The Stanley Parable



The Stanley Parable

developed by Galactic Café
Video game

View a promotional image for the game

Stanley is happy. His work routine is a steady stream of menial tasks, endlessly drip-fed to him via an intercom. But one day, the directives cease without explanation. Intrigued by the silence, Stanley decides to explore his deserted office building. He is met with a series of seemingly straightforward options. Which of the multiple open doors should he enter? Should he head for the company’s meeting room, or wander away from his usual path? We guide him as our whims dictate, in the belief that curiosity will offer greater interest.

Over time, Stanley grows suspicious. He questions why, when he looks down, he can never see his feet. He wonders why a voiceover is verbalising all of his thoughts and actions. This egocentric commentator is at turns taunting, petulant, and needy. At one point, he urges us to press the ‘Esc’ key so that we may quit the game and gain true freedom. We may consider his overbearing orders to be a satirical take on the relationship between game designer and player, or as a prompt to probe the assumptions of our own daily existence. The choice is with us.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Until today, Stanley had a simple job: to push buttons on a computer keyboard. The deadpan narrator of The Stanley Parable is quick to claim that we act just as mechanically. He mocks us for accepting the constraints of video game missions, in which we unquestioningly complete the goals given to us, yet he becomes angered if we fail to follow his own instructions. He has his ways to retaliate, though. If we stray too far in one direction, we are dropped outside an apartment. A woman’s voice lovingly welcomes us inside, but we are met only with a mannequin and a cruel chuckle: ‘Who’d want to commit their life to you?’

Another route leads us to a room where we are given a new game to test. In this challenge, a cardboard cut-out of a baby crawls towards a fire. To keep it safe, we must click the screen at regular intervals. This scenario symbolises the desperation and tedium of family life, the narrator tells us, before adding: ‘I think the art world will really take notice.’ Sure enough, if we continue nonstop for four hours, we are rewarded with a declaration of love from the Essence of Divine Art itself. As we prod controls over and over in search of some sublime meaning, The Stanley Parable is quick to poke fun at us in return.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can view the trailer here, and watch a playthrough here. Erik Fredner has interviewed Davey Wreden (the game’s creator) for Kill Screen, as has Philippa Warr for Rock Paper Shotgun. Katalina Watt has written about the game for Structo Magazine.

Question of the day

Can the search for meaning in art lead us to dead ends?
Share your thoughts on FacebookPatreon, or Twitter.

Searching for meaning in anything is completely arbitrary, so all ends are inherently meaningful, as much as they contribute to our lives.

– Annie Hart, musician and member of Au Revoir Simone (via The Brief →)

The more a work tries to push itself onto you, the more you might feel the urge to figure out why it would try to do that. Or you tune out. Art that doesn’t push also doesn’t require its meaning to be found.

– Sandro Perri, musician, producer, and member of Off World (via The Brief →)

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