Throughout the course of the last few months, I’ve written multiple blogs about Netflix’s interactive experiences, and so far, I’ve basically loved them all. I even enjoyed the experimental Puss and Book interactive adventure, if only because I saw the potential in it for so much more. That potential was realized in both Minecraft Story Mode, and Black Mirror Bandersnatch. I was so incredibly delighted with those experiences that I simply had to write about them. I feel I have to write about this new one as well, but for a very different reason.
To me at least, even the description of You Vs. Wild is off-putting. It basically tasks you with helping Bear Grills survive in harsh environments by making decisions. This sounded utterly silly to me. Bear Grills may sound like the name of a movie action hero, but he’s a real person, and a celebrity survival expert. The idea that we could even help him survive unless we were also experts was ridiculous. There were other reasons this struck me funny as well, but I’ll get to those in a moment. For now, I’ll say that I still decided to try it, given the awesomeness of the previous interactive experiences Netflix had released. Unfortunately, all my worst fears were proven correct.
I find it difficult to fully explain the problem I have with this experience, but I will do my very best. Firstly, I’ll again mention that Bear Grills is an actual person, not a character in a story or video game setting. Therefore, the unrealism of this experience becomes blatantly clear right from the start. Supposedly, we are going on missions to save this person, or find this medicine, but all the banter and all the hype cannot make the experience feel any less staged. And because it feels this way, the illusion of actual choice is shattered. When you play an experience like this, you should feel like these choices are yours, and that you’re controlling a narrative. However, the clearly faked cenarios here ust make it all the more clear that Bear Grills has already done all of the things you could potentially choose, because he would have had to do them for those choices to exist. A well done experience hides this simply by being so well done that you don’t think about this truth.
Unfortunately, another detractor from this experience is Bear Grills himself. He may be a survival expert, but an actor he is not. His performance when trying to uphold this paper-thin plot is sort of awful, and completely unbelievable. It is just the topper on what is already a strange and unsatisfying experience.
Believe it or not, there actually is exactly one thing I did like about this experience. Netflix has clearly done work to make the flow between the videos that play when you make a choice a seamless experience, and this shows in You Vs. Wild. When you make a choice, you actually get a little sound effect indicating your choice is locked in. Meanwhile, Bear will be explaining the merits of both choices as the timer counts down, done in the same way a major moment of suspense would be built on a standard survival TV show. When this moment ends, the video hen almost seamlessly flows into whatever choice you actually made. The split between video files is actually quite hard to detect unless you’re really listening for it, which is quite an achievement if you ask me. This is something that has gotten progressively better over the course of all of the interactive experiences. The cuts in the original Puss and Book experience were quite long and easily detected, Minecraft Story Mode cut down on the time, but the cuts were sudden, made the moment you pressed the button, and taking away from the video game feel of the original. Bandersnatch did a decent job of interweaving long enough pauses into its narrative that the choices seemed to flow pretty well together, though the cuts were made obvious by the audio describer mentioning first one thing, then the other. The way the interactivity is handled here is, I will admit, probably the best it ever has been. It is unfortunate that this is the only positive I have, though.
My conclusion is this. Interactive experiences are still wonderful in concept. My opinion here has not changed. I simply feel that this particular experience didn’t fit the format. However, if they apply their nearly perfected method of handling the interactivity to future experiences, I have complete faith that they’ll be able to create some really spectacular things. I honestly don’t know if this was critically well-received or not, but if it wasn’t, I hope it doesn’t discourage Netflix from pursuing other types of interactive experience. Thanks for reading all, and I hope you were able to make sense of my thoughts here. As always, continue to be awesome!