The Stanley Parable

This is the best computer game ever. And it’s much more than just a game.

The Stanley Parable is a unique and brilliant game which is not a game. No guns, fast cars or abstract puzzles: the entire game is just wandering around a deserted office building.

As the game begins, a narrator explains the premise: you are Stanley, an office worker who quite enjoys his utterly pointless and trivial job. One day, you realise that everyone else in your office has disappeared, so you start looking around to figure out what happened to them all. Maybe they’re all in a meeting and you didn’t get the memo? You head to the meeting room to investigate…

Warning: I can’t remember where I first heard about this game, but as I investigated further, everybody seemed to be saying that you shouldn’t read anything about it before playing it. So I didn’t. And neither should you. Stop reading now, and go and play the game.

. . .

So now it’s days or weeks later and you have discovered all the delights that the game has to offer. Now you can continue reading this and relive the great times.

The first run through the game is fun – so many nifty details as you explore the office, but following the narrator’s prompts and unsubtle hints you fairly quickly uncover the huge conspiracy behind the disappearances, bust it wide open, shut down the machine and escape to the sweet taste of freedom. Is that it? That was quick!

But you might remember the motto displayed while the game loads:

The end is never the end is never the end is never…

So, after you complete the game… it restarts. You are back in your office again. There’s nothing for it but to play it again, maybe trying something different. You notice that the narrator gets unhappy when you don’t do what he says. And that becomes a very big part of the game as it develops – the collusion and conflict between you and the narrator, who can control what happens in the game but can’t (always) control you. There are many different ways the game can end, depending on the small and big choices you make. The game has a lot to say about free will and choice, in games and maybe even in real life. And it is hilarious – I spent a lot of time laughing at its unhinged craziness.

The version of the game that I have is the expanded version: The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. It adds whole layers of extra brilliance, self-reference and hilarity. You might think, as I did, that “Ultra Deluxe” is kind of a cheesy title. And you’d be right – that becomes a very important plot point, as there is a lot made of the deficiencies of the original game and this sequel. You start off playing the original Stanley Parable, progress to the Ultra Deluxe content, and that’s only the beginning.

There is a whole lot more. A lot. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe subverts every expectation I had about video games: since playing it, every other game seems boring and conventional. In the end, this quote from the game’s website says it all:

The Stanley Parable is a game that plays you.

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