Opinionette – The Stanley Parable

There’s so much I want to discuss about The Stanley Parable. That’s the kind of experience it is – you’ll sit and watch and play and think. Then you’ll want to grab someone else who has played it, shaking them vigorously while shouting “LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT IT ALL MEANS!” and soon you’re both frothing at the mouth. Then you’ll rush off and recommend it to someone else who hasn’t played it and grab them. “PLAY THIS IT WILL MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT IMPORTANT STUFF!” you’ll yell, and they’ll reply “Why are you both so frothy?”

You can’t tell them why they need to play it though, because that would ruin the experience. That’s what I’m worried about here – I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. So I’ll just say this now:

My Opinion is that you should play The Stanley Parable. If you’ve ever thought about video-game design for more than five seconds, you will appreciate it. If you’ve never thought about video-game design, then it might be even more eye-opening for you. But that’s all I can safely say on the matter. I can’t promise that anything I say from now on won’t negatively affect your experience of the game. 

When Stanley came to a set of links, he chose to ‘Continue Reading’…

The Stanley Parable is a HD-remix of a recent Half-Life mod of the same name, originally released in 2011. Built in the Source engine, it’s a narrative-driven, first-person adventure. Stanley, the game’s protagonist, looks around from his office job to discover that all of his co-workers have mysteriously vanished. A more objective review can be found here.

And while those are definitely its constituent parts, the whole is something much more glorious. It’s a game of metaphors, subtly hinting at a thousand things, except when it isn’t being subtle at all and it’s shoving them right in your face. It will make you question everything you’ve ever thought about games. Why does that need a competitive multiplayer element? Is the compulsory love-interest really necessary? Why didn’t the developers patch out these bugs before release? For everything you’ve ever considered, or not considered, there’s a suitable and humorous ending based on that. And it’s not just video-game design that gets put through the wringer. Look hard enough and you can start to apply the messages to other things, like work-ethics or the human condition.

The whole game can be epitomized by the first choice the game presents to you:

Stanley Parable Two Doors

“When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he took the door on his left.”

That’s the choice – left or right. Just like that, the game lets you know exactly how this whole game is going to go down. Left or right? The red pill or the blue? The voice-over has told you that Stanley goes through the left door. The game has presented a potential paradox, and your mind starts to boggle. Do you do what you are told? Do you disobey? If you choose one, will you be able to go back and use the other door? The Stanley Parable encourages you to think outside the box, even when you choose to confine yourself within it. If anything, you’ll get more interesting feedback the more crazy and twisted you make your choices. It’s proper head-melting stuff if you think about it for too long.

The true brilliance of the whole thing comes from the Narrator. Superbly voiced by Kevin Brighting, the Narrator is your guide and your misleader. Your help and your hindrance. Every move you make, step you take, he’ll be watching you*. He’s your sidekick and your antagonist and your conscience, all at the same time, whatever you need as you play. I have a great love for voice-over narrators, for the likes of GLaDOS in Portal and Rucks in Bastion. They’re emotional sounding boards, and make everything that much more personal. The Narrator in The Stanley Parable is no different, and he’ll make you smile even as you curse him.

Stanley Parable Computer

You could go and enjoy yourself, but what if you miss something at your desk?

I truly can’t go into more detail than this. I already feel I’ve said too much, that if you choose to play it now my words will have tainted your expectations. I want to tell you my favourite part, the strongest message I’ve taken away, the bits that made me upset with my own choices. But I can’t, because the fresh experience is what makes this game so strong. It’s not the most replayable game, except that you’ll replay it more times than any other. Sometimes it can get pretentious, or a bit too navel-gaze-y. But I can forgive it that because on the whole it’s so damn good.

So now, dear reader, here we come to the choice presented to you. I can highly recommend The Stanley Parable – in fact, I’d reckon I’d go so far as to say it’s one of those games that everyone should play, one of the special ones I’ll trot out to make all of my friends play when they come over**. But will you play it just based on my recommendation? Or will you decide to go and play the demo? Or completely ignore me and all of my words?

The choice is yours.

Isn’t it?

.

*(I just won a bet!)
**(To all the people I’ve forced to sit down and play Portal and Journey, I’m very sorry, but I’ve made you better people because of it. You’re welcome.)


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