Choice and Agency in ‘The Stanley Parable’

Lecture four on agency, affect and consequence has piqued my interest more than the other lectures so far and it’s the concept of agency that has me the most interested. It’s such a philosophical idea when you start burrowing into it, this idea of choice and action and do we really have as much freedom as we think.

During the lecture and tutorial discussions I was reminded over and over again of a game I haven’t played myself but watched someone else play; The Stanley Parable.

I started watching the game being played simply for the hilarious English narrator but what kept me watching was the whole concept. The hero is Stanley, an office worker whose computer goes blank suddenly one day and when he goes to find out what is happening, he finds the building empty. The game is a simple walk and explore. In the background the English narrator directs you out of Stanley’s office and to a T-junction where two doors are open, the narrator tells you to go left but there is absolutely nothing to stop you from taking the right hand door. From there the narrator follows everything you do, whether he wants you to do them or not. The game can end in multiple ways and the whole concept is a play on the limited narrative and the freedom of choice in games.

The website VG 24/7 has a fantastic review of The Stanley Parable.

VG 24/7 The Stanley Parable Review

As author Brenna Hillier writes:

“Narrative-driven games rely on the player doing what they’re told to – pressing buttons on command – and that’s less than ideal in a medium that differentiates itself on interactivity. The more you poke at these kinds of games, the more problems you find. The Stanley Parable pokes at them, relentlessly.”

‘The Stanley Parable’ never moves you to an agency beyond what the game makers have in mind, but no game can do that without being hacked in some way. What it does do though is explore further the possibilities game narratives can go. Rather then being set down a definite path with one definite end, imagine more games in which there are many paths with multiple possible endings all depending on the choices you make, not just shooting the right number of enemies and picking up the golden key.

Imagine using that as an excuse to keep playing; “Mum, I’m playing Shoot ’em Up 3000 to learn better decision making skills, leave me alone.” Sounds legit.



One thought on “Choice and Agency in ‘The Stanley Parable’

  1. This game looks soooo gooood. It kinda reminds me of something like John Malkovich, or even The Matrix when Neo is bored with his life.
    I love how the trailer only gave hints and left me wanting so much more. I wish I had the platforms able to give it a go. It has a definite psychotic and mentally unstable feeling to it eh. Great watch.

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