The Man Who Pushes Buttons

In The Story of the Death of a Man Named Stanley, The Stanley Parable’s narrator laments that Stanley is a poor man “pushing buttons, doing exactly as he is told” (The Stanley Parable). In a game where the “decisions aren’t supposed to mean anything” (The Stanley Parable) not only does Stanley have no agency, but the only meaningful choice the player can make to successfully “win” and leave Stanley’s world is to stop playing the game.

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Full acknowledgement of Stanley’s lack of agency is made throughout the game. The mind control facility within the game prompts the narrator to interpret Stanley’s realization that he may have been being controlled, but then Stanley apparently refuses to adhere to this perspective, preferring the slim hope that he indeed has his own agency. The irony is then it is the player that controls Stanley through to the ending, choosing whether to turn the facility’s power off or power it and try to control it. The player is aware of Stanley’s lack of agency, but if the player acts in such a way to limit his own agency and follow the narrator’s advice, he sees it given up completely, watching Stanley takes his steps to freedom while the player has no control. Even this level of freedom for Stanley is an illusion, however, as the ending plays the exact same every time, and Stanley’s image of freedom is set on very strict rails. The female narrator who speaks during the beginning of the museum ending very much speaks the truth as it is for Stanley: that he was “dead from the moment he hit start” (The Stanley Parable).

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Stanley’s lack of agency is not really a surprise to a regular gamer who would be used to controlling in-game avatars that serve as an embodiment of the player within the world. the surprising part of The Stanley Parable is the use of the fourth wall to really drive home to the player that indeed it is not only Stanley that lacks agency, but the player as well. Like Stanley, the player is enjoying sitting at their computer, pushing the buttons that he or she is being told to push. Even if the player diverges from the narrator’s suggested path, the player is limited to the choices allowed by the developers, all under the watchful gaze of the narrator who has been provided with a pre-recorded quip for every possible action the player can make. The point is brought up directly in the telephone room, where unplugging the phone results in the narrator saying that he knows these are actions directed by the player, and not Stanley himself. The scene later plays out whereby the player is separated from Stanley, becoming nothing but a disembodied view from above, watching as the narrator begs the now-mindless Stanley to chose a door to enter, to do anything, with no result but the credits rolling.

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While The Stanley Parable may not be a text adventure or one of the more typical uses of the term “interactive fiction” I would argue that the the game is well described using these terms. The complete narrative is still not fully known to me after at least 6 hours of play time and at least as many different endings. I still don’t know the story of employee 432, the only employee without a computer on his or her desk, described in game as a test case with the question of “what to do with 432” written on the whiteboard of the meeting room. These small details add to the details of Stanley’s world but are only “revealed as coherent after a person has gone through” several playthroughs and really taken the time to look around and find the clues (Montfort 2).

 

Works Cited

Galactic Cafe. The Stanley Parable. 2013. PC.

Monfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure.” Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. 1-36. 13 Feb. Web.

 

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