Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Name of game, creator, platform:

The Stanley Parable is a first-person single player exploration game available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It was published by Galactic Cafe and written and developed by Davey Wedren and William Pugh.

Target audience (as best you can discover from research or the games messaging):

From what I can determine, the target audience of The Stanley Parable are those that have previously played games, especially with narration or predetermined storytelling. In fact, I think some of the impact is lost if players haven’t played games where there has been some narration of predetermined events. At the end of the day, it’s still a fun game that doesn’t require any mechanical skill, and can be enjoyed by any player that likes a good story.

Formal elements of the game: how many players? What actions can players take? How does gameplay work? Do they do anything interesting with player relationships/objectives/resources?

The Stanley Parable is played in first person as a single player game. Players explore the map (an office setting) and are able to interact minimally (open/close certain doors, push buttons) to unlock different endings. The game is unique in that the main objective is to find as many alternative endings and easter eggs as possible, at least in my personal opinion. Players can play through an ending and then manually reset to the beginning, and sometimes the narrator forcibly resets the game. The main resource available to the player are actions that lead to a perceived freedom of choice. Conflict arises when players take actions that contradict those foretold by the narrator. Players can “break” the rules set by the narrator, creating the illusion of control. However, these actions are still predetermined, or control is simply wrested back by the narrator as he twists the story to fit his needs. It forces players to question whether they ever really have control over a game, or if they are simply walking down some path that a game developer has already written for them.

This the first(?) choice presented to players: The narrator says to go through the left door, but players aren’t prevented from choosing the right one.

How does walking tell the story?

Walking is the main means by which the player can advance the story and make choices, followed by a small number of cutscenes. You walk through a doorway or deviate from a path to make a choice. Entering certain areas triggers new events and changes to the map. Essentially, if you don’t move, the story doesn’t continue at all, and you end up with a very boring game of just looking at an office room.

Players progress through the story and make choices by walking.

What kind of fun? How do the elements of the game lead it to be fun/compelling?

Most of the fun from The Stanley Parable stems from the interactions with the narrator and discovering new endings and easter eggs. Narrative and discovery are the types of the fun that fit the game the best. Players create their own narrative and story as they play through the game, and can quit or begin the story whenever and however they please. The large sprawling labyrinth that constitutes the game map invites exploration, with different choices leading to changes in the environment. Sometimes, the changes lead to non-euclidean spaces, which are fun to explore and conceptualize.

An alternate ending that occurs when you ignore the narrator at the very last second.

Why does this game work? How could it be improved?

The Stanley Parable works because it takes advantage of environmental storytelling, calling on players’ previous experiences of playing through games. Players are motivated to keep playing because they want to discover what other endings are possible, and the narrator even taunts the player into discovering other endings. It’s more of an experience of exploration rather than single-sightedly aiming for a goal. I think it would be nice to give players a way to see what endings they’ve seen, or have the ability to jump to certain scenes so as not to repeat certain portions of the game multiple times, but I understand that these features were probably not included on purpose. 

Compare the game you chose to other games in its genre. What differentiates it from the other games? Is it better/worse? How so?

I’ll be honest, I’ve never played any games like The Stanford Parable before. The closest would be something like Doki Doki Literature Club, which does incorporate multiple endings and a 4th wall break, but I still feel like they’re pretty different games. Narratively, The Stanley Parable is much less linear in narrative structure as compared to Doki Doki Literature Club, and is a bit more honest as to what type of game you’re playing. The narrator tells you that he is resetting the game, and subtly guides you into making branching choices. Doki Doki Literature Club disguises itself as a dating sim and generates most of its impact from revealing that it’s actually a psychological horror game. Both games are excellent in their own rights, and it’s hard to say if one is really better than the other.


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