Walking Simulators: The Stanley Parable

Before I discuss The Stanley Parable, I recommend you turn on my favorite music track from the game to get a sense of how energetic and silly the game is. The Stanley Parable is a PC game originally released as a free mod for Half-Life 2 in 2011. It was remade with the Source engine and published by Galactic Cafe in 2013.  I think the target demographic was people who spent a lot of time with games in general, since the entire game is essentially a lampoon of the idea of player choice present in the medium. The entire game can be described as the player controlling an office worker named Stanley who walks around the game environment as a British narrator (voiced by Kevin Brighting) describes the game.

In my opinion, the narrator character is the main source of fun in the game, as the player usually tries to provoke him with their decisions and elicit a hilarious reaction. My favorite such moment in the game involves Stanley waiting inside a broom closet while the narrator ridicules him for it.

The only thing I’d really consider changing about The Stanley Parable is the tedium of treading through the first few areas before the paths really diverge. After a while, the visual gags in the room are familiar to the player and it’s not really worth looking at them again. It’s tough to suggest that though, because the game justifiably contextualizes this as ‘each playthrough telling the same story’, or at least that’s what the narrator is trying to do. Overall this doesn’t bother me much.

Walking around in the game allows the player to explore different environments, but much more importantly it is used for the player to engage with the narrator. The main irony of this game is that the player is really exploring the narrator while the narrator describes the game as the player exploring the environment. Exploring the environment often leads to weird and interesting discoveries, like a non-Euclidean hallway, but in my opinion the narrator is the main driving force for the player to continue playing the game.

This whole designer-intent versus player-intent theme is a clever way for the designers to highlight the tension in some games experienced between a player’s actual motivations and the designer’s beliefs about the player’s motivations. This kind of thing can lead to some very bizarre player behavior that does not reflect well on the game, like the infamous horse-cliffing in Bethesda’s mega-hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Horse-cliffing happens because the designers hadn’t anticipated what players would actually want to spend their time and attention doing. Although Skyrim has a lot of interesting content that took a lot of time and effort to create, its physics system is a bit lacking in some areas. Since the game takes place on a huge map populated by mountain ranges, players traveling to different areas often have to spend a significant amount of time weaving their way through mountain ranges to cross the landscape — or they would, if they couldn’t just laboriously glitch their way up mountains with a horse to take an overall more direct route across the map.

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