The Stanley Parable is an unusual game. Originally a mod for Half-Life 2, it places the player in the shoes of Stanley, an employee at an unnamed generic corporation. Stanley pushes buttons in a specific order based on what his computer says every day, but one day his coworkers vanish and his computer gives no instruction.
This is where the gameplay starts for the player. The game’s mechanics consist only of movement via WASD and the interaction button E (which sometimes opens doors and does little else). The player interacts mainly with the narrator; a sophisticated British voice narrates Stanley’s intended actions, but the player is capable (and often subtly encouraged) to disobey these suggestions. For example, on my first playthrough, I came to a point in a hallway with a door with the words “BROOM CLOSET” written on it in large letters:
Although the narrator says something like, “Stanley continued down the hallway,” the door clearly stands out to the player. I went inside, and the narrator responded in disbelief, then impatience, then anger:
The narrator eventually runs out of lines, and the player can move on or sit in silence interminably. But this makes up only one of very many instances where the player can disobey the narrator, most of which lead to different game outcomes and endings.
This conflict between narrator and player, storyteller and listener, constitutes the core of The Stanley Parable. It uses the interactive medium to play on tropes of video games and narratives in general. A clear example of this commentary comes at the end of the, “main,” storyline.
After discovering and shutting down a mind control facility in the basement of his office building, Stanley steps out into the open world a free man:
This idyllic countryside and peaceful epilogue appear to represent an escape for the protagonist. However, they come across as almost too perfect; this image seems unbelievable and unrealistic, suggesting that Stanley has not in fact reached freedom. Further reinforcing this impression, the screen immediately goes black and cuts back to the beginning of the game.
This is but one of many endings for the game, which in it’s loading screen claims that, “THE END IS NEVER THE END IS NEVER THE END…”