The theme of morality has existed in storytelling since the beginning of time. All stories end with a moral or value that the writer wants the audience to take away with them. However, what if it was up to the audience to decide the way the story ended?
Later this year, Netflix is giving its audience exactly that power in the form of a Black Mirror episode. The upcoming fifth season of the science fiction anthology will feature one episode in which viewers can vote on how the story unfolds. Not many details have been released for the upcoming season yet, but a choice-based episode could work particularly well for a show like Black Mirror which builds its foundation off human morality.
The concept of ‘choose your own adventure’ has been tried and tested for years in video games and has found to be very successful. Generally referred to as role-playing games or RPGs, players are taken on a journey from building their own character to choosing how they handle difficult situations and how their decisions ultimately change their character’s fate. Introducing the ability to make your character feel unique to you brings a fresher feel to a game against a stock character in a linear storyline of button mashing your way to a final boss whose ultimate and essential demise rewards you with nothing but the end credits.
This mechanic of creating your own story is seen in popular games such as Skyrim and Mass Effect made by Bethesda Game Studios and BioWare respectively. Both studios have made millions from their RPG games with Bethesda reportedly worth $3 billion. These games typically include creating your own characters from scratch, building friendships, romances and enmities from choice-based interactions and finishing your game with one of a selection of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ endings.
Will Black Mirror be able to bring all these essential characteristics of RPGs to the upcoming season? Let’s look at an example of a game inspired by a TV show and comic.
Telltale studios bought the rights to create a game of The Walking Dead back in 2011. In April 2012 they released the first episode of what would turn into a critically acclaimed RPG and follow with four more seasons with four to five episodes in each. The game follows the story of a young girl called Clementine as she grows up in the zombie apocalypse from an eight-year-old girl until her mid-teens. The game slowly builds the player’s emotional attachment to Clementine as you watch her grow up. In the first season, you control the character of Lee who meets Clementine stranded in her treehouse at the outbreak of the apocalypse. Throughout the game, you instil values in Clementine which help build her character for when the player ultimately controls her in the following seasons.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is special in that the player doesn’t just suffer the consequences of their actions throughout the first game, every choice carries over into the next game. Past choices come back to bite and old characters can love you or hate you when they pop up again. The game is a true test of human morality with some of the biggest decisions being between who lives and who dies.
The anthology style of Black Mirror may be its only downfall for a ‘choose your own adventure’ episode. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to build the viewer’s emotional attachment to the character. However, Black Mirror’s unfailing use of shock factor will likely make it a hit as viewers will be tested on their common human decency.
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