The Stanley Parable, and Escaping Protocol

In the Stanley Parable each ending seems to be representative of certain narrative tropes, and they all seem to be very purposeful criticisms of those tropes. It enacts them, and in doing so also comments on the fact that it is doing certain typical things that we as players would likely have come to expect from similar scenarios in other games. I would like to focus on two specific endings, which I find to be the most interesting as they are directly confronting the idea of escaping protocol.

The first one is the ending after the museum. The secondary narrator tells you that the only way to “stop this, before they both fail” is to hit escape and exit the game. The game literally tells you that the only way to escape the protocol laid out is to not play the game. I find this to be interesting, since this is an idea that we’ve talked about in class and how not being involved at all is not really a good way to “fight” protocol, since we aren’t actually affecting it in any way by not participating.

There is another ending that I feel is set up to directly attack the idea of how to fight protocol. As we discussed in class, hackers are for example people who have mastered a protocol, and yet we see them as “bad guys” in a sense. They use the protocol as intended perhaps, but they achieve goals that really should not be achieved, or rather that are harmful to others using the protocol. This idea of mastering the protocol as the only real way of fighting it I feel is directly addressed in the four hour baby game ending, in which you play the game with the baby where you press a button to stop it from going into the fire for an entire four hours, and then get a special ending.

Once you’ve made it for four hours playing the game, the screen goes white, and a large black object begins talking to you. It tells you that it is the essence of art, and that you are going to transcend your life to be with it, and to enjoy the rest of your life as it will wait for you to join it.

Isn’t that interesting? By following the protocol of the game, you reach the baby game, and then by doing something that no person would really reasonably do, despite the course of action being laid out for you to see you get a special ending where you are told you will transcend your human life. The game basically tells you, you’ve won. You put in a lot of time doing something obvious, following protocol, and so you won. You “escaped” the system. It takes you out of the typical space of the game into this white space, and tells you that you will transcend. By mastering the protocol on a level most people might not, you transcend the protocol and find a greater purpose. In my opinion this is the game saying that to beat protocol you just have to utilize it to an extent that the majority would not and that will put the power into your hands. At the same time, the Narrator tells you that you’d be famous for being the man who pushed the buttons forever. But, is that fame really worth anything? You’re giving up everything you are for “fame” and your life loses all meaning in a way. You become “art” when you die, if you do something like this. That is what the game is saying here. You can “beat” the protocol by becoming “art” but doing so will consume you.

In my opinion, this game presents this scenario so that we can ask the question, knowing that to escape protocol you have to literally flood your life with it and become “art”, is it really worth it to escape protocol? Perhaps not participating doesn’t affect the protocol, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe you don’t need to fight/beat a protocological system to have a meaningful life. Maybe you just need to live with it.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. What do you think?

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