[This article contains spoilers for some of the secrets hidden deep in the new Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. You can choose to click away before you see them—or not, depending on your feelings about free will).]
Given the way that their new interactive special, Bandersnatch, plays on themes of obsession and paranoia, it’s not wholly surprising that Charlie Brooker and his Black Mirror team might fill the ’80s-set digital nightmare with a whole treasure trove of easter eggs for observant “players” to tease out, anxiously checking every corner of its various branching paths. Still, there’s “Let’s hide an elaborate number of references to our past episodes in the background of this one,” and then there’s “Oh, and let’s make one of them a playable video game for a 36-year-old gaming console most of our audience has never heard of,” which, it turns out, is exactly what Black Mirror’s creators have done.
Bandersnatch has been out for less than a day, but fans have already begun combing through it obsessively, putting together flowcharts, arguing about themes, and noticing references to a number of the show’s previous dystopic outings, ranging from big (the poster for the hit video game Metl Hedd at the studio where hapless protagonist Stefan is initially offered a job) to the more obscure, like a news chyron noting that the cast of “U.S.S. Callister’s” Space Fleet is getting back together. The best-hidden (so far, at least) required a bit of extra work to uncover, though, asking fans to take audio from one of the episode’s multiple endings and then—as one does—load it into a software emulator for classic British gaming system the ZX Spectrum.
See, the Spectrum (which was a big deal in nerd England in the 1980s) used audio cassettes to store data, much like the Commodore 64 and other contemporary systems. Loading the audio from the demo for the Bandersnatch game that Stefan listens to in the special’s after-credits scene into a ZX Spectrum emulator, then, causes it to spit out a QR code, which in turn led users to a “fan site” created by Netflix for the special. That site was already filled with other Black Mirror references—we have to admit to getting a puerile chuckle out of Pig In A Poke—but the code takes you to a version of the site that includes an entry for “Nohzdyve,” a reference to the show’s third-season social media horror story “Nosedive,” and which includes a playable version of the game, which, again, you have to stick back into that ZX emulator if you want to check out.
The game itself is pretty simple—you’re falling down a long shaft, trying to capture people’s eyes while avoiding chattering mouths that we assume represent gossip or bad word of mouth—but is kind of a clever riff on the episode’s themes. Meanwhile, if this feels like a lot of work to go through (and even more to implement!) for a few references to an old episode, and an even older computer system, well: Yeah. But it’s also a very cool way for Brooker to encourage players to keep poking at Bandersnatch’s secrets, reminding them that, even if free will is ultimately an illusion, it can be pretty fun to pretend it exists for a minute or two.