The Stanley Parable and the Myth of Agency

Disclaimer: I have only played the full Steam version, never the demo. However, I have played it extensively.

Edit: Written by Louis Jérémie Robichaud-Cyr


The Stanley Parable is an interesting, funny and sometimes poignant game. The game is ambitious in its scope. maybe not in execution or technical achievements but it is truly ambitious in the scope of its themes. One theme it talks about at length is the power of the players and player-characters. And the conclusion I have come to is that The Stanley Parable is a game trying to tell us that agency in video games, or any closed system for that matter, is a pure myth. Agency in this case is a well constructed lie. Agency, in sociology and philosophy, at its most basic is simply the capacity for any individual to make a choice, to act in a world. What I mean when I say agency is a myth in video games is that no matter how many choices the game presents you can never make a choice that is not within the system, every choice you make is a choice you have been allowed to make one way or another. RPGs are a tremendous example, you can choose which sword or which characters will follow you but all of these choices are essentially cosmetic, you can never make any meaningful choice. The story, the setting, the system, no matter your choice will never change in any meaningful way, they will simply alter in various small ways to make the player feel like they have control over the game. You can never get something that was not already offered to you. In The Stanley Parable, on of the ending you can achieve let you “not follow” the path of the narrator, you then stumble upon rooms and corridors with missing texture block and nothing notable in them. The narrator then promptly yells at you for trying to prove you have any form of choice in a video game. He then “creates” a series of inane rooms in a fit of anger. This ending shows that the only real agency anyone has in any video game is whether or not to play. Starting up, continuing, and closing a game are the only real meaningful choice you have.

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