A parable is a short story written to depict a lesson or demonstrate how one should act morally. By placing ‘parable’ within the title, the creators of The Stanley Parable display upon first encounter that their game is designed to teach, to make an impact on the player. I was incredibly intrigued when playing The Stanley Parable for the first time, and with each successive run through my interest was repeatedly strengthened. The recursive nature with which the game builds upon itself resulted in my complete immersion in the game, only upon stepping away was I able to remember the nature of the game as a lesson to the player.
The game is equally thought provoking as it is immersing. Through complete contrast to realistic course of action, the game comments heavily on our role in a work-centric world as well as our choices and free will. The narrator exists as an interface to allow communication between the makers of the game and its players. Initially, Stanley is presented as a working man, carrying out a series of meaningless tasks, definitely bored, yet very happy. We are presented with the dilemma of security and monotony versus unpredictability and excitement. Within the game, mind control exists as a very obvious parallel to corporate brainwashing.
“Tomorrow: -Complete today’s unfinished agenda items –Write next day’s agenda –Reflect”
In poking fun at the monotony of corporate life, the game awakens a more serious concept, free will and happiness. When going through the boss’s secret passage, the narrator states: “Stanley was able to think for himself, to question the nature of his job.” Here, the game highlights the inability of Stanley, and more broadly everyone, to exert his will. In reference to the mind control room, the narrator says, “This place, where freedom meant nothing!” Mind control and the monitors represent a lack of freedom as well as constant surveillance, neither of which is foreign to the working world.
Throughout play, it became apparent to me that there would never really be an ending that pleased me, and I am sure this is by design. The game space exists as an allegory for workspace. In signing a contract or clicking play, you agree to play on their terms (the creator’s/one’s superior’s). Despite how many times I played, I never was able to win on my own terms. The game mocks corporate life and highlights its dark aspects to the player, namely a lack of freedom. This feeling of hopelessness builds with each play, and is punctuated when the self-destruct timer runs out. The narrator’s last line before the explosion reads: “Until the moment I say, ‘Happily ever a—‘” before being cut out. In failing to complete the phrase, we are denied a perfect Hollywood ending, a fitting end to a game about a very average, non-flashy hero.
I do not think the creators aim to convince its players to be unemployed, but rather seek to highlight the importance of our own feelings. The game is successful in that it gets a reaction from us, the players. Stanley’s repeated pushing of buttons is not far from the button pushing we do in playing the game: Happiness is not bounded to what actions we are doing, but how said actions affect us. While being mind-controlled certainly is no way to carry out one’s life, it is made very obvious that Stanley was happy while working, clearly more happy than he is searching for meaning in a nonsensical infinite loop. My takeaway from the game’s ‘parable’ is to value one’s own emotion over what one is expected to feel—Stanley is happy pushing buttons, so perhaps he should continue to do so.