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The Stanley Parable

In The Stanley Parable you play as Stanley. Employee #427 is your designated title; another cog in the workforce machine at a big, drab office building. You sit at your desk day after day, week after week and year after year, hitting keys on your keyboard as the directions on your monitor instruct. You have no prospects and no options, while your employer demands much of you. You’re a mindless office drone, yet you’re content with this dreary life.

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Then one day those instructions stop coming. Your monitor is blank and lifeless, instructing you no more. Curious as to what’s happened, you step away from your computer and find that none of your co-workers are here either, their desks oddly deserted. The narrator in your head reveals in his snarky British accent what you already know – nobody else is here. So you walk through the office, from room to room and briskly down hallways, hoping to come across some form of life. Perhaps you missed a memo and they’re in the meeting room? It’s difficult to tell. Eventually you come across two open doors side-by-side, and The Stanley Parable‘s intent slowly begins to reveal itself.

The Stanley Parable is a lovingly adventurous game”“When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left” the narrator chimes in.

But what would happen if you disobeyed the narrator? He’s specifically told you what you’re going to do, what’s expected of you, but there are two options here. Stanley has an ounce of freedom for the first time in his life and you have a choice to make.

Whichever door you choose, the contents on the other side will never be what you expected. The Stanley Parable is a lovingly adventurous game, exploring many relevant themes in exceedingly surprising and humorous ways.

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The narrator constantly tells you what to do but there’s always an option to disobey and break the game’s own rules, twisting the narrative and creating your own path. Yet, this has been thoughtfully designed, too. You’re meant to break the rules, to ignore the narrator and go through the wrong door, plunge to your death or spend ten minutes standing in a broom closet. It presents choices but the narrator is always one step ahead; each permutation is laid out in front of you, so do you really have a say? The Stanley Parable makes you question the nature of choice in videogames and how games only offer an illusion of it.

“To delve into specifics would rob The Stanley Parable of its majesty”In lesser hands it might feel in danger of coming apart at the hinges, rendering each choice a pointless exercise in satirising industry tropes. But it saves itself by being a fascinating and thoughtful commentary, full of wonderfully written and performed dialogue, and tremendous creativity. You still question if any of your choices really mean anything, but seeing the reactive results of your actions is incredibly rewarding because of its invention. To delve into specifics would rob The Stanley Parable of its majesty. Just know that there’s nothing else quite like it.

Astute observations on game design and how we, as players, react to certain situations colour the rest of the game. The narrator is a constant and hilarious presence, too, self-aware that this is in fact a videogame and someone is playing it. Break from his narration too often and he grows increasingly frustrated at your inability to follow instructions. He mocks and teases with a sharp wit, questioning your ability or going on lengthy tangents that culminate in amazingly elaborate jokes. His constant presence could grow weary and annoying but it never does. It’s just consistently funny.

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Each journey through is always unique and filled with wonderful surprises, constantly subverting your expectations whether you discover one of its various endings in five minutes or thirty. Some may bemoan this short length but its brevity expertly plays into its design, allowing you to quickly get back on track as you venture down yet another of its branching paths.

However you choose to engage in its tangled narratives and plethora of false choices, you’ll no doubt find something new and surprising to provoke a chuckle or prudent reflection on each playthough. It’s just a terrific experience, somehow managing to gratify with choices that seemingly mean nothing, achieving this feat with a phenomenal central performance, expert writing and ceaseless creativity. The only choice you have left to make now is an illusion, too. Of course you’re going to buy The Stanley Parable.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

Friendly and informed discussion

  1. Cormac Murray

    27th October 2013

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    Just played this game today, if you can define this as a game. It serves as an eye-opening tech demo in the storytelling in video-games, and the meta-analytical approach is often welcome in any medium. This could serve as an important stepping stone in the way games are narrated in the future. This primarily has breadth rather than depth, but it would be really interesting to see how far games can take this and offer a meaningful experience.

    However the David Attenborough-esque narrative is hilarious, and while not quite a game, it’s the experience that counts. I wouldn’t be watching movies and listening to music if I only judged a title on their gameplay.

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