On Not Playing The Game

I was surprised during class that, when MP was discussing Blackbar, and suggested that the only way to win might actually be to stop playing the game, no one brought up The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe. In The Stanley Parable, you play as Stanley, a humble office worker, who discovers that suddenly, all of his coworkers have mysteriously vanished. In your quest to find out what happened to everybody else, you are accompanied by an omnipresent Narrator, who directs you through a set of choices. As the player, you can decide to go along with the Narrator’s story, or you can choose to ignore him entirely, and send the story off the rails, to varying degrees of success. (Cut for spoilers)

The idea of beating the game by refusing to play it is explicitly referenced in the Museum Ending. Upon following a handwritten sign that says “ESCAPE” rather than following the (male) Narrator’s directions to enter the Mind Control Facility, the player, controlling Stanley, is nearly crushed to death by giant metal plates, before time stops, and another (female) Narrator’s voice takes over, leading the player to a “behind the scenes” look at the making of the game, including various beta versions, before taking the player back to the death trap. She then addresses the player, not Stanley:

But listen to me. You can still save these two [the Narrator and Stanley]. You can stop the program before they both fail. Push ‘escape’ and press ‘quit.’ There’s no other way to beat this game. As long as you move forward you’ll be walking someone else’s path. Stop now, and it will be your only true choice. Whatever you do, choose it! Don’t let time choose for you! Don’t let time –

Failure to quit the game results in Stanley being crushed to death, and the game restarting, with Stanley back in his original office.

All elements of choice have been stripped away from you – attempting to circumvent the Narrator’s story sends you right back to where you started, over and over and over again. Even quitting the game, as described in the Museum Ending, is still part of the game – there is even an achievement associated with quitting the game and restarting it later. But the thing about The Stanley Parable is that the game devs have literally thought of everything. You can’t even enable server cheats without triggering an ending that puts the player in a room, unable to escape, with the Narrator berating them for not taking the game seriously. By playing the game you have automatically lost.

0 thoughts on “On Not Playing The Game

  1. Interesting thoughts. For me, this subject reminded me of Spec Ops: The Line, a fantastic game that I highly recommend playing if you are able to deal with incredibly violent and traumatic imagery. Spoilers follow.

    Spec Ops is a game about the horrors of war that uses shooter conventions to gradually draw you into committing atrocities. In that game, no matter what you do, you WILL commit evil and you may not realize it until it is too late. Truly the only way to prevent tragedy is to not allow the characters to act, by turning off the game. And maybe crying a bit afterwards.

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