Before Bandersnatch, there was Sam ‘Her Story’ Barlow’s #WarGames. You may well have never heard of the latter, as this interactive TV-like-game came out rather quietly early last year and didn’t have the big ho-ha of being on Netflix or associated with one of the biggest TV shows on the planet. But if you thought Bandersnatch was the pinnacle of modern interactive entertainment, I’d argue that #WarGames does something a lot more interesting.
Instead of sifting through a set of choices presented to you on a plate, #WarGames does all its clever story-morphing behind the scenes, seamlessly shifting its narrative depending on which of its many viewpoints you focus on the most. You play as Kelly, a dab-hand prankster hacker whose life suddenly gets a lot more dangerous after some online japes with her fellow hacker gang start venturing into the realm of Mr Robot-style societal take downs.
I’ll be up-front. I don’t really care much for the overall story. By the end of its sixth and final episode, I was quite ready for it all to be over. It’s meant to be loosely based on the 1983 Cold War science fiction film of the same name, albeit updated for a modern audience, but ultimately it’s just a fairly blando plot about a bunch of mildly irritating hacker children who get a bit out of their depth.
But! I do very much like the way it all simultaneously plays out across half a dozen or so different webcams and video feeds as it goes along, whether it’s Face Time-like chats with Kelly’s mates or live security footage she’s hacked into from her laptop. It really feels like you’re the one behind the computer screen a lot of the time, and the way you can zoom in and focus on whatever you want at any given time makes you feel a lot more involved with what’s going on.
I have no idea how it decides which story beat to pursue or how much of something you actually need to watch before it decides, ‘yes that’s enough’, and in some ways that can be quite frustrating, as you can never really tell how much of an impact you’re having. You will never be told: ‘Z_a_n_e will remember this’.
The theory, however, is sound. It reinforces the idea that the longer you spend looking at something, the more details you’re probably going to notice and perhaps follow-up on than if you’d simply glanced over it in favour of something else. This is something I am very much on board with and would love to see be used to even greater effect in games elsewhere. It would make them infinitely more reactive and personal to your actions. I appreciate that’s probably incredibly hard, if not impossible, to do with today’s tech, but we can dream, can’t we?
Anyway, regardless of whether you liked Bandersnatch or thought it was a bit of overblown rubbish, I’d recommend taking a look at #WarGames if you’re hungry for better, or more interesting, interactive TV shows. It’s only a couple of quid and can be easily binged in just under two hours. A much better use of your time, I’d say, than succumbing to that familiar friend, Netflix paralysis.