AGENCY IN THE STANLEY PARABLE

So I recommended The Stanley Parable to you last week. I’ve played the game a bit more and watched my friend finishing it. (You have to play it more than once to be satisfied which you’re going to find out why soon.J) Now I’m even more fascinated by it. It’s really strange!!! In a good way of course.

The remake of The Stanley Parable was released in 2013, expanding the player’s experience from the original version (released in 2011) with more story pathways and decision-making. You are an officer worker called Stanley who should mindlessly follow orders from the authority, the narrator. But here is what is so exciting but confusing about this game. You can either follow the instructions given by the narrator or disobey them and do what you want. Different choices you make in the game will lead you to more than 15 different endings!

One thought that I came across over and over again while playing The Stanley Parable was this, “What choice do I need to make this time? What is going to happen if I do this? Do I listen to the narrator? Do I actually have a choice here?!!!” In today’s post, I’d like to talk about how the idea and feeling of having AGENCY IS IMPORTANT to the video-game players and how The Stanley Parable shows it well by introducing you to some of its endings. Having the power to make choices and produce results gives satisfaction to the player. Gamers instinctively try different actions to solve and unfold the problems they face in video-games which produces some kind of results/endings. They know that they have the power to make choices in a given context and they use it. I think The Stanley Parable is a unique game because it gives you the feeling of full agency but makes the player feel powerless at the same time. This game plays with the idea of agency and the player’s instinct developed through his/her gaming experiences. This review by Joel Goodwin is worthwhile reading. He defines The Stanley Parable game as “a game in which player recognises free will is limited and their genuine choices are few.” But then he points out even though the narrator tries control the player by continuously telling the player what to do, he actually has no control over you. It is true because despite the feeling of having no control, you are still the decision-maker for each choice. Here are some interesting examples (spoiler alert to those who haven’t played yet!).

The freedom ending: To get this ending you follow everything the narrator tells you from going in certain doors to finally deactivating a “mind control machine”.  I felt that I had no choice in how the story played out. Something funny to note is that the so called “freedom” at the end when you escape the complex is shown to the player in the form of a cut scene. This is ironic as cut scenes are times in games when the player has absolutely no control whatsoever (i.e. can’t control the camera or move etc). Very clever! Although this ending is how the “story” is meant to unfold, it does not give the player the satisfying level of agency. But yet it was the player’s power to make choices each time to obey the narrator instead of going against him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKcT-yRjoRg

The death ending: If you are so eager to go against the narrator and mock him like he does to you, you can throw yourself from a cargo lift and plunge to your death. At this the narrator mocks you for your eagerness to go against him and resets the game. I felt like it was showing you that you really have no control in the game.

The heaven ending: If you press random buttons in the office, you get this weird ending when you are in “heaven”. This is just a room filled with buttons and chanting music. This is pretty funny because it’s like saying if you like pressing buttons so much then this is your heaven. This is making fun of gamer instinct to press everything. Most games don’t have a penalty for just pressing anything. Pressing buttons and clicking everywhere that is “clickable” are few of the very obvious interactions in video-games which produce some kind of results. Gamers gain a sense of agency in doing so.

The suicide ending: So you get this ending by disobeying the narrator a few times. He tries to make peace with the player and be on good terms with him/her. You reach a room with some lights and the narrator says he is finally happy and can be at peace. He asks if you can just stay there forever.  Unfortunately standing still is not a game and with nothing to “do”, the player has no choice but to repeatedly throw themselves from a set of stairs while the narrator pleads for you to stop. This ending had the most impact on me as it points about what a game is in terms of interaction and player choice.

http://youtu.be/oRTVxgkFiOg

The player must always have something to do and it is important to the player!  

http://www.electrondance.com/the-stanley-paradox/#more-7760

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