What makes interactive fiction a game?

gaming, writing

Over winter break, Netflix released Bandersnatch as part of its Black Mirror series, an “interactive film” where viewers make decisions for the main character as he attempts to create an interactive fiction game (hmm) in the 80s. Like many people, I watched–or is it played?–the film, exploring its many routes and endings. And as I did so, it strongly reminded me of a very similar entertainment experience–that of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us and the studio’s similar games.

In both of these kinds of interactive fiction, the consumer watches a scene unfold on the screen, chooses–or doesn’t–the main character’s action or dialogue at certain points, and then continues to watch as the story unfolds from there. Telltale games even include a “default” option if the player doesn’t make an active choice, just like Bandersnatch. Scene, choice, scene… the cycle continues until the story ends, or you decide to go back to a certain scene and make a different choice.

But while Bandersnatch is called a film, Telltale products are called games, even though they have the same core interaction. Which raises the question: Is Bandersnatch a game? Is TWAU a game? At what point can a work of interactive fiction be called a game? And why?