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Get in the Game: 'The Stanley Parable'

Most games do their best to keep players from asking the very questions Davey Wreden puts front and center

Reviewed by James Renovitch, Fri., Oct. 25, 2013

Get in the Game

The Stanley Parable

Davey Wreden and William Pugh, PC (Steam), $14.99

It's difficult to say anything about The Stanley Parable without spoiling everything. Put as simply as possible, the game is about an office drone, Stanley, and the forces at play in his life. These forces include the game's creators, the narrator, and the player. Sound complicated? It is and it isn't.

Local developer Davey Wreden originally released The Stanley Parable in 2011 as a mod, or a reprogramming of an existing game. Wreden was lauded not only for his modding moxie, but also for creating a world that wasn't just a riff on the source material (Half Life 2 in this case). The Stanley Parable stood on its own as a statement about the art of games and what it means to play within a world created by another.

The expanded "HD" remake released last week sheds most of the mod trappings that put the original on many people's radars. Instead the focus is almost solely on Stanley and his little corner of the world – a world that's a little like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, but for games. You can learn about ludonarrative dissonance, player agency, and other terms you don't really need to know to enjoy playing but are interesting nonetheless. As the secrets of Stanley's situation are revealed, you might find yourself asking questions like, "Why do I feel the need to try and open every closed door?" and "How will I play differently if there are no consequences?" Most games do their best to distract players from asking such questions. Wreden relishes in putting them front and center.

The additions to this new version are worth the purchase, even if you've played the original mod. If you've never heard of The Stanley Parable, you should start with the demo, which is an entirely unique experience and completely free to download. The demo will also give you some sense (but not much) of what to expect when you take control of Stanley.

Are you going to explore every stark inch of the illusive world? Will you follow a path to glory or death or neither or something in between? Spoiler alert: Whatever way you play it, the end result will probably not be satisfying. Rather, the journey is the reward.

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