As gamers we’ve been witness to it all. From flagrant user comments, to opinionated podcasts, to games themselves; there exists a landscape of intolerance, capitalization, and cookie cutter game design that makes one wonder why they would ever fathom getting into this business. But the Stanley Parable changed my impressions on the future of games… it gave me hope – Hope that one day games can and will be considered more than just a way to pass the time or a mechanism by which to squeeze every penny from the consumer. Games can be art, they can make significant changes in the perception of the player, and we should be using that to better ourselves. Games should be the ultimate exploration of a subjective consciousness in an objective world.
The stanley parable focuses on the narrative relationship between the player (main character) and the voice that guides them (narrator) (e.g. Cortana in Halo). What if I don’t want to go down this corridor? What if I don’t want to save the galaxy from a collective alien threat? Shouldn’t there be systems in place which respect these realities? The Stanley Parable delivers in this respect. The paths for player noncooperation are not only present, but they’re engaging and way more fun than they have any business being. (Spoilers) One such ending has the player follow the main narrative thread up until the very last decision, which upon making the “wrong” decision, has the player return to a room where they will likely begin fervently pressing buttons in an attempt to end the countdown to their doom. Upon doing so myself, I was surprised to hear the narrator commenting on my actions. As I pressed every button in every conceivable combination the narrator chimed in stating that this was all just a game after all, and my actions were utterly fruitless. Surprisingly this didn’t hamper my resolve. I was sure that modern game design principles wouldn’t fail me and that someway through some random combination of buttons I would be able to survive, but I was wrong. So what now? have I been tricked? Is this even a game after all? Here we begin to cross the bridge between a game and an experience.
When we play a game we ultimately hope to win, to find an end where the rules align with our actions and we can be commended for our adherence to them. But an experience doesn’t care what our outcome is. We could be dead and gone, but if we could have at least lived in and learned from a world, then we’ve had an experience. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what then is an experience? In essence, an experience is like a movie where several pictures are played in sequence so as to give the illusion of motion (like how multiple distances over time can result in a velocity, or multiple velocities over time can lead to an acceleration). So that makes it what? 60,000 words for a 60 frame experience (30 frames/sec * 2 seconds)? What could you say in 60,000 words? What can you convey in 2 seconds? I spent the little time I had after initiating the ending of The Stanley Parable contemplating more than just the game. As I tried to compute the combination of buttons that would lead to my survival I found myself wondering about life itself. Why have the rules failed me? Why, after all I’ve been through, have things ultimately fallen to pieces? Ultimately the questions that should haunt the player are not how they can conquer the world or improve it, but what their place in this world might be, and what they can do to get the most out of it.
The Stanley Parable is a game that i think every aspiring game designer should play. The game critiques everything from common gameplay mechanics to the contrived nature of modern narrative design. Here Davey Wreden and Galactic Cafe have posited a well thought out response to the echo chamber that is today’s games industry. I dream of a day when games push the boundaries of what it is to be sentient, to be human, days where we can learn more about our environment, society, and even ourselves through games and interaction than we ever could wandering about this ball of sea and earth we call home.