Editor’s Note: This review is taken from our much larger GOTY post here. It’s been given its own post in an effort to reward The Stanley Parable as one of the year’s “best” games. Entirely new posts honoring the rest of 2013′s best are forthcoming.
“When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left.” This one sentence and the accompanying in-game decision, whichever one you make, encapsulate all of modern game design. For this reason, The Stanley Parable is the smartest game of the year. It’s gaming’s equivalent to Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism.” You have no idea what I’m talking about. Just trust me, as seems to be the primary rhetorical strategy used when discussing this game, The Stanley Parable is brilliant. It takes years of game design conventions and critiques them using, well, game design. And the best part is that the game is consistently hilarious (ostensibly a great challenge in the video game world) and makes its wonderful commentary on games in a way that’s never pretentious and still entertaining to anyone who plays it. And yes, you actually play it. Many have argued that “it’s not really game,” “it doesn’t have gameplay (cuz you don’t have a gun),” “all you do is walk,” but that’s all reactionary untruth. The most beautiful revelation that Stanley provides is the argument against the game: “All you’re doing is walking (an action) and pressing buttons.” Exactly. The real gameplay though is fighting the designer’s wishes and attempting to assert player agency, before discovering that’s only probably possible if you turn off the game. The rest of the gameplay exists in your head, figuring out the next possible path or what’s being said. Ultimately, Stanley is about paradox. You can make decisions, yet you can’t. The conventions are stupid, but they’re not. You aren’t Stanley, but you are.
When every path you can walk has been created for you in advance death becomes meaningless, making life the same….Stanley was already dead from the moment he hit start.