When a medium reaches a certain level of maturity, artists within it begin to deconstruct the nature of the art form. It happened at the turn of the century with modern art, the nouvelle vague in cinema, and even molecular gastronomy. Video games have reached that point, and The Stanley Parable is leading the way.
Stanley is an employee at an unnamed corporation whose job consists of hitting a button in a computer when prompted to. He has done his job for years without incident until one day he realizes that everyone in his office is gone. As he steps out of his cubicle to have a look around, an omnipresent narrator begins to dictate his journey. You, as a player, have the choice to follow the narrator’s instructions, or attempt to carve your own path through the labyrinthine office. There are several endings to uncover depending on what actions you take, and amazingly, the narrator seems to remember previous playthroughs, adding a layer of intrigue to what endings you will get depending in what order you chose to uncover them.
Published by: Galactic Cafe
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
What works: Creative level design | Amazing narration | Plays with your head |
What doesn’t work: Is it really a game? Or an analysis of one?
However, trying to explain the story of The Stanley Parable is like trying to explain a good joke. The beauty in this game lies with being the player. It is an experience that can honestly only be experienced through a video game. The narrator, played exceptionally by Kevan Brighting, will quip and make sly remarks about the way you go about the game, making you question if you are ever doing the right thing.
Yet, there is no right ending to The Stanley Parable. Unlike the majority of video games that give you the illusion of choice, The Stanley Parable does not hide the fact that the game never ends. No matter what you do, Stanley ends up right back in his office, wondering where his co-workers went; and every time you take him right back out to try a new path. It is the definition madness brought to life and more surprisingly, it is the entire video gaming medium brought to its core.
Some might say that The Stanley Parable barely qualifies as a game, it is more of an interactive experience. There are no enemies, no weapons, bare bones interaction with the environment, hell, you can’t even jump. But much like a piece of artful, independent cinema, it does not need modern day gaming implementations to function as one. It acts as a mirror into the medium, seeking to understand what it is we do as gamers. As is the case with what happened to Stanley’s co-workers, the answers are varied and rather vague.
Choices in video games are always predefined. In order for a game to function, one must follow its rules. No matter what you do, the game starts the same way, and ends in a predetermined way. Developers will throw several different variables at you to try and make each player feel like the game is unique to them, but at the end of the day, the permutations are finite. The Stanley Parable understands this and shows video games for what they are. The unfortunate reality is that no matter how free you might feel, you are still sitting at your computer pushing the buttons they tell you to push.