Critical Play: Walking Simulators — The Stanley Parable

I played The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe on PC. It’s a game in which the player controls an office worker named Stanley whose life is narrated storybook-style by an invisible force. The Narrator describes Stanley’s day, but the player can choose whether or not to follow his instructions; their obedience or lack thereof shapes the game’s story, with the Narrator eventually becoming the antagonist of the game if the player is consistently defiant.

The silent player can do little besides walk and perform minor interactions with the environment, with most actions performing as binary choices of “obey” or “defy,” so its mechanics essentially amount to a choose-your-own-adventure laid out in 3d space with an added explorative element. It primarily generates Narrative fun with a small amount of Fantasy and Expression, as the player steps into Stanley’s shoes to explore a branching narrative by either acting out his life exactly as intended or shaping it as they see fit. It differs from other games in the Walking Sim genre in that walking itself is a significant action and the primary source of player agency within the game, rather than merely a vehicle for exploration — the Narrator says Stanley turns left, and whether or not the player does so advances the story accordingly. While it is a Walking Sim by virtue of the fact that the player does little but walk, the player is less discovering an existing story etched into the environment as they are creating a story through their actions.

Its target audience seems to be people who like the choose-your-own-adventure format, as well as those who enjoy a particular brand of sardonic humor and social commentary, which is invoked by the Narrator’s dialogue, the cynical office setting of the game (including Stanley’s job as Employee #427, which is to push buttons as they’re read to him from a headset), and the premise itself. I imagine people whose favorite part of Portal was the tone would enjoy this game (by which I mean me).

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