Critical Play: Walking Simulators

I played The Stanley Parable, designed and written by developers Davey Wreden and William Pugh, on PC.

The target audience for the game is gamers who enjoy narrative-driven games. The game is driven by instructors given by the narrator, which the player can choose to follow or ignore in a choose-your-own-adventure-esque manner. The game is loaded with sarcasm and humor along with commentary on games and game development methods. While regular people without gaming experience would probably still enjoy the game, a person who has a background in gaming would be able to get the most out of the commentary.

The game involves very few actions that can be performed by the player. Their agency is limited to walking around the environment and interacting with a small number of buttons. Rather than traditional mechanics, the gameplay is instead driven by the narrator’s description of Stanley’s future actions. The player can choose to follow these descriptions like instructions, or disobey them. Compared to traditional walking simulators where choices are presented to the player in a more discrete form like dialogue or action options, in The Stanley Parable, there are very rarely discrete options to choose from. Even not moving the player is taken as a choice for inaction in specific parts of the game.

The Stanley Parable’s types of fun are primarily narrative and discovery but contain aspects of fantasy. Players not only explore the facility the game takes place in, but also explore the branching narrative with each choice presented to them. The game is quite humorous in its narrative depending on the choices made by the player. If the player chooses to defy the narrator, the narrator becomes an antagonist and makes fun of the player for trying to save themselves by doing things that would be expected to work in other games. This commentary on how gamers have been trained by games to expect certain things, think in certain ways. and chase completion is quite enjoyable for me as someone who has played a lot of games but may not land as well with an inexperienced gamer. I particularly like the dry sarcastic humor in the game and I think it serves as an excellent vehicle for the social commentary. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the game.

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