Banter Snatch – What Do “Gamebook” Authors Say About Netflix’s Bandersnatch?

Two interactive fiction writers walk into a bar…

So, how many people called you about Bandersnatch?

Deb: More than sent me those weird New Year’s Facebook messenger memes!

James: With the cats?

Deb: Yeah, the creepy cats. People were messaging and even emailing saying, “Black Mirror have done a You Say Which Way! You’ll love it.”

bandersnatch choice
Interactive fiction authors Deb Potter and James Schannep discuss “Bandersnatch.”

James: Same. With a bit of, “You should get them to do your Click Your Poison series on Netflix!” Aha! Good point, friend. I’m just going to flip the Netflix switch on my books from “disabled” to “ready.”

Deb: And when I searched #Bandersnatch it turned out it wasn’t just geeky interactive fiction writers talking about it. Bandersnatch had millions of viewers talking about endings and story and replay. Which is quite exciting. I’m always a little bit worried people will forget how cool interactive is.

James: Hashtags! #whydidntithinkofthat

Okay, so what did we think about the episode?

Deb: Well, I was worried by the first couple of choices. The random choice of breakfast cereal and then a slightly more preference based choice of music. Sure, it’s good to test viewer can actually choose and to reinforce that choosing is how this story will be experienced – but let’s have some REAL choices soon, please.

James: That was my first instinct as well. But, I’ve since heard that it does make a difference. I’ll have to go back and see if this is true. Replay value! The hallmark of a good gamebook. Already I want to go back and watch it again.

Deb: It got better though. The next choice gave me the true pleasure of interactive fiction. I got to consider two options. And the writers fooled me, I picked “wrong” and got straight to a frustrating ending. I enjoyed that.

James: See, I didn’t like that. I felt like I was being pushed towards a single path, while I wanted to diverge and explore. I wanted to see the format tested to its limits.

Deb: But then there’s clever use of recap to get to the first meaningful choice again. That’s the next big make or break test for a good interactive story – how easy is it to re-enter the adventure and get back to a pivot in the storyline? Here’s where, as an interactive fiction writer, I give Black Mirror’s writers a gold star. Getting back into the story for a different choice is really easy and, you don’t have to go all the way back.

James: Okay, fair enough. That was extremely well done.

Deb: So next time round – about one minute in screen time later – I make another choice and then the deeper layers of the story start to unfold. As a participant I’ve had a bit of subtle training now, so I trust the experience and get into enjoying choices. Okay so “enjoy” might not be the best description. I was often frustrated by two choices that weren’t too different and, sometimes, a bit appalled at the choices. At these times I was reminded that this was Black Mirror. It’s black, it’s dark. It’s not You Say Which Way. Maybe to give us some respite there’s a bit of campy Kill Bill-esque sequence to find.

James: I’ll admit—this bit made me extremely happy. Click Your Poison isn’t meant for the young or faint of heart. There are other series (like yours!) which have covered that ground so well, that many people often default to: interactive fiction is for kids, right? Not necessarily. If you want darker, black choices, head over here to the dark side. We have cookies.

Deb: Mmph mmph, these cookies are good! Yeah, you’re right, this is interactive for grown-ups and true to what we’d expect from Black Mirror scriptwriters. The stories don’t divert much at all but there’s just enough variety, shades of noir, sledgehammer to the fourth wall, and surrealism, to keep me exploring.

James: Baby-steps. This is our first mainstream interactive TV show. There weren’t that many choices, and it didn’t seem to change the story drastically, but part of me thinks that might have been the point (in this instance). The whole thing was meant to question the concept of free will.

Let’s talk about that whole breaking the fourth wall thing – what did you think?

James: If there’s a spoiler to avoid, it’s this one. Please, if you haven’t fully explored Bandersnatch, stop now, go watch the show, then go read Deb and my books. Err, I mean, return to this interview.

Deb: But we have to talk about it!

James: Of course! I enjoyed it. [SPOILERS] Bringing Netflix in as a character was brilliant. Icing on the cake? This choice isn’t available during the first play-through. How cool is that?

Deb: There was this sort of voyeur-found-out moment that I really loved. The programmer is onto us. Then his hand is shaking as he tries to resist our choice. Nice work, Black Mirror. There’s also the potential to add more story later – additional “episodes” within Bandersnatch. If I made Black Mirror I’d do that. You could dole out more choices for people to come back to. Netflix is such an ideal medium for interactive storytelling.

James: It’s this type of innovation that will bring interactive fiction its audience. We can do things with story that a traditional show, novel, whatever, can’t do. We have replay value. We have events changing context over time and with repetition.

Deb: “The interactive special” could become a regular feature for popular shows, especially since more people are consuming TV from the web these days. It could be up there with the ubiquitous musical episode and the Christmas special.

Parting Thoughts?

Deb: You know, there’s a story in that New Year creepy cat meme going around…

James: Once you see the cat meme, you only have seven days to live. Or two months to do your taxes. Whatever’s scariest?

Deb Potter writes and publishes You Say Which Way stories for 10-12 year old readers.

James Schannep is the creator of Click Your Poison, interactive books for teens and adults.


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The Future, Origins, Ramblings, and Shamblings

What’s new? Quite a bit with me, as it turns out.

May was a huge month in the world of Click Your Poison, with a new book launch, and a $0.99 sale for the series. In fact, I had over a thousand ebook sales on Amazon for the month! Weee! (SUPERPOWERED is still on sale for the next two weeks).

I also did a live interview/chat on google+ which you can watch a recording of below. In it, I announced my plans for the next book, which I’ll go more into after the jump.

For CYP#4, I’m returning to the storyworld of INFECTED. You’ll get to play as the supporting cast from the original, to survive the initial outbreak from each of their perspectives. While it’s technically a prequel, I think of it more as a sister story, and you don’t need to have INFECTED memorized to enjoy INFECTED Origins.

For me, I see it as a challenge as a writer and an opportunity to grow. I’ve tried to keep out of your head and did my best to keep telling-you-what-you’re-thinking to a minimum, and to make the protagonist’s age, gender, and race as neutral as I can so you could better delve into the story as a reader.

But not with this book. Each character has a rich background with firm viewpoints about the world. So you’ll get to Being John Malkovich the story and ride along in someone else’s head. Crazy? Maybe. We’ll see.

Stay tuned for updates as the book comes along. I probably won’t have room for every single character in the book, so expect cast announcements as well. If there’s someone you think is a must-have for the book, let me know in the comments below.

Also on the horizon: I’ll be updating my events tab soon, with a confirmed signing in Central Texas this summer, and possibly here in Denver (SUPERPOWERED just got accepted at the Tattered Cover Bookstore — yay!)

Oh, and I’m doing a rafflecopter contest thinger too. Check it out: a Rafflecopter giveaway.


Add your opinion in the comments below. And don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe!

New Author Bio, And It’s a Weird One

Now that I’m prepping for my third book, I thought it time to update my bio. The old one was a little outdated anyway; it still had me living in California and talked about achievements prior to 2011. But I also wanted to shake it up. Write something a little…different…from your standard Amazon author page.

Here’s what I came up with:

One February day, when Hephaestus was hitting on The Muses, they began a playful argument: Is it possible for a mortal man to be *too* creative? What would happen to his primitive brain if it were to suddenly overflow with ideas? Zeus, never one to leave an argument to the fate of mere words, sent a lightning bolt to earth where it struck upon a hapless young man–your author, James Schannep.

Thus Click Your Poison books were created as a repository to store the overabundant brain fruit. Each of Schannep’s books split into three unique storylines and contain over 50 possible endings. But the fate of each book; nay, of mankind, rests with YOU, dear reader. For it is your choices that will shape the story in these books.

So dive in and find out:

Will You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? (INFECTED)
Could You Solve a Murder? (MURDERED)
What if You Had Superpowers? (SUPERPOWERED – Coming soon!)”

How’d I do? Is it sufficiently odd enough to attract your attention without adding the fervent desire sit far away if we were on the subway together? Let me know in the comments below.

And as long as we’re talking about bios, there’s a rumor going around that Amazon’s promotion algorithms take into account how many “likes” an author page has. I’m sure some of you didn’t even know you could “like” an author on Amazon, but if you fee like hopping over to my author page and clicking LIKE, I’d be much obliged.