**Spoilers for The Stanley Parable**
Let me begin this by asking the question that we are all wondering: why trust me? I am not a professional game analyst, I have never made a game myself, nor have I gone to college to study video game analysis. However, that is exactly the reason why my analysis is as valid as the next person’s; there are no real game analysts up to this point. So, this game has already stepped leaps and bounds in front of all of its competition. In the mere act of delving deeper into this game than people have with games before, we are validating its purpose.
If you have read other analyses of The Stanley Parable, it is no secret that the game left many dissatisfied. An analyst from Destructoid claims that “the game offers no answers,” but I disagree. The issue with many of these analyses is that they all try to pick apart each of eight or so possible endings separately. However, as far as my knowledge goes, there is no way to play the game without going through multiple endings. Most of them only last 15-30 minutes on their own, and by opening on a pair of two open doors, it is made clear that there is more than one possible path. As if this wasn’t enough to convince us that the game is in the multiple endings, the loading screen boldly states in repeated text that “the end is never.” So, what does it mean? Let’s first look at a few of the individual endings so that we can analyze them as a whole.
The most straightforward ending—the one in which the player follows all of the narrators commands—leads us to the ironically named “freedom” ending. But, is it really freedom? Of course not. We didn’t act on any pretense of free will to get there, and we didn’t solve the mystery of the absent members. As if it wasn’t clear enough that this ending shouldn’t give us any satisfaction, the player enters the blatantly named “Mind Control Facility” to shut it down even though, by doing this, the player is subjected to the same mind control as Stanley. Think about it: Stanley starts out by only following commands and pressing buttons on a computer. Furthermore, the character—not the player—is in control as he steps out into the free world in a cutscene.
In the “confusion ending,” the player and narrator team up to break away from the broken narrative and make their own story. As the narrator claims in what is later referred to as the “nonsense theory,” perhaps it is about the journey and not the ending. Nevertheless, it is a disappointment to discover in a room where the player’s previous actions have been outlined that the whole ending was predetermined; there is no escaping the narrative.
Another ending establishes the dependence between player and narrator as the player must grimly jump from a ledge over and over as the only way out while the narrator begs Stanley not to.
In yet another ending, Stanley destroys the narrator’s story by going against all his wishes. However, this leaves the player literally caged into the cargo lift—no doubt, a symbol for yet another predetermined path which leads the player into a dead end, a room crumbling apart.
The clear, underlying theme of all of the possible paths is that there is no true freedom among the predetermined possibilities. It is all a carefully controlled experience by the game developers with only the illusion of free will, but, in that case, is this game really just about the semblance of choice in videogames? Is it nothing more than a parody that offers “no solutions to the gaming tropes it comments upon” as the analyst from Destructoid says? I believe the answer is no. While it points out in several endings that all the player is doing is pushing buttons, the same can be said for book and movies in which the audience just sits silently and stares. Moreover, such a claim is not substantiated when we consider that the developers put a lot of time into creating the game—a sure sign that they are not condemning playing games as a whole.
Instead, I believe that the purpose of the game is to break out from the linear, one dimensional storytelling by analyzing the games we play. The player takes control of the narrative by giving meaning to it and thinking about it on his or her own.
The Stanley Parable is not a mere criticism of videogames; it is a carefully crafted work of art intending to inspire players to give more meaning to the games that they play. As the game points out, the player needs the narrator (and, therefore, the game developer), but the narrator also needs the player. Just as Don Quixote did for popular knight errant stories, The Stanley Parable asks the player to demand more intellect from their entertainment and help the game developer in turn by bringing intellect to their games. You may be left unsatisfied by The Stanley Parable, but few great works of art will perfectly satisfy its audience. Amazing authors from Cervantes to Virginia Woolf (and countless artistic films) leave the audience upset and maybe even confused, but they are nonetheless beautifully construed and great advancements in art.
If you liked this and would like to read more, I post criticisms of everything from Dear Esther to Portal. Check it out!