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We recently got a question about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which is an interactive film, i.e. one where you can yourself influence the progression of the story with your own decisions. This presents us with kind of a unique situation, since I don't think we had a question about such a "film" before.

It is a difficult to define crossover between a classic non-interactive film and a full-on videogame, which makes it difficult to find a general solution for how to deal with questions about these things:

  • It is published on Netflix and tells a story through the medium of film with known actors and has been reviewed by film critics. It seems to be treated largely like a film by the general public.
  • Yet, it has the interactive characteristics of a videogame (and at least Wikipedia calls interactive films exactly that). It makes you yourself influence the story in an indvidual style and in ways impossible to do in a story told to you completely by someone else.

There are traps to easily fall into when trying to find a closed solution to the scope decision here:

  • On the one hand the "film"'s story is still told by a writer with every path filmed (and with everyone treating it largely like a film) and our site's means for analysing plot structure and themes can still apply very well.
  • On the other hand, "normal" videogames have writers and story progression too. So how much interactivity is too much to make a work off-topic? Or does it have to be filmed with "genuine" actors? What about every single Pixar film then? Does is have to be published on a film streaming service? Or is it a multitude of factors playing together?

So maybe a clear yes/no to interactive films isn't all too easy and we should strive for a decision more based on the question itself, similar to how we handle the "story" aspects of wrestling but not the sport aspects?

Still, this might make decisions difficult and the question that sparked this discussion actually makes for a good example. While it is asking about the story and how it can have a happy ending, it is still very much worded like a "how to win this game?" question and thus seems to concentrate more on the "game mechanics" than the story. But this might very well just be a poor wording choice and fixable by working on the question a little more.

So I'd like to encourage some discussion on how to deal with questions on interactive films here. We don't necessarily need to reach a clear consensus on the entirety of the genre (especially since that's hard to define), but I'd like to at least hear some input on the various problems I touched on above (and maybe even more problems that make a decision even harder ;-)).

We can sure use the example question to show problems and/or solutions of the scope discussion, but I'd encourage discussion on why the question is on/off-topic or how it can be made on-topic rather than just a plain close/reopen-vote without talking about the deeper issue of interactive films.

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I think interactive films should be, in general, on-topic here. I would however narrowly define them, and limit them to something like:

A full-motion video with an interactive element allowing the viewer(s) to make decisions that influence the direction of the story.

If anyone can improve upon this definition, do feel free to comment or edit this answer.

I agree that the line here between a game and an interactive movie is blurry, but I think it would be to the detriment of this site and confusing to exclude content like Bandersnatch. I believe games tend to include many other mechanics that live alongside full-motion video elements. Yes some games have a significant 'role play' aspect but few are limited to just video and story branching decision.

That then leaves the question itself and the "how do I win" aspect. I would suggest that a "can I (or how do I) achieve a certain outcome in this interactive movie" question doesn't seem that far removed from plot-explanation. I think such questions should be on topic even though they come closest to thinking about the content as a game.

  • Science Fiction & Fantasy allow CYOA, so it wouldn't be dissimilar to other site's policies. – wizzwizz4 Dec 30 '18 at 22:45
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    @wizzwizz4 That's a bit of a useless comparison, though, since SciFi.SE is already not medium-driven. They're doing books and full-on video games already, too. – Napoleon Wilson Dec 30 '18 at 23:02
  • So according to this definition, "Bandersnatch" on Netflix is on-topic, but "Minecraft: Story Mode", also on Netflix, is not on-topic? Even though other non-FMV films are on-topic? (Though, if we allow that, it'd make sense to also allow Hidden Agenda which is not on Netflix) – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Dec 31 '18 at 4:36
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft ... it would help if you said why Minecraft falls outside this definition. – iandotkelly Dec 31 '18 at 14:11
  • @iandotkelly If nothing else - "Minecraft: Story Mode" was originally released as a Video Game in 2015. But in a broader respect, it includes puzzles that involve more than "pick the next video to watch", like the "assemble these items to create a sword" puzzle, or other video game style activities such as "aim at the target" – Chronocidal Dec 31 '18 at 19:02
  • @Chronocidal ... then I agree, a "movie" with puzzles or other game like activities, in my mind count as games and not interactive movies. I'm interested in keeping our scope as wide as possible, but I don't think we can spread to cover the entire genre of video games that have any form of cinematic story telling. – iandotkelly Dec 31 '18 at 20:01
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    Minecraft: Story Mode seems to be clearly a game, so I would propose it to be off topic. Hidden Agenda is a grey area in my mind .... you play as a group and have objectives - so in a definite sense you can "win" as an outcome. However it does seem to be just influencing the story. – iandotkelly Dec 31 '18 at 20:10
  • @iandotkelly "full-motion video" means live-action doesn't it? – OrangeDog Jan 8 at 0:06
  • @OrangeDog .... no ... to me it means pre-recorded, not "generated" video (like game content under your control). It can be animated as well as live action. – iandotkelly Jan 8 at 0:47
  • By this definition, Plumbers Don't Wear Ties counts as on-topic for this site, despite being made for PC and the 3DO game console. Do we need to have something about the media format in this definition? – Thunderforge Jan 10 at 20:20
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The way I see it, questions about Bandersnatch's multiple endings (and how to get them) are roughly equivalent to asking about alternate endings in standard media.

At the point when you've just begun the film, there exist a fixed number of films you can watch; all you're doing is picking which one. This is made more obvious by the flowchart Paulie_D shared. At no point do you actually change or influence an existing story, you just choose not to watch the others. This movie does a good job having the film appear to interact back with the viewer, but at the end of the day you could still just pre-select all your choices, sit back, and watch a movie.

The reason I think this interpretation is important is because alternative interpretations don't really fit the site. I may be oversimplifying, but it seems like we've got 3 options here:

1) Interactive films are strictly off-topic. This option is far too dramatic. There are plenty of objectively on-topic questions which could come from Bandersnatch, like "What is the Metl Hedd poster a reference to?". In this case, that would be an allusion to another episode in the Black Mirror anthology, which we've already defined as on-topic. It seems imprecise to exclude these questions because the content might be optional.

2) For interactive films, only content-related questions are on topic. This feels like the most accurate approach, but I believe it would almost certainly lead to XY problems, which we know waste everyone's time. For example, the question at hand is: "How do I get a happy ending in Bandersnatch?". As a non content-related question, we could argue this is off-topic. That would just lead to the title being edited to "What is the happiest ending in Bandersnatch?". It's the same question, just less precise; it forces the user into asking questions that might tell them what they want.

In other words, for any set of decisions that a user can make there exists a unique film, and vice versa. A question about one is necessarily a question about the other, and it makes little sense for only one of those questions to be on-topic.

3) Interactive films are strictly on-topic. Assuming you've agreed with me so far, that leaves only this option ("When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."). This allows us to retain questions about content without trapping users in XY problems.

Having said that, this answer relies on the assumption that the entirety of an interactive film's footage is pre-determined. If an interactive film were developed where you had some open-world level of control, those assumptions would fall apart.

As such, I'm defining "interactive movie" as

One video work presented as an array of predetermined films to be selected, deliberately or unwittingly, by the viewer.

At the end of the day, Bandersnatch is just a few different versions of a similar story. If viewers could select one of these versions at the start, I don't think we'd be having this discussion. The fact that they're actually making that choice during the movie feels incidental.

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