[Gaming Lessons] Stanley Parable

Random Observation/Comment #421: One can learn from everything… Especially playing video games.

see lemons smile

(Quick warning: There are minor spoilers, but not anything you probably don’t already know from reading other reviews about this game.)

I had never written anything about video games because I never found one that probed my personal psycho-babel analysis… until now. Stanley Parable. This is not your typical first person shooter, but rather an interactive narrative story line with the illusion of choice and some very clever/entertaining dialogue.

The narrator leads Stanley (you) through an adventure of exploring a mysterious company, but the landscape provides opportunities for Stanley to stray from the path and find different endings. Each choice reveals deeper social commentary and each ending makes the player want to keep finding different endings (even though it just keeps restarting).  Looks like this:


I love the game concept because it’s super ‘meta’ and each layer says so much about the simulation of a world we live in.  After playing a majority of the endings, I think this is what the game is trying to tell us:

  • Choice is a lie. Everything in the game is restricted so you have to follow any number of set paths already written by the script the narrator reads from. You’re choosing to do something, yes, but it’s something already programmed into the game.
  • Or is it? The game itself is finite and there are scenarios (trapping yourself in the broom closet) where the narrator talks directly to the player(s) in the room telling us to get on with our normal lives and stop playing this game. The only choice we have is not to play the game and disobey the rules, but rather to not play the game at all.
  • Yep… it is. As parables go, we all want to know that what-if. It’s so rare we get to relive a moment over and over again like Groundhog’s Day, so it’s all a trap because the designer of the game knows we’ll at least keep playing 6 more times to find other endings.
  • Freedom can come from following the rules. Ironically, if you listen to the narrator’s directions, Stanley gains his freedom by turning off the ‘Mind Control machine’ and essentially stop ‘you’ the player from controlling him. An actual happy ending because Stanley, the person you were controlling, has freedom.
  • Or can it? Even after you beat the game that way, the game always just loops on itself and restarts. There is no escape from this cycle and actually no real freedom…. unless you stop playing. But how can you resist the curiosity of seeing that new ending?
  • Existence requires a reason. If a god has no followers, does the god still exist? In one of the endings, ‘you’ the player stops controlling Stanley. The Narrator then goes into a monologue showing his insecurity with his own existence when having an inactive player. What’s the narrator’s purpose if no one moves? In fact, we all need to exist: the designer of the game, player of the game, Narrator in the game, and Stanley in order for there to be a game itself. If the game existed and no one played it, then no one would hear the story. It’s all a symbiotic relationship, and this is a slippery slope of this type of thinking that leads to insanity.

At the end of the day, this was a pretty fun game. The main path takes about 15 minutes and the other endings could mostly be completed within 2 hours.  If you want to add another layer of control, you can just watch a youtube walkthrough of the game to find all the endings. I guess if you’re watching a video of a series of choices made by a player leading a character in a game that gives finite choices the thinking about the scenario can just drive one crazy…

~See Lemons In a Parable