A ludus complexity- The Stanley Parable.

“It’s brilliant, why? That would spoil it. You’ll just have to trust me” – RockPaperShotgun.

Once you have watched the trailer, press play and listen while you read.  Let’s explore Stanley together!

‘The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, you will not follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The game will end, the game will never end. Contradiction follows contradiction, the rules of how games should work are broken, then broken again. This world was not made for you to understand.

But as you explore, slowly, meaning begins to arise, the paradoxes might start to make sense, perhaps you are powerful after all. The game is not here to fight you; it is inviting you to dance.

Based on the award-winning 2011 Source mod of the same name, The Stanley Parable returns with new content, new ideas, a fresh coat of visual paint, and the stunning voice work of Kevan Brighting. For a more complete and in-depth understanding of what The Stanley Parable is, please try out the free demo.’ (https://www.stanleyparable.com/)

I was first introduced to this game whilst at University in Falmouth, by a good friend of mine, who said ‘just play it and see’. I had never heard of it, not looked at anything online, and had no information other than the opening narration and a blank office space. A mysterious narrator started talking to me, the player, and I knew this would be something unexpected. He began:

‘This is the story of a man named Stanley.

Stanley worked for a company in a big building where he was Employee #427. Employee #427’s job was simple: he sat at his desk in room 427 and he pushed buttons on a keyboard. Orders came to him through a monitor on his desk, telling him what buttons to push, how long to push them, and in what order. This is what Employee #427 did every day of every month of every year, and although others might have considered it soul rending, Stanley relished every moment the orders came in, as though he had been made exactly for this job. And Stanley was happy.’ (http://thestanleyparable.wikia.com/wiki/Dialogue)

Straight away I was making comparisons (as it’s what I do when faced with something that I enjoy, damn brain) between myself and Stanley. Is the narrator talking to me directly? I am sat in a room pushing button on a keyboard? Games send orders through a monitor and we respond according to the limits of what we can do in that moment, and are we not made exactly for that job? As players?

We are sometimes happy, but as the game progresses (even though he does not speak) we are transported into the weird world of The Stanley Parable and Employee #427. A place where all of your movements, choices and free will are controlled or criticised by the Narrator (voiced by the very talented Kevin Brighting). This is what The Stanley Parable does so well, and why it has been an important inspiration for my own work, choices are questioned in The Stanley Parable, are they yours? Free will is non-existent, as they will, ultimately, lead you to a pre-organised ending of their own.

With a grand total of 16 ( I beleive, but others have different ideas of what you may consider ‘an ending’) The Stanley Parable has thought through everything a player could do, created a pathway, and provided a conclusion.

Wreden writes, “The reason the game is powerful to you is because you don’t know. Because you can’t tell the difference… All we do is we set it up. We set the stage. And then you get onstage and you run yourself in circles until you pass out. That’s the struggle that’s interesting to me. To run yourself in circles. To run your brain in circles until you pass out. I think that’s compelling. And I don’t think it’s just that I want people to suffer; there is something really cool when you come out on the other side of that, you know? Something very personal and very fulfilling. But it is a very personal journey and so it’s not my place to comment.” (http://animalnewyork.com/2013/game-plan-making-stanley-parable-game-getting-lost-office/)

‘The Beginner’s Guide is a narrative video game from Davey Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable. It lasts about an hour and a half and has no traditional mechanics, no goals or objectives. Instead, it tells the story of a person struggling to deal with something they do not understand.’ (http://store.steampowered.com/app/303210/) I haven’t played this yet but already I am mulling over questions in my head, and just from the trailer alone I’m excited, one review said, “I’ve been thinking about this game a lot for the past 36 hours. It demanded I think about it, at first only superficially, but later more substantively. I mulled over a lot of questions when I should have been sleeping. I continued thinking right when I woke up. I think I dreamed about it in between.” -Destructoid

I feel like this is the effect that we should feel when faced with games such as these (another being Dr Langeskov, the tiger and the terribly cursed emerald, a whirlwind heist-same people who made both), an endless stream of questions that won’t be answered because in a weird way, they are answered (it just depends who the answer is for, the player or the character).

My favourite thing about this game is the complete sense of control (over you, not the control you have) as it leads to some interesting narrative that you begin to create as a player. Imagine, if you will, that you are hearing a voice, it tells you what you should do, why you shouldn’t do certain things and essentially traps you in a maze (making all your choices for you). Where is the agency? Where is the fun in just hitting buttons and letting the game lead you where it wants you to go?  Because you have no idea where you will go, the various angles we get to analyse and explore Stanley are many.

I would have to say that my favourite ending was the ‘Crazy Ending’ (after going through the left door when given a choice, go down the stairs instead of up, just so you know how to get to it.*) purely because it made me feel a little ill after playing because I was playing and picturing myself as Stanley (and it didn’t end well).

If you want to hear more about this game, then there are many reviews and explorations of its meaning online, here are a few I found interesting:

The clever people at Glacticcafe responded to a players complaint in a clever way by creating an alternate trailer that I feel really sums up what the game is all about (whilst not spoiling anything if you haven’t played it) I hope you enjoyed reading and will go play it if you are willing to get lost in all the questions and possibilities of this clever game.

For a game where all you really do is listen, walk, watch and press buttons, it gets your brain ticking, I guarantee it will have you hooked for a while. Thank you for reading and listen out for more info on our projects coming u that share similar themes with this excellent game.

What was your favourite ending? I’d love to know, as long as you aren’t Raphael…

*I understand that those instructions will mean nothing to you if you havn’t played but I hope they will intrigue you enough to go give it a try.

James

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