Obliterating the Fourth Wall With the Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable takes whatever preconceived notions players may have of how a game is supposed to progress, cheerfully tosses them to the side, and stamps them into the ground.
Constructed using Valve’s “Source” game engine by a single amateur game designer, Davey Wreden, the game first released in 2011 and went on to win an award in “Excellence in Narrative” at the 15th Annual Independent Games Festival.
His game caught the attention of professional game modeler William Pugh, and with his help “The Stanley Parable: HD Remake” (now shortened to simply The Stanley Parable once more) was released this past month with significant improvements to both graphics and the depth of gameplay. Despite its status as an indie game, it sold 100,000 copies within its first few days on Steam.
With a dry, dark wit akin to that of GLaDOS from the Portal series, the voice of British narrator Kevan Brighting accompanies the player throughout the game rather than directs, because while he does instruct the player where to go, it is entirely up to the player whether or not he or she decides to listen.
A series of choices, some obvious and some shockingly covert, can lead to over 15 different endings. It is obvious that the developers themselves were gamers, as for just about anything the player can think of to do, the developers have thought of it first, and provided narration for the player’s actions, preempting even the most outrageous play-styles.
While some of the endings are not particularly satisfying or answer any questions about the game itself, the brevity of the game allows for a large amount of trial-and-error. This allows the player to see all of the endings and fully experience the game in a way that is harder than in other games like “Mass Effect,” which can take hours to complete.
The endings that are noteworthy are incredibly so. “The Stanley Parable” does not just break the fourth wall. It obliterates it completely. You will have to take my word on this however, as it is extremely difficult to explain and verbally unpack the philosophical marvel that is “The Stanley Parable” without spoiling it for new players.
This is truly a game that has to be experienced, rather than heard about.
By poking fun at a multitude of commonly accepted gaming notions, “The Stanley Parable” criticizes gaming industry dependence on the tropes of narrative gameplay to propel players through a story without stopping to consider other ways in which games can be manipulated to create memorable and thought-provoking experiences.
It also begs players to stop for a moment and step outside the gaming experience to ask why they are trying to complete the arbitrary objectives laid out for them. The spotlight is not only on gaming companies, but the players themselves.
For instance, the narrator sometimes chastises players for following orders blindly, or responds with surprise when players perform an action not explicitly given as an option. Some options simply don’t have answers, or, at least, none that players have found yet, which questions the notion of what constitutes a game itself.
“The Stanley Parable” asks players to break it, to cheat, to jump off platforms before the narrator has finished speaking and explore areas not on the brightly lit path the developers obviously wanted them to follow. It’s more a comment on modern gaming than anything else, though the humorous narrative often dilutes the more pointed undertones.
“The Stanley Parable” is truly unlike anything players have ever experienced. Veteran gamers, especially, should give this refreshing take on contemporary gaming a chance.
By Alyse Stanley