What is an interactive video?
At the heart of it, an interactive video pauses for viewer participation as a question is posed that will in some way alter what happens next. A message appears on-screen to pick up your remote and get ready to choose. Viewers use their TV or smart device’s remote to highlight and select an option on the screen. Some videos take the alternating storyline approach where the viewer’s choice changes the plot pathway and has a different ending depending on your options. Other videos take a more game-like approach, where the viewer must answer questions correctly to advance the storyline.
Different Ways to Interact with Videos
Netflix first released animated interactive videos. In 2018 a special episode of Black Mirror named Black Mirror: Bandersnatch brought attention to the genre. Bandersnatch was a traditional interactive video where decisions caused alternative storylines. Some choices would lead to a dead-end, at which point it would take you back to the juncture and let you choose the other option. Others would advance the story toward different endings.
In 2019, Netflix added an interactive series. Bear Grylls’ You vs. Wild (a spinoff from his series Man vs. Wild ). The interactive series has the viewer decide how to navigate through jungles, fight wild animals, and solve other survival problems. The wrong decision might lead to Grylls needing to be rescued. Along the way, viewers learn about outdoor survival skills. Most episodes includes the gross-out factor where you have to choose which disgusting grub or bug that Grylls should eat.
The interactive video offerings continue to grow. In 2021 two more single episodes of You vs. Wild were added. An African-based story You vs. Wild: Animals on the Loose and You vs. Wild: Out Cold where Grylls loses his memory after his plane crashes in the mountains. While it’s typically best to make the right choice to advance the mission, watching the trouble he gets into when you take the riskier option can be fun.
You vs. Wild and many other interactive titles are geared toward kids and families. Some are based on popular characters like Carmen SanDiego or Captain Underpants. The iconic block-pixel-styled Minecraft Story Mode has five episodes with different challenges. It uses the interactive decision tree to shape the story in a game-like manner.
The Boss Baby: Get That Baby can be fun for the whole family. The idea behind the special that follows the TV series is that it is a training simulation for Boss Baby’s corporation. The first choice is to pick a plan of one of the criminals that the Boss Baby sent to jail in his previous shows. The decisions made along the way change the storyline, and in the end, you are presented with one of 16 different job offers. The first time I played, I was offered a job in PR, but there was an option to change my last decision for a different outcome. It changed the story, and I was offered a job in recruiting. Going back to the start can lead to other storylines and “job opportunities.” A few adult-directed jokes had me chuckling during the video.
The Cat Burglar interactive animation special was released in February. From the makers of Black Mirror, it’s a Looney Tune styled cartoon similar to those with Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner, or Ralf Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. The cat tries six different wild antics to steal a priceless painting—pole vaulting over a wall, getting past the guard dog, and others. The success of each segment relies on your ability to answer three trivia-type questions quickly. Some questions relate to trivia, like “What was the music trend of the ’90s?” others test your vocabulary with categories like neurosurgery terms. Some questions are tongue-in-cheek, like which answer is a mythical creature: a unicorn or a supportive father. Each time you play, the segments that you previously successfully passed change to other challenges. The questions change every time. While it is animated, its violence and questions are not for small children.
From the trailers, Trivia Quest will be a similar interactive game. Viewers will get points for correct answers. There will be a hard mode with difficult questions worth more points that will defeat the bad guy and buy keys to free the good guys. It appears to be geared toward families.
In Dreamworks’ Puss in Book: Trapped In An Epic Tale, the swashbuckling cat is trapped in a book of fairytales and children’s stories trying to escape from the narrator/jailer. The style is irreverent and fun, with Puss breaking the fourth wall and turning to us viewers in an appeal to convince us to choose one option over the other. Along the way, we are given the choice of dropping him into different children’s stories —from fighting a giant to visiting three bears. Once there, decide on the outcome—either the bears are angry with him or hospitable and nice. Though I always went for the friendly options, they sometimes lead to violence anyway. Presumably, you can get Puss out of the book before the end of the video, but I haven’t found the way out yet.
The interactive videos are supported on most smart TVs and streaming players. However, it does not work on Apple TV, the older Chromecasts (the new Chromecast with Google TV is supported), or randomly, Tesla touch screen displays. When you choose an interactive title on Apple TV, there will be a short video explaining that you can watch it elsewhere, including on a computer browser, smartphone, tablet, smart TV, or other streaming devices. I played the interactive videos on my Roku smart TV, an Amazon Fire cube, and the Chromecast with Google TV, and it worked each time perfectly.
Current List of Netflix Interactive Videos
While most titles will appear when you search for “interactive” in the Netflix app, others don’t show up. Here is the complete list of titles so far:
- Cat Burglar
- Johnny Test’s Ultimate Meatloaf Quest
- Escape The Undertaker
- You vs. Wild: Out Cold
- Headspace: Unwind Your Mind
- The Last Kids on Earth: Happy Apocalypse to You
- Animals on the Loose: A You vs. Wild Movie
- Spirit Riding Free: Ride Along Adventure
- The Boss Baby: Get That Baby!
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend
- Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal
- Captain Underpants Epic Choice-o-Rama
- You vs. Wild
- Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
- Minecraft: Story Mode
- Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout
- Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile
- Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale
Netflix has been moving toward offering games. Some of these interactive titles seem to be paving the way.