very little linearity in Telling Lies. Instead, participants are given the dual role of investigator and editor. A makeshift desktop interface teases out the story's mystery, and it allows players to view and review assorted video clips to not only come up with their own timeline, but also their own pace. Everyone's version of the twists and turns happens slightly differently, adding a meta-layer where different players may then discuss and compare their experieRead More – Source


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