The Stanley Parable takes choice in video games and simplifies it down to a simple “yes/no” (or more accurately, “left/right”) option. Commenting on various tropes relating to pathways and branching stories in gaming, it ostensibly boils all possible freedom within the game space down to two options. However, The Stanley Parable also subtly encourages the player to reject this dichotomy and explore their own agency within it. Despite the narrator’s directions and the apparent lack of options, the game actually has multitudinous endings. In fact, most actions the player can take to reject the structure imposed by the narrator have their own endings attached to them.
So even by refusing to approach the game’s central mechanic, the player in a way makes a choice and receives an ending. Since no ending is in any objective sense better than the other, and they can be reached by various levels of compliance with the Narrator, none of them provide any resolution in and of themselves. Any that do are then undercut by the constant restarting of the game from the beginning. But even this lack of closure seems an intentional comment by the game, as pointed out by Antranig Arek Sarian in his piece, “Paradox and Pedagogy in The Stanley Parable.” He writes:
“Ambiguities engender the sensation of an implied solution but fail to provide one. This encourages the interactor to continually test themselves via the game’s many branches. The Stanley Paradox hovers as a specter above the player, continually forcing them to ask “what should I do?” The game offers no definitive answer to this question, yet in the player’s constant attempts to answer it, they become aware of how they are subjectified by didactic choices.”
By refusing to reward or punish any choice more than the other, The Stanley Parable reveals how arbitrarily such systems behave in other games. When video games force you into a choice, and reward a certain option, they make a value claim using the player as a piece in their argument. In this way, freedom in gaming is often illusory on a very deep level.
Sarian, Antranig Arek. “Paradox and Pedagogy in The Stanley Parable.” Games and Culture. 22 March 2018. Web.