When Is a Game Not a Game (But Still a Game)? When It’s “The Stanley Parable.”

The full review is over at Slant Magazine. I’ve kept the spoilers there to a minimum, and I’ve done the same here. Suffice to say, any game that allows you to challenge the Narrator/DM is clearly going to be a winner in my book from the get-go–the fact that there’s a minimum of two hours of hilarious/depressing content found within a concept as simple as choosing a red door or a blue door is just icing on this existential cake. (The cake isn’t a lie, because the cake isn’t.) Similar to Gone Home, the “game” is little more than exploring an abandoned office building as a voice speaks to you–there are no puzzles to solve, and while there are split paths, they’re largely linear in presentation. But they allow you, the gamer, to actually experience another person’s life–in this case, the button-pushing, instruction-following Stanley–and I find that to be a far more transportive/immersive experience than that found in film or flat literature. The graphics aren’t pushing the envelope, but the narrative certainly is, and you owe it to yourself to at least experience the demo (which shares only a stylistic and tonal similarity with the game itself).


2 thoughts on “When Is a Game Not a Game (But Still a Game)? When It’s “The Stanley Parable.”

  1. Many critics have argued that sometimes video games goes too far, like that guy who came out of watching Avatar, there’s some people who couldn’t come back to reality after being immersed in a video game. What do you think about this statement? Is there merit?

    • I read a book called “The Unincorporated Man” that had a pretty cogent (albeit stark) of what life would be like once the verisimilitude of technology surpassed the uncanny valley. Those of us who lived shitty lives, with our dreams forever out of reach, would choose to immerse ourselves entirely in cheap, virtual fantasies, to the point at which we would abandon our bodies–and our lives, after a few weeks of real-world decay. In that world, these enhanced, open-world “video games” were swiftly banned, as if they were a disease to be quarantined. So yes, there’s merit to your statement–a video game can absolutely go too far. “The Stanley Parable,” on the other hand, is not that game; if anything, it calls attention to the flaws of a game, by pointing out the lack of actual control, actual choice, when by the nature of programming, a game can only predict (and limit) what you’ll do and come up with responses to those actions. The more you program, the more realistic it seems, but the only way to reach that total immersion would be to create a processor so powerful that it could adapt to even the most erratic and game-breaking of choices, instantaneously. (I.e., rather than walking through the left or right door, you attempt to eat your way through the floor. You take the splinters you dig out of the ground and painstakingly build a ladder and begin smashing the light fixtures with it.) There’s a reason you can’t jump in “The Stanley Parable”: it’s because it’s easier to control a protagonist with limited mobility, thereby creating fewer branches to plan around.

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