For this critical play, I played the Stanley Parable by Crows Crows Crows. The game’s corporate hellscape aesthetic and the first-person perspective create an eerie, intriguing environment to explore. The game is certainly intended for more mature audiences, as it deals with some intense existential dread and themes of suicide, psychological break, etc. Funny how just walking places can get so intense. But that’s par for the course with the Stanley Parable- in this game, walking is not just a mechanic to get you from place to place, or a way to see the world – in the Stanley Parable, walking is freedom.
The mechanic of the game is unclear from the beginning – a narrator guides you through the story, and if you listen to him, you reach the end of the game with no bumps, just walking from place to place and maybe hitting a few buttons. Then you find yourself back at the start, as if nothing you did mattered. I realized that to play the game fully, I had to ignore the narrator’s guidance and take my own path, making my own decisions. And the only way to make a decision in this game is to walk. Walking into new places provides new narration, new endings, reveals more about the strange world Stanley exists in, the narrator, and the role of the narrative. In this game, walking is all about agency – it is what allows you to experience the fun of discovery and narrative.
Walking is both a mechanic and a metaphor in the Stanley Parable – it is what causes you to experience the game, and is at the same time the core of the commentary the game is making on the freedom of choice and how games operate. However, you do not have unlimited freedom – it’s still a game, and there are still places you can’t walk to, things you cannot do – even within the supposed freedom walking allows, you are still following a deliberately created path, even if it strays from the narrator’s story. Only some doors open for you to walk through.
Every section has new places for you to walk because you are supposed to be there, despite what the narrator says. Of course, you are punished, either with the narrator berating you or with death. In this sense, walking becomes a mechanic for suspense as well – making the decision to walk a certain direction changes your outcome, branches a new path, brings forth a new terror.
The walking is an act of defiance against the narrator overlord, and yet still obeys the framework of the game that we exist within. Despite these layers upon layers of meta-meta-meta commentary we could delve into, the important part is how walking is integral to the discovery of the narrative, as well as the unsubtle meaning that the game tries to convey.