m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

A Cosmic Flowchart

The panel about Bandersnatch at Narrascope this weekend was recorded and may eventually make its way online, but for now, there is only my memory to go on. The panelists—at times grudgingly—admired the skillful translation of interactive fiction to the small screen: the practice choices, (grudgingly) the practice do-over, and the speedy recaps for most (but not all) of the do-overs. What they did not much admire was the particular, questionable piece of interactive fiction that was so well, and thus so wastefully, translated to the little stream. The metaness of the plot was trite, the false choices frustrating at best, irresponsible at worst, and the sophisticated methods of the genre missing.

I enjoyed both the panel and the show, even though I felt the panelists' pain—not so much as an interactive fiction writer myself but as a genre fiction writer who’s experienced the same phenomenon of non-genre writers stumbling into the genre and writing nonsense that would make even the hoary old nonsense writers of the Golden Age blush if they’d ever been such clueless newbies as to write it.

But it’s a category error to criticize such interlopers by the standards of the genre they’ve invaded, because in reality they’re still writing for fans of the genre they left. In the case of television producers attaching a trite Twilight Zone ending (or five of them) to their interactive TV show, one must seriously consider the likelihood that they intentionally attach trite Twilight Zone endings to all their shows. Their visit to your genre is neither a conversion nor a teaching moment; it’s just a violent raid. Expect literary casualties on both sides.

It also struck me that I need to update the History of Choice Mapping for Bandersnatch, which has brought a whole host of new choice-mappers, if not new choice maps, to the genre. Most notable is the meta-mapping of Bandersnatch, the fictional “Choose Your Own Adventure” book on which the eponymous fictional video game is based, done by Stefan to help him turn the book into a videogame. The blocky style in which these flowcharts are drawn becomes a symbol in and of itself in the show, occasionally drawn in blood; it’s a symbol that goes back to another Black Mirror episode, “White Bear”:

public domain White Bear symbol from Wikipedia educational portion of screenshot from Heavy educational portion of trailer screenshot via Reddit

In hopes of revealing more of the plot of the fictional video game, Simon Butler has collected some good screenshots of Stefan’s hand-written choice maps, and cleaned them up into (virtual) print flowcharts:

educational portion of Bandersnatch screenshot (Stefan) educational portion of Bandersnatch screenshot reproduction (Stefan)

He gives Pearl’s flowchart fragments the same treatment:

educational portion of Bandersnatch screenshot (Pearl) educational portion of Bandersnatch screenshot reproduction (Pearl)

Tomorrow, the actual maps of Bandersnatch qua interactive fiction show…


In the meta style of Simon Butler, Santiago Zapata (Slashie) and Camilo Ramírez (jucarave) have reconstructed the fictional game in the show as a mod of “Stygian Abyss”, including source code and a geographical choice map:

educational portion of Bandersnatch game map by Slashie educational portion of Bandersnatch game map by Slashie