Bandersnatch, Hypertext, and the State of Interactive Stories in 2019
Interest in non-linear storytelling is rekindling. Two months ago, the Black Mirror studio released a movie called Bandersnatch on Netflix. The film is interactive, enabling its audience to choose from a menu of two options at the end of each scene. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the film is that choices aren’t merely about what should happen next, but also about the mood, style, and even the meaning of the story that unfolds. This month, Amazon has launched a skill for its Alexa voice assistant that presents a Choose Your Own Adventure audiobook, where readers can use their voice to navigate the story.
Of course this isn’t a new idea, and the Bandersnatch film alludes to those rudimentary video games and Choose Your Own Adventure books that helped popularize the concept in the 80s. There are tons of other exmamples as well, and I’ve written about them before, under the heading of hypertext literature. Like any good hypertext, the variety of branching narratives has forked into a lush family tree that includes visual novels, interactive fiction, the so-called “walking simulator” video games, interactive stories for voice assistants, hybrid text-adventure video games, and more. The best “interactive literature” has more to offer than mere text on a screen, or simplistic choices.
In light of the rekindled interest, and all these developments to the state of the art, I’ve set out to find the cream of the crop. What else is out there? What’s new? Who’s got the really good stuff?
I’ll devote my next several blog posts to this question, but for the meanwhile I’ll say that if you know of any great examples, please contact me, and until then, here’s the trailer for the aforementioned movie.