Black Mirror: Could choose-your-own-adventure TV catch on?


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If you’re a Bodyguard fan, imagine if you could make DC David Budd’s crucial decisions for him.

In episode three, when the Home Secretary is on stage, does Richard Madden’s character run towards the stage or away from it?

It’s rumoured one of Black Mirror’s upcoming episodes will allow the viewer to do just that in a choose-your-own-adventure style.

It’ll either be a fun one-off gimmick or – in Black Mirror’s meta world – a new way for audiences to engage in future television.

“Charlie Brooker has a crystal ball,” says Sinead Matthews, who starred in Be Right Back, an episode of Black Mirror in which a woman communicates with her dead boyfriend using technology.

“Everything he’s ever written is like he foresaw it.

“It could definitely be a new way of watching TV and that’s good as everything evolves. But it does risk becoming a very singular experience for the person watching.”

Black Mirror often has a knack of predicting inventions and ideas, such as season two’s The Waldo Moment which featured a computer cartoon with a striking likeness to Apple’s recent Animojis.

Sinead feels viewers choosing their own way in a show is almost like “a Black Mirror episode within a Black Mirror episode”, if you can get your head around that.

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Sinead Matthews starred alongside Hayley Atwell in the traumatising Black Mirror episode Be Right Back

There could be several ways of controlling the narrative, with the most obvious being alternate endings.

However, that seems too simple for a show like Black Mirror which would want to do something different, rather than copy shows like Breaking Bad or Lost.

In Breaking Bad, the alternate end was Walter White waking up as if it was all a dream while Lost suggested that some characters would return to the island.

My personal view on the concept? The viewer may get multiple chances to shape decisions throughout the episode, with every one potentially arriving at the same ending.

Another idea could be you choosing your character at the start of the episode and watching their version of a story unfold.

It’s a tried and tested method in video games and children’s adventure books such as the Goosebumps series -so why wouldn’t it work for television?

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USS Callister was an episode in the fourth series of Black Mirror, that spoofed shows like Star Trek

“For writers, there are often tricky decisions you have to make for your characters or your scenarios,” says Shaun Kitchener, a TV writer who’s worked on Hollyoaks.

“If someone else is making that decision then great. It’s an interesting way of keeping a viewer actively invested in what they’re watching.”

He also argues viewers already participate in mass choose-your-own-adventure programmes with shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother and the X Factor which all require a public vote.

Fiction is a different story, as it requires the writer to come up with – and then film – multiple strands.

Netflix has already tried something similar with cartoon Puss In Book, in which viewers are given up to 15 seconds to make a choice between two options using their remote, controller or a touch screen.

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Black Mirror won a Primetime Emmy award in 2017

Scott Bryan, TV editor at Buzzfeed UK, thinks the idea could be just a one-off gimmick, rather than a future format.

“Choose-your-own-adventure quizzes are popular but you have to sit there sat forward and choose every single option.

“When you’re watching TV, you’re sat back and not wanting to lift your remote and choose things every five minutes. Television is still a ‘lean back’ experience, rather than a ‘lean forward’ one.”

As an actor, Sinead Matthews says the work would be “brilliant” as you’d get to explore different avenues for your character.

Netflix hasn’t commented on the choose-your-own-adventure speculation, but in a statement to Mashable, it said: “Thanks for reaching out! You have the ability to choose your own response from Netflix: This or this.”

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