The Stanley Parable

http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-stanley-parable

First off.  The Stanley Parable is a short (even with a lot of replay value, you can go through it in one sitting) interactive fiction game that I’d highly recommend to any of you gamers out there.  I hesitate to recommend it to non-gamers, because I don’t know what sort of impact it would have on them and whether they’d be able to appreciate it fully…might be interesting to think about.

It’s not the first game of its kind probably, and it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I found it to be very enjoyable (your mileage may vary).  Also, I didn’t actually have to wait for the SDK to download before playing, so that was nice.  The only parts of it that I didn’t enjoy, in fact, were:

1) For some reason, the Half-Life engine has always been notorious for consistently giving me headaches.  I’m just now googling this and it turns out HL2 (and I’m guessing probably HL1 too, which was also notorious for causing me headaches) has a default field-of-vision different from other FPS games, so I’m guessing this is probably why.  Wonder if it’s true for Portal and Portal 2 as well…anyways, remind me next time I try any sort of half-life engine game to try raising FOV to 90.  If that’s not it then…it’s some other weird thing common to half-life and some other random FPSes (and heck, even third-person shooters and such) that I’ve played in the past.

2) I could have saved myself a handful of time if I had saved often during my first playthrough, but I didn’t.

The rest of this post will probably be chock-full of spoilers, and this is definitely a game that’s best enjoyed completely spoiler-free, so if you plan to play this game, go do so now and come back later.  Really.

 

 

 

No really, go for it =)

 

 

 

Okay, starting SPOILERS!

 

Well, a lot of people have probably said a lot of different things about this game.  There’s 6 different “official” endings that I know of, though there’s some other ways to “end” the game as well, including:

-closing the door on yourself at the very start…which traps you forever.  Narrator doesn’t even say anything, haha.
-in the “go towards the light”/off edge of map ending, one guy said he just stayed there forever because he didn’t realize there was an exit.
-you can push the elevator button, then run out the elevator before the doors close, trapping you forever.  I like this one because it actually triumphs over the narrator–he doesn’t say anything and you really, totally smash the fourth wall down with this one because it comes totally apparent how the scripting is–well, just scripted events, and now you’ve ACTUALLY gone off the (multiple) paths.
-in the generator room, if you take enough fall damage, you can actually die.  I tried this but wasn’t sucessful (didn’t jump from high enough, etc), but I’ve seen it on youtube.

Of course we can also count “not playing” or “quitting the game” as ways to end the game, but let’s skip that for now ;)

 

One of the big things I want to talk about with this game is something that’s come up when I play other art games, like the two I linked to in this past post, and that’s the nature of choice in video games–particularly in games are (or at least, appear to be) letting you choose your own path, or influencing your outcome in some way (getting different dialogue, etc).  This comes up literally EVERYWHERE in gaming.  Of course, games are really all about choice anyhow–that’s what makes them interactive–but most of the choices we make in games usually is either rather inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, or is too complex to really pin down.  But when we come to binary (or trinary, etc.) choices that are presented to us, it becomes very, very poignant.  This happens in The Stanley Parable with…well, a lot of things.  This happens in Bioshock with the little sisters, this happens in every choose-your-own-adventure EVER, this happens in “Value”, and the list goes on.

The thing is that, there is this huge, huge, -huge- disjunct between how we experience these kinds of choices in games and how we experience them in real life.  In real life, there are many complex variables often at play, but arguably decisions are actually simpler (or maybe not simple, but more “straightforward”) to make, simply by virtue of there being less goals.  Namely, we make the choices that are “good” (for some nebulous meaning of the word “good”).

But in games, we’re faced with much different factors to weigh in.  We have to think about which choice is good for the character we may (or may not!) be role-playing as, but we also have to think about which choice might be good for us as a player (trying to “win” the game, perhaps).  Or maybe we should think about which choice would be more “in character”?  And then we have to think, well, what are the implications of this choice?

Some choices in games are very meaningless.  Their impact is limited to the next line of dialogue, and that’s it.  Sometimes not even that changes (though those kinds of choices still serve a purpose, in that they are challenging the player to make a decision, even if it does not affect anything).  But when we think or know that the choice has a significant impact on the rest of the game (as in The Stanley Parable), a whole slew of other things come into play.

A lot of us take on the role of completionist when we play these sorts of games; especially if they’re short.  So in our heads, we’re already thinking–well, I want to see what happens when I do X, AND I also want to see what happens when I do Y.  So which should I do first?

So already the decision-making process is quite different, because in our minds we already believe we’re going to make that other choice eventually.

And that’s why I chose to play out the “follow the narrator always” ending first.  Because I wanted to ground myself in the “status quo” before embarking on other things.  I wanted to do what was “standard” first, such that I would have something to compare the nonstandard to.

But still…every time I’m faced with this sort of binary decision point in a game–especially an art game that I know is hinging upon this choice–I’m freaked out by it.  I’m torn in multiple ways by multiple causes.  Should I do what I would really hope to do in this situation?  Should I do what I’m “supposed” to do?

I’m sure people have a lot of different ways of dealing with this, but I think it’s really something that deserves to be thought about–this huge difference between choice in life, and choice within a narrative.

 

 

I thought the “follow the narrator” ending was simple, and not very provocative, but still fine in its self-referential irony.

I liked how the “other narrator” ending didn’t even present you with credits after Stanley dies–it’s just a black screen.

The timing on the “activate the generator” narration was nearly impeccable.  I half-expected the narrator to start saying “in fact, you’ve probably been fiddling around with those light switches over and over again…” but I guess that would be too hit-or-miss to actually do….unless they coded it so that that would only play if you, in fact, did hit the light switches.  I think that would be brilliant.

I was actually a little bit miffed that the “escape the world” ending just cut you off in the middle of your exploration (with doors opened this time) and launched you back into narration.  It felt like a really big defeat.  I suppose there were only two alternatives to that: either have some secret other ending that you can discover now that everything is open (and then this ending would really feel like a “victory”, though perhaps embarrassingly so), or just have nothing left to do and you’re just stuck in a bunch of hallways that don’t actually have anything notable in them.  Which would be interesting in how “hollow” the victory would be, but bad because you’d waste a bunch of time looking around to be sure nothing interesting was around.

 

 

I just enjoyed this game so much because you can look at it on so many different levels, and it makes you examine things in an interesting light–and I -love- it when games have me thinking those kinds of thoughts.  For example, I can think about how silly it is that from the very beginning of the game, I’m trying to push the “use” key and interact with everything, and I’m also running around weirdly, trying to figure out if I can jump, crouch, use my flashlight, etc etc.  And of course, this happens in all games, because I’m a trained gamer and I like to explore and test the limits of the game I’m playing when I get my feet wet…but in a game like this, it seems rather silly.  And interesting.

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Edit: I feel like I could just keep going on and on about this game.

I love how during the process of the game, I’m both completely immersed in the game, but also completely not…it’s as if I’m simultaneously playing the game both as Stanley himself as a character, but also as a game player trying to actively break and manipulate what I know is just a video game.

For example, that second-to-last “stanley went through the RED door”–I actually hesitated significantly at that, even though I knew that this was going to be my “disobey everything” playthrough.  And then immediately after that, when the blue door “disappeared”, my gamer mind kicked in and I just spun around and found it again right away.

Another example…when going into the elevator, I press the down button (going against narrator) and I move to the back of the elevator, and yes, I feel both this sense of dread but also defiance.  Similarly, when I press the up button (“punishing myself”), I actually literally moved to the back of the elevator and stared down at the floor, as if I was hanging my head in shame.  I kid you not, I swear I did this, and no one was watching.

 

Games like this are interesting because they force you to confront and acknowledge these two separate selves–something that’s unique to playing games.

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