The Stanley Parable – Big Ideas in Small Spaces

The Stanley Parable

Every now and then, a game gets stuck in your head. You find yourself thinking about it at work and planning out what you’ll do the next time you play it. The Stanley Parable has been that game for me recently. Even after ‘beating’ the game, I keep thinking about other options and areas I want to go back and explore. This is a game with no enemies, few mechanics, and a whole lot of depth. You’ll end up seeing the same areas a lot, but each time feels like a new adventure.

Recently, I’ve had a craving for story rich games with little to no combat. I’ve been particularly drawn to what many call, walking simulators. There are times when I want to be the baddest hero on the block, or go toe to toe with the toughest enemies around,but lately, I’ve just wanted to be a part of a good story or mystery. Thus, walking simulators. It’s a genre I stumbled upon on Steam, and I quickly put several games in my wishlist. While I haven’t actually purchased any of those yet, I did purchase the most recent Humble Bundle (as I usually do). The Stanley Parable was in that bundle. I had heard about the game before, but I didn’t really know what it was about. I knew it took place in an office, and that it was supposedly good. Turns out, both of those things are true. This game ended up being exactly what I was looking for.

A large portion of The Stanley Parable takes place in an office building. You start in Stanley’s cubicle and slowly make your way through the halls. While you explore, a narrator guides you and comments on your actions. In each new area, you are presented with a choice: follow the path the narrator says you will, or deviate. Basically, obey or disobey. This is the crux of the game. Each new combination of obeys/disobeys will result in a new outcome. You then start over and do it again. Earlier, I said that I ‘beat’ the game, because I haven’t actually beaten it. I got the Steam achievement for beating the game, but I haven’t seen all of the outcomes yet. I’m not one to try and 100% every game I play, but I really want to see everything there is to see in The Stanley Parable. For a small area, it is chocked full of content.

The Stanley Parable Two Doors

Obedience vs. Disobedience. Which will you choose?

The main area you traverse with each pass is not big. You go from your office, into an open area with cubicles, to a hall, to another open area with cubicles, to another hall, to a room with two doors. It’s this room where the design of the level begins to change based on your choices. During one run, I ended up in what seemed to be an endless loop through the hall. It was a subtle transition away from the normal level design, and it took me a moment to realize I was going in circles. It’s that kind of gentle manipulation that makes exploration so much fun in The Stanley Parable. You never know if you’re doing the ‘right’ thing by obeying or disobeying. You really don’t even know where your choice will lead you. The ambiguity in the choices creates excitement and tension as you move towards a new outcome. It also made me want to get right back to the same choice and choose the opposite. I simultaneously love the mystery of the unseen outcomes and want to see every part of the game.

These moments of ambiguous choice help to highlight the messages of the narrative. The main question the game presents to you is: Are you in control? Stanley’s job consists of pressing buttons that he is told to press. Even after everyone in his office mysteriously disappears, the narrator tells him where to go. With each choice you are presented with, you can decide whether or not to take control. I’m not going to spoil any of the endings, but I will say that the outcomes for complete obedience and complete disobedience are very different. It’s interesting to see what happens when you don’t follow along or when you do. It’s a fantastic commentary on the conformity and go-with-the-flow attitude found in corporate life. As someone currently working in an office job, I completely understand the desire to break out of the routine as well as the fears that come along with that possibility.

The Stanley Parable Broom Closet

Some of my favorite dialogue in the game happened in the broom closet.

With all of that in mind, you may be thinking that this is a very bleak and serious game. It’s not. It does cover a lot of serious ideas, and it can sometimes be a little dark, but it’s also really funny. I had heard before playing this game that the narrator was fantastic, and I can honestly say that that’s true. The game’s sense of humor is very much in the same vein as Portal’s sense of humor. If you’re a fan of disembodied voices making fun of what you do in the game, you’ll very much like this game. It’s sarcastic and witty. The narrator’s humorous comments were another key factor in me wanting to explore everything in the world. Getting a new line of dialogue from the narrator is like finding a hidden treasure. Pro tip, if you find the broom closet, just stay there and listen.

The Stanley Parable was exactly the kind of game I was in the mood to play, and it delivered on my expectations. I’ve played the bulk of the game, but I know I’m going to keep going back to it here and there to pick up all the leftover outcomes. My time with the game has been so refreshing that I’m actually going to dive right into another combat-free walking simulator. Sometimes it’s just nice to explore and engage in new worlds without cutting heads off or blowing up vehicles. I’ve got a particular game in mind so look out for that sometime next week.

In general, I’ll be covering a lot more Steam games now that I have my PC built, so you should start seeing more game specific articles pop up. Steam games are cheaper so I’m able to play more of them, and by extension, write more about them. If you have any suggestions for some great Steam games you think I should try out, leave them in the comments below or send me an email at dweebjar@gmail.com.

You can follow me on Twitter @jakecrump.

If you’d like, you can support my writing here.

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