The Stanley Parable review: Let’s get metaphysical
Authored by Tyler Colp
The Stanley Parable, true to its name, exemplifies how we define choice.
In The Stanley Parable, you play Stanley, a man who works in an office and does what he’s told. His story consists of a series of decisions with a finite ending. Stories are never that simple, though. Stanley, like all of us, makes mistakes. So, when the omnipresent narrator of the story, voiced by Kevan Brighting, says–demands–Stanley take the door on the left, Stanley can disobey, and take the door on the right.
At first, the narrator envies Stanley, revises his pre-determined path, and hopes that Stanley doesn’t make a similar mistake. He rarely forces Stanley in a specific direction, but if you, as Stanley, decide to keep branching off, he leaves his playful reactions behind and begins to come up with devious, and sometimes shocking, ways to stop you. Eventually, you’ll meet one of the game’s several endings. Then, in an instant, you return to the start of the game, tasked with doing it all over again.
In The Stanley Parable, you can do something you, as a person, can never do. You can restart, make different choices, and see the various outcomes they produce. And you should. The endings range from harrowing, to amusing in a sort of meta way.
The roughly 3 hours I spent stumbling through Stanley’s Groundhog Day-esque exercise wore on me. The game so blatantly spells out its intentions from the start and, like Stanley’s unending tale, varies slightly, but ultimately reaches the same conclusion. I felt like I was missing something.
That’s when it hit me. I encountered a scene where I was above the room, looking down at Stanley in front of the left and right doors. Separated. The narrator poses his question, just like he did countless times before, but this time, Stanley doesn’t move. As he stands there, the narrator’s begins to plead for him to do something as he realizes, just as I did in that moment, that everything, the office, the goals, the choices, were a lie.
The narrator explains Stanley’s background, he explains who Stanley is, he explains what Stanley has to do, and he even gives Stanley his name. For a game that questions morality, how can I believe everything it tells me?
The Stanley Parable isn’t a story about Stanley. It’s a story about you, us, human beings — the game’s first-person perspective only confirms the fact. The narrator is like your parents, defining for you the difference between good and bad, helping shape your goals. Take the narrator away, and The Stanley Parable has no goal, no purpose, no identification. When there are no material goals, what’s left? Good. Or at least, the best possible conclusion for Stanley, for ourselves.
When faced with this overwhelming epiphany, Stanley, I, froze in indecision, or was it defeat?
Never have I been stunned in thought before The Stanley Parable, wrapping my mind around a game so subversive days after finishing it. It’s not just a game, I realized. It’s a thesis on life. And it’s one of the most depressing, profound games I’ve ever played.
Pros: Excellent voice acting, each ending is worth seeing, incredibly subversive and intelligent
Cons: Writing can wear on you
Final Verdict: 10/10 (You should play The Stanley Parable.)
Galactic Cafe sent us a copy of The Stanley Parable for Windows PC. I played the game for about 4 hours, according to Steam. The game is available now for Windows PC and Mac.