Sunday, October 20, 2013

The World Needs The Stanley Parable

In this blog post, I'll be exploring why I feel that The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe is a game that every game enthusiast should play.

It's not a fast game. It's not gory, action-filled, or over-the-top. It doesn't even have the most impressive graphics.
But, if you're a game developer or a player, there is something to be learned and enjoyed from the complex and beautiful game play of this game.

(Video trailer from StanleyParable YouTube channel)

In The Stanley Parable, you as the player take the title role of Stanley and begin to explore the world of free choice and options. A freedom that Stanley hasn't taken for himself before and as you play the game, you find the choices you make go deeper that you thought. It's a rabbit hole for your mind to wander and enjoy. It's littered with moments that lift you up and those that wash over you like a dark cloud.

Now, this isn't a review, because I feel like there may be some spoilers, but if you want the short answer; yes, this game is amazing and you should probably buy it.

For realsies, if you haven't experienced this game yet (and it is an experience), I highly suggest you go give it a few hours of play before you keep reading.


Good? Good.

Now, I'd like to say that this game is a great example of player gating and the illusion of choice. Player gating and the illusion of choice are ways of forming a more linear story while letting the player feel like they have more control. All games have this; some do it with giving dialog options or some use cut-scenes. A more apparent way of reigning in the player is the use of locked doors, piles of rubble, or even the dreaded invisible wall. But all games do it because it would be impossible to create a game that has every unique choice and all of the outcomes for every action, but if I taught a class on game design, I would bring in The Stanley Parable and share its strengths to the students.

Every choice that the player makes, there is a reaction. There is script and planning behind every choice the player can make; though the choices are limited. And that is part of the beauty of The Stanley Parable; the player is given direct commands and clear choices. You're told to go through one door, but there are two open. By giving this command to the player, they ignore what is essentially a third option, which is to do nothing but that doesn't stop the narrator from egging the player into making a decision, essentially making that disembodied voice into a sort of antagonist.

And this is why we need The Stanley Parable in the world today. Its a finely crafted example of how to create a story driven game and the importance of choice, be it a real one or not. With games becoming more and more open, its refreshing to see a game do the exact opposite and some how without the player caring. It gives the player choice with real changes and consequences in the game all while keeping the player in check, even telling the player that everything is falling apart just to keep them in line. And The Stanley Parable is beautiful in its detail. The fine folk over at Galactic Cafe made this game in such a way to keep the player within its boarders, but with the freedom to explore.

But what does this really mean? How does this game use all of this player gating to its advantage?

I'm no expert on the game; I didn't work on it and I don't know the developers, but I believe it was to craft an experience that it's players can hold on to just the same as directors and writers pour their hearts and souls into their work.

Speaking of movies, it's not difficult to place a game to a film genre; take Rock Star's latest release, Grand Theft Auto 5 and you can make a reasonable argument that it has parallels to many heist films or look at Undead Labs State of Decay and you can put it along side a pile of zombie flicks.

So many games can be categorized this way, but there is one genre I feel has been lacking in games; psychological thriller/drama.

That is where I would put The Stanley Parable.


As you play and replay from the subsequent restarts, subtle changes in the narration and game play start to surface. Where the hall turned to the left, it now bends to the right; where once a room is described as majestic, a repetitive, jarring monologue now takes its place. And further narration changes remind you that the game itself is keeping track of what you're doing. When you make your way to a point where you can intentionally kill yourself, the narrators voice resonates with real concern and sadness; you as the player make the choice to rob him of a sense of happiness and the game strikes you with heavy, dark emotion.

I don't want to give everything away in this game, but what I will make a note about is how The Stanley Parable breaks that fourth wall and does it in such a way that it brings you as the player deeper into the dynamic story it weaves. The narrator speaks to you, acknowledging you as a player of a game, but in his world.

From the subtle humor to its most shaking moments, The Stanley Parable is a game that takes you on a ride in your own mind. It doesn't have jump scares, heavy handed jokes, or huge explosions but it does raise questions to ask yourself. For me, it created a dialog about the meaning and definition of choice; it showed me both the futility and liberation in conformity and freedom.

In short, its a great game that shows us as gamers; developers or not, that a game can hold our attention and guide us down a path without beating us over the head or giving us some elaborate cut-scene to try and force a feeling.

Until next time,