Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stanley, Stanley, quite contrary

How to describe "The Stanley Parable"? The format is that of a first-person... not a shooter, but a walkabout while attempting to interact with... things. So although it plays like a game, it's more like an interactive story that is so totally immersive that player (you) and playable character (Stanley) are virtually indistinguishable from each other -- as long as the player accepts the narrative. The narrative is provided by the male narrator's voice who tries to tell the story, but ether the story doesn't cooperate; or the narrator breaks the fourth wall to interact directly with the player/Stanley; or you/Stanley may decide not to follow the narrative and do things your way instead. "Do things", however, is a sticky point because if you don't follow the narrative, what exactly do you do? Without a narrative, there is no objective to strive for and accomplish other than, what? Escape? Survive? Walk around until something happens?

The bizarre audio-graphical experience (I can't call it either a game or a story) is ultimately a story about itself, entirely self-referential, and a running commentary about the rules and conventions of the first-person game. It's an entirely linear path that branches with every decision (for or against the narrative) with no way to go back -- doors literally close behind you -- until you come to one end or another. Because of the number of decisions you could make along the way, there are a huge number of ends you can experience (I probably haven't experienced them all yet) but each end leads to a fresh new beginning right at the start of the narrative and the promise of a new ending at the end -- if you do something different from the previous time. Maybe.

Maybe the player's objective is to experience all the possible endings, good or bad? Or maybe the objective is to finally understand the parable and turn understanding into action? Or maybe there isn't any objective at all, whether you follow the narration or not, and just explore the frustratingly familiar but strange environment of Employee 427 like a virtual Ambrose in Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse". Around, and around, and around.

In any case, after I had my fill of the game, I took the dog for a walk, nearly started a conversation with a cute girl I met on the street about her shi-tzu but didn't invest more time beyond saying a polite "hi!", and went home to fold the laundry. Decisions, decisions...

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