Black Mirror’s new interactive movie ‘Bandersnatch’ is revolutionary in many ways. But what are its implications for data mining?

Released in late December 2018, Black Mirror’s ‘Bandersnatch’ has been a hit amongst both critics and fans alike due to its innovative choose-your-own-adventure style. However, this may also be a concern for the possibility of data mining on Netflix’s behalf. With its branching storylines, the developers of Black Mirror would have to integrate a program that delivered for this type of story. While that seems innocuous, this process of data mining might result in a treasure trove of a consumer’s choices made during the narrative.

Bandersnatch revolves around a game programmer, Stefan who is currently designing a game of the same name. As the story progresses, his grip on reality loosens and we get to decide how the story ends. With at least five main endings, the interactive film offers an excellent insight into what the future of interactive storytelling would be.

A new, revolutionary software
To prepare for the multiple endings, Netflix had developed software called Branch Manager. The Hollywood Reporter writes, “The map [of Bandersnatch] outlines state-tracking options that occur at the beginning of the episode, all the possible paths along the way and a series of if-then options at the end showing how a viewer can arrive at each ending.” Hence, the end result was closer to several flowcharts and endless options loosely held together. The choices the show prompts us to make regarding Stefan’s life, ranging from mundane options (cereal brand) to drastic ones (murder).

Furthermore, Branch Manager is equipped with a state tracker that consciously tracks and records viewer options. Together with numerous Easter eggs, this motivates the audience to replay the story in order to explore and achieve the multiple endings that the creators had promised. Due to the success that Bandersnatch has achieved, Netflix has also announced its plans to develop more interactive stories with the same program.

The possibility of data mining
However, Branch Manager’s state tracker can also bring up several questions regarding the use of Netflix’s users’ data being used for advertising. At the start, we are prompted to choose between two cereal brands; Frosties or Sugar Puffs. Users’ choices could be recorded, which implies that Netflix and its partners would be able to use the data to determine consumers’ interests. While this doesn’t mean that you’ll see a rise in Sugar Puffs sales any time soon, it subtly influences what Netflix would show to you.

Bandersnatch allows the company to take advertising to much subtler levels

Netflix’s use of your data has been well-documented, but Bandersnatch allows the company to take advertising to much subtler levels. Based on the choices you make and how many times you choose to replay the story, they might suggest shows or movies that align with your interests and your beliefs; as a result, you’re more likely to watch more shows that piqued your interest.

Its own worst nightmare
Black Mirror has always been a show centered around technology. Many of its episodes describe situations in which individuals are offered for public consumption, especially by corporations (Fifteen Million Merits, White Bear). As a result, it has been noted by many that Black Mirror’s use of a state tracker was ironic; after all, Black Mirror has encouraged many of its viewers to take a more critical look of technology and how it is an intrinsic part of our everyday life in this age and society.

In a way, Black Mirror’s use of Branch Manager can be its own worse nightmare: the constant monitoring of the choices and data Netflix users have mirrored the contemporary societies that Black Mirror denounces as oppressive or authoritarian.

Cover: Bandersnatch/Netflix
Editor: Mana Reed Stutchbury

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