You are Stanley.
But you are also not Stanley.
Recently a game appeared on Steam known as The Stanley Parable. The original began life as a mod on the Source engine before being released as a standalone game six weeks ago. For the most part you play as Stanley, a lowly office worker whose only job was to press specific buttons at the command of his unnamed Boss. One workday Stanley arrives and gets ready to do as he is told, but no command appears on his computer screen. At this point you are able to control Stanley’s movements to complete the narrative, accompanied all the while by Kevan Brighting’s excellent voice acting.
The entire game can be completed in less than three minutes, depending on your very first decision: do you follow the narrator and do exactly as you’re told? Or do you stray from what you are told although you do not know the consequences? Throughout the game you are offered different paths to take, from something as mundane as taking the left hallway or the right, to leaping out of the way of enclosing walls or allowing yourself to die.
But do you really have a choice? A current trend in video gaming is allowing the player to choose the ultimate outcome of the game (such as Bioshock: Infinite or Heavy Rain) but from predetermined options. Is this true choice, though? The fact that anything is predetermined in a video game automatically negates the “free choice” experience. It is, however, a marked change from games that follow a sequential pattern, moving you from A to B, completing predetermined quests.
The Stanley Parable allows you to take as much or as little time as it takes to reach the end of the game (there are multiple endings; I played through the game many times and never obtained the same ending twice). And the game is definitely an improvement on games that only allow you only two choices but give you consequences that are so extreme you are really choosing the lesser of two evils (such as Army of Two: The 40th Day). But at what point does the “choice” aspect itself become cliché? Sometimes it’s just nice to play a straightforward game that is already neatly laid out before you. Playing The Stanley Parable, for example, requires no real skill, something many gamers may not have the patience or desire to experience fully.
For a small independent game, The Stanley Parable is excellent. The writing is sarcastic and funny (stand still for more than two minutes and listen to the Narrator’s exasperation), and the game does not use complicated controls. The design is simple but at no point does it feel like a flash game. My one hang-up would perhaps be the price. $15 is a little steep for a game that I can complete in just a few hours, but in terms of story it manages to be both thought-provoking and intriguing.