By Tom Horan
The Stanley Parable does it’s level best to mess with your head. Much of the time, I couldn’t even understand how the game was trying to mess with said head, and this bewilderment made me feel tiny, insignificant, and a bit dim. Which I assume was exactly the game’s point.
Videogames pride themselves on interactivity and allowing player freedom, but The Stanley Parable, plays with you as much as you’re playing with it. If this all sounds pretentious, it’s probably because it is, but videogames could do with a little more pretension.
The opening narration introduces you to Stanley; a humdrum man, at a humdrum desk, who every day we’re told punches letters into a humdrum computer. The adventure begins when Stanley realises (or the narrator realises for him) that all his co-workers have inexplicably disappeared.
His adventure is short, though you owe it to yourself to play through several times to see the drastically different paths the story can take. The aforementioned narrator, and how much or little you listen to him, will dictate how this story unfolds.
An early example of the narrator’s role, and the only one I feel comfortable spoiling, is down the first corridor. As you approach a room with two doors, the narrator will say “Stanley took the door on the left”.
The narrator’s talking in the past tense, implying all of this has already happened, and that if you were to take the door on the right, you would ruin the narrator’s story when it had barely begun. On my first playthrough, I took the door on the right.
The Stanley Parable suggests that games can’t tell a proper story without limiting the player, and hence the consequences of defying this “proper” story are fascinating, witty, yet also pretty bleak. No matter what route you take, the narrator raises some serious existential hum-dingers about the nature of free will. That’s a lot more than Minesweeper or Solitaire can claim.
More challenging than playing the game will be managing to installing it on your computer.
The game is a “mod”, meaning it was made by an amateur programmer within the creation tools of an already existing game; in this case, Half Life 2. The problem with a mod is that it’s not an independent piece of software, and cannot simply be downloaded and played like a normal game.
It instead has to be played within Half Life 2, or through a free piece of software called “Source SDK Base 2007”. This can be downloaded through the tools tab of Steam, and for the sake of brevity, I hope you’ve heard of Steam. If you haven’t heard of Steam, you’re probably too busy leading a fulfilling, non-virtual life to care either way, and for that, I admire you.
If you do manage to jump through all the flaming hoops and get The Stanley Parable to function, there’s a heap of free mods online to download and enjoy.