The Stanley Parable is a game commenting on free will and the illusion of choice, among many other aspects of game design and culture. We are Stanley, and both in game and out, we sit at our metaphorical desks pressing buttons on command “every day, of every month, of every year.” In game, we literally press buttons in a specific order to move forward. Apply that to real life, and we are “pressing buttons” by following the directions of our parents, or writing a blog post that was assigned by a professor. Sure, we chose to come to college, but the modern cultural framework for success decrees that success comes easier to the educated, which is then enforced by family, friends, media and the educational system.
This idea brings up the age old question of, do we actually have free will? Free will is traditionally defined as being the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate. One could, and some do, argue that the player does not have free will in the Stanley Parable, and in games as a whole, due to the player following a preprogrammed, “fated” path. On the surface level, the game says yes, we do have free will, you can choose to follow the narrator’s directions or you can defy him. One level below that says no, we don’t have free will, the fact that defying is even an option with resulting endings show that the player is still following one branch of a predetermined path chain, the higher power in this scenario being the game programmer instead of the narrator. So which is correct? I feel like here I need to say the obligatory “I most likely don’t have the right answer” spiel.
I think that the way we define free will is fundamentally incorrect. Free will, in essence, is doing what you want to do when you want to do it. The part of the Stanley Parable that I feel demonstrates this idea best is when the narrator becomes irritated at your refusal to listen to him and brings you to the first puzzle of portal. There is no obvious A vs B choice here, unlike any other point in this game (including the unplugged phone ending). Habit should dictate that you, with practiced efficiency, go and grab the cube, place it on the button, and move on. Yet, here, it is possible to actually break the game. You can, with some effort, trap the cube behind the door to the elevator so that moving forward is impossible. You are rewarded with some dialogue, which could lend a bit of credence to the argument that since the player’s little act of defiance was acknowledged, the ability to break the game was planned and thus not an act of free will.
However, the mechanics of this “ending”, or lack thereof, prove this to be false. Many times throughout the Stanley Parable, it is shown that the narrator can send you backwards to a point before you made the choice or restart the game if he didn’t approve of the choice you made. Trapping the cube provokes neither action. The player is stuck in that room with their choice until they decide they want to quit the game, or voluntarily restart to the beginning. So, while the game announced its displeasure at the choice you made, it in no way prevents you from making said choice, or forces you to choose differently. Thus, free will exists. At least I think so. Thoughts?