Here are a few of my favorite things: Nintendo, Penny Arcade, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Pokemon, Harvest Moon, Fallout, Dungeons and Dragons, books, dice, Professor Layton, Shadow of the Colossus, Minecraft, and so much more. I'm going to talk a lot about video games, I sincerely hope you don't mind.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"The Stanley Parable" and You

This is the story of you.

Right now, you are sitting in that exact location with your eyes locked onto your screen, reading these very words. You are reading this so astutely, in fact, that your mind is jumping ahead through the text and wondering what the whole point of this introduction is.

I will answer that question by saying that now the voice in your head reading this article is now speaking with a British accent. Not a cockney British accent, but the most elegant, graceful British accent your mind can muster.

Let's read this sentence together, all with that British voice you made up in your head.

Well, did it work?

Are you thinking with a British voice, all because I gave you the suggestion to do so? If you are, then let me ask you this:

Why did you obey my suggestion?

What was the reason you decided to do exactly what I told you to do?

Was it because these words are holding your attention captive, forcing you to adhere to my every whim? Or was because you where going along with the story, giddily going along with the flow to find out where it was all going?

Well then congratulations! You've just learned a valuable lesson on the illusion of choice.

One such lesson learned from the video game called “The Stanley Parable.”

The Stanley Parable, for the curiously unfamiliar, is a first-person adventure game that deals with the subject of choice and the lack thereof. Written and developed solely by Davey Wreden, the game originally began as a mod of the Source engine and became available to Steam in 2011. But since its release, it has grown in such popularity that a high-definition remake was designed and released late of 2013. The game has been praised for its thoughtful subject matter, well-crafted design and its clear sense of originality.

But it's the story that really drives the success of the game. In the game, you play a simple office worker by the name of Stanley. Stanley's job is to press buttons all day when a prompt comes up on his computer monitor. He's so blissfully happy with this menial task that it's a shock to him, at the start of the game, when one day the computer stops telling him what to do. Upon further investigation, Stanley discovers that all of his coworkers have vanished suddenly without a word. All of this exposition, as you the play the game, is told to you by the voice of the Narrator, who walks through everything that Stanley does along the story. However, even as the Narrator vocally dictates where to go and what to do, you can opt to ignore his instructions, following the path led by your own choices. Your ending is thus altered, much to the annoyance of the Narrator who insists you stay on the original story.

Now while the plot may not sound like something truly groundbreaking, it's the real story behind the story that pulls you in. This is because, despite the notions established throughout the game, the story is really about you, the player.

Sure, the game follows the actions of Stanley, but because you're the one actually controlling the actions of Stanley, the story is actually yours, as told through the life of Stanley. Normally as a gamer, you'd brush this off and disassociate your life from that of the protagonist's.

But not in The Stanley Parable.

As the game progresses, you find out that the game acknowledges this disassociation and forces you to take reflection on what you're doing with your life, both through the game and out of it. It makes you pause at the confines of video game narrative and makes you consider one crucial question:

“Do I truly have a choice?”

Because, through the parable of Stanley, we have to wonder if the power of our choices were ever really real or if they were just designed confines, predetermined since before we were born. Most games don't really delve into such topics so as not to break your immersion of the game.

But not The Stanley Parable.

Because The Stanley Parable isn't the really the story of Stanley.

It isn't the story of his missing coworkers, or the Narrator.

It isn't even the story of whether choice is really relevant.

This is the story of you.



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