WARNING: this contains spoilers of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
ANOTHER WARNING: this also probably contains spoilers for the game I’m making to finish Stefan’s game, but don’t worry about that, there will be some surprises there too!
This is the 4th article in an explorative series on Bandersnatch. You might be interested in my initial analysis of Bandersnatch’s endings, a meditation on the kind of story Bandersnatch is, or the links between Bandersnatch and other Black Mirror episodes, in particular White Bear.
Stefan Butler is the young inexperience games programmer who is the protagonist of Bandersnatch. He has psychological issues which seem to originate in the grief and trauma he experienced as a 5 year old when his mother was killed in a train accident, an event he blames himself and his father for because if the circumstances. Bandersnatch is a mind bending exploration of his unraveling under the pressure of delivering a mind bending game based on a mind bending choose-your-own-adventure book of the same name. It touches on themes such as free will and predestination, and challenges notions of what a game is, what an interactive film is and how to judge the completeness of a narrative.
Stefan’s game for ZX Spectrum
One of the many things that interested me in Bandersnatch was the game Stefan is making for ZX Spectrum. The actual game itself is quite ancillary to the plot and we don’t see much of it during the film, which makes it all the more intriguing.
From the little we see on screen we could conclude that it is set entirely in the corridors of a building, possibly underground, where the player character (whoever they are) meets at least the lion demon Pax and an agent wearing sunglasses. And that’s pretty much it.
There are some more clues (which I went into more in a previous article) on the cover of the Bandersnatch CYOA novel, showing us a view of a concrete maze in the style of an English garden maze, with a massive structure in the background and a robot of some sort slightly off-foreground.
We also know that it has multiple paths and endings, and that these are very very complex, this being one key factor edging Stefan slowly to madness. I have however mentioned before that Stefan is, under inspection, a programmer with only rudimentary knowledge and skills, so it’s no wonder he is greatly challenged by the project.
In any case the only other hints we have as to the actual content of the game are his flowcharts. He pins these to the generously sized cork-board on his bedroom wall, and in some viewings we see this sprawling on to the rest of the wall and ceiling, in a pattern resembling paths in their own right.
In most shots we are not close enough to actually read any of the flow charts. There are just a handful of exceptions though, and they do give us a collection of wonderful hints as to what the content of the game actually is. We find two full wall shots that are legible, as well as four fragment shots.
What follows is a painstaking reading and recreation of these flow charts for further consideration.
All images in full size: https://imgur.com/a/zhYV3o0
Wall chart 1
First first chart is on-screen for just a couple of seconds but it is at a good distance, sharpness and camera steadiness to read much of it.
Nearly everything in the shot has been read and recreated clearly. There’s some of the same parts repeated with this shot, on different pieces of paper, so where one part is more blurry the other might not be, so it was pieced together. I also used of context and keywords from the other shots too, this helped a lot and some parts which were too blurry to read initially then jumped out at me later.
A note on the recreation format and style. I’ve laid out the image the same way that it appears in the shot, more or less. Dotted lines are used to signify the edge of a page, and I’ve preserved the little colouring that exists, in case it was significant. Any words or parts of words that use an asterix (stars) mean I could not read it. In some cases guesses are made so not everything will be perfect. Please reach out on Reddit if you notice any mistakes or can read something I couldn’t.
Also, look at the White Bear reference here! It’s possible that there’s a white bear in Stefan’s game, or I’m also willing to entertain the explanation that it’s just a cheeky easter egg.
Wall chart 2
Here’s something I didn’t catch immediately: in the Pearl ending, she actually has a photocopy of main page here! That’s a level of detail that’s really amazing. We only see a part of it but it helped me figure out a couple of blurry words I couldn’t see in Stefan’s wall copy.
Wall charts, fragments
Pearl’s flowchart related to Stefan’s game
Most of Pearl’s notes and charts are related to the Bandersnatch film involving Stefan “in real life”, not the game Stefan is making. The only exceptions are the photocopy above, and the follow chart fragment which sheds a little more light on Pax.
What we have discovered
- Pax, blue lion demon (this knowledge comes from the film though)
- Dragon [of Doom]
- Emerald Robot (“emerald” might be wrong, it was hard to read)
- Iron Eye Protector
- Almighty Ruler
- Spider [of Doom?]
- White Bear (YES! seriously)
- Government officials
- Ram / Sheep (only in graphics design, not flowchart)
- Snake / Worm (only in graphics design, not flowchart)
- Pax’s Lair
- The Iron Eye (probably a location)
- Valley of Doom
- (White) Star Cave (or Wall)
- Wall of Eyes
- Mirror Maze
- Spider Web of Doom
- Volcanic area (very hard to read, may have said something else)
- Yellow stones (path?)
- Red path
- Ice path
- Rabbit hole
- Locked door (taking code)
Events that happen
- Fighting, fighting and then some more fighting.
- Getting lost.
- Going left or right a lot.
- Getting incinerated by fire or gamma rays, or frozen.
- Meeting Pax in his lair (and / or maybe scientists and government officials), worshiping Pax, or decapitating him (?) with a sword or golden dagger, or trying ice or fire on him, which fail.
- Talking to and / or fighting a The Dragon of Doom, either trying flames which don’t work or ice which does, and perhaps tangling with an Emerald Robot, who you might sneak up on. You may also work together with the dragon.
- Stabbing five guards, which doesn’t work out, and then drowning in a pool of your own blood or getting impaled.
- Meeting (and possibly incinerating) the Iron Eye Protector, though I’ve no idea who they are or what the Iron Eye does or is.
- Opening a locked door with a code, or being “watched forever”. Creepy.
- Fighting a Spider at their web of Doom (I think).
- Meeting, and possibly sneaking up on, the Almighty Ruler in the White Star Cave / Wall, who you either join forces with or fight.
- Breaking through (smashing, or time travelling?) the mirrors in the Mirror Maze (maybe).
- Losing your memory and maybe getting your memory back with the memory elixir.
- Going through the Rabbit Hole, or volcano (possibly).
- Fighting the White Bear…
Where do we go from here?
The obvious next step is to make all this coherent and put it into a single flow chart. However a few things are worth noting first.
So far, all that I have presented is what is in the actual film. I haven’t added anything, except my own guess as to what is actually there where it is blurry or dim. I have not invented anything.
Making this mess of paths coherent is itself a creative act which will add, merge and take away from Bandersnatch as designed by Charlie Brooker, Anabell Jones and their team. To this we also need to add the context that we are seeing Stefan actively working on the game when we see the flow charts (and Pearl for that matter), they represent a work in progress, not a finished design.
From this point on it’s time to finish the work on Stefan’s game, in my interpretation. I have already started laying the groundwork in C64 code, and have been chatting to a writer with whom I am in loose collaboration with in his idea to write the Bandersnatch CYOA novel.
Come with us on the journey, especially at the r/Bandersnatch subreddit.
Thanks to Gordon871 for spurring me on, and to Tobias Stamm, creator of Kora Graph which I used to make the graphs. I really loved this piece of software and it was the perfect level of simplicity and small set of features to make it easy to learn and useful.