Video games sell themselves as interactive media in which the player controls the results according to their choices. The Stanley Parable is an independent game that satirizes this idea to show that free will is actually a grand illusion. This critique is made in an intelligent and comical way, making you think and laugh at the same time. In the following lines, I share my experience with the title of Galactic Cafe.
First of all, it is worth explaining that The Stanley Parable is a popular game, released in 2013 on Steam, so it’s hard to meet someone who hasn’t heard of it for the past eight years. I decided to revisit this indie because of a very peculiar achievement called “Go outside”, whose goal is not to open the game for five years. Now, in 2021, I can finally say that I’m one step closer to plating this adventure.
the end is never the end in The Stanley Parable
Without further ado, let’s get to the game. The Stanley Parable it’s a fully narrative game — that is, there are no combats, weapons or enemies trying to kill you (or is there?). In the plot, you take on the role of Stanley, employee number 427 at any company. His role at the office is simple: pushing buttons and obeying orders without question, and he’s happy with that.
Stanley’s routine at work alludes to the act of playing video games — pushing buttons while obeying game rules to achieve a rewarding result. At one point, this can also be seen as an analogy to the real world. We are pressured by society to follow a life script. We need to study, go to college, get a job, have children… All this without questioning the system.
One fine day, Stanley fails to take orders from his superiors and is confused, as if he has no more purpose in life. He gets up from his chair to seek help from his colleagues at the company, but realizes that they have all disappeared out of nowhere. This is where the true protagonist of the parable comes in — the narrator — who guides Stanley on his journey towards this supposedly newfound freedom.
This narrator appears as a voice from beyond telling what Stanley must do to return to normal life. However, you can choose to obey orders or be stubborn and go your own way. Depending on your choices, the game could end in one of 18 available endings, not all of which are good. There is no right way to end the story, and often the end can be just another beginning.
In The Stanley Parable, the game is who you play
The big thing is, because there is so much choice, it seems that you are in control of the story. In fact, it’s the other way around. The narrator is the one who controls you. Regardless of which path you take, the narrator will find a way to question your decisions and alert you to their possible consequences.
The Stanley Parable, purposefully, does this to criticize recent video games, which are linear narratives but offer players choices to create a false illusion of free will. You don’t have the power to decide anything, and your only task is to follow a script with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you are interested in understanding how the creation of narratives for games works, this game is more than a must.
As complicated as this whole trip seems, each end of The Stanley Parable lasts less than an hour. In just one day, you can finish all 18 paths without too many problems, even more if you use a guide so you don’t end up in the same loop twice. In addition, the narrator does not skimp on humor and sarcasm when talking to Stanley, so the story is much lighter.
On the gameplay part, there’s not much mystery. It is only possible to walk, crouch and interact with objects. As the focus is on the narrative, then that’s fine. The graphics aren’t impressive by today’s standards either, as the game is built on Valve’s Source graphics engine, which is also used in Half-Life, Portal, among other classic titles. The Stanley Parable is only available for PC on Steam.
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe arrives in 2022
It is worth mentioning that, in early 2022, the game will be re-released by the Crows Crows Crows studio, with unprecedented paths and endings for the story, as well as updated graphics for the new generation and availability for computers and consoles. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe it will be a new game, but the motto will remain the same: “the end will never be the end”.