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Why you should be excited about the upcoming interactive entertainment movement

16th June 2021

Netflix has announced its plans for further world domination, with the reported expansion of its services into an Apple-Arcade style subscription model, a move that follows the success of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and Stranger Things: The Game.

We don’t yet know whether this expansion will offer similar interactive experiences, or completely bespoke video games. We’re hoping it’s the former. But, until we find out more, I wanted to dive into a potted history of existing interactive entertainment experiences, celebrate where the lines have been successfully blurred in the past, and why we should be excited for what the future holds.

Cast your mind back to when Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was released in 2018. A definite first when it came to controlling the outcome of a story with your TV remote, some critics applauded its innovative take on the ‘choose your own adventure’ genre, while others felt it didn’t quite hit the mark. While I’m a huge fan of video games and Black Mirror in equal measure, I definitely felt something was missing from the Bandersnatch experience. It wasn’t a miss, but it wasn’t a win either, and this is obvious from the fact that we haven’t seen anything similar in the three years since.

Merging the worlds of film or TV with video games is an art form that clearly hasn’t quite been mastered, despite the number of so-called interactive experiences already available on console and mobile. We’ll come onto more of those soon, but the main challenge is that most interactive entertainment offerings tend to either make you feel like you’re ‘playing’ a film or ‘watching’ a game. You rarely feel like you’re part of what’s going on, and instead play the role of the observer.

Interactive entertainment experiences are hugely popular in countries like Japan, however, where visual novels such as the Danganronpa Trilogy and STEINS;GATE perform incredibly well. Typically taking on the format of a murder mystery, as enjoyable and beautifully animated as these games are, they are a prime example of what it feels like to watch a game.

In the Western market, games such as Until Dawn and Late Shift, with the latter’s cinematic format akin to the retro 90s classic Night Trap, are also great interactive experiences. But, you will spend a lot of time watching what’s unfolding on the screen, occasionally getting the chance to press a button to make a decision, rather than feeling truly involved in what’s going on.

There is, however, evidence of the interactive entertainment space already starting to grow, particularly on mobile.

We had the pleasure of launching the first season of ElectricNoir’s Dead Man’s Phone earlier this year. An interactive mobile crime drama, the BAFTA-nominated game tackles serious issues around police profiling, racism and gang related violence, putting you in the shoes of a New Scotland Yard detective investigating the murder of a young black man in London’s Peckham.

Dead Man’s Phone is unique in the interactive entertainment space because it puts you firmly in the driving seat as you make decisions on who to interview next and what evidence to interrogate. You’re not a passive bystander occasionally jumping in to make a decision, you’re actually part of the game. This is what most existing interactive experiences lack, and we hope that games like Dead Man’s Phone are the start of a beautiful change in how game developers and TV and film studios tackle storytelling, offering greater player involvement and immersion.

We’re intrigued to see whether Netflix’s upcoming games offering will be the perfect hybrid that finally fills the immersive gap between games and television that has been missing. There is a chance that we could simply see Bandersnatch 2.0 which, while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, wouldn’t necessarily be the natural evolution that the industry needs. Regardless, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this hopeful movement into a new form of hybrid interactive entertainment.

Debbie Lloyd is an Account Manager at Alfred London