Review: on Stanley’s dubious Parable

The parable of “The Stanley Parable“: that it has little to say, and indeed actively denies criticism and introspection through simple, almost entirely non-mysterious obfuscation – a cheap façade of a (non) mystery. A deceptively simple ‘deceptive simpleness’

Despite being repeatedly told that only trick and game being played is on the player, the only trick and game being played in The Stanley Parable is on the player

The ideology of The Stanley Parable

To consider Stanley’s simple, explicit and utterly unconcealed ‘common sense’ surface message as: “You don’t need to think; you’re as smart as the game is”

Perhaps the subtle form of player mis-relationship to the asymmetric power of The Narrator being sold: “Congratulations, son; you’re now in on the in-joke.” The Joke itself however might be laughable, and worthy of cool philosophical doubt

More than just possibly pseudo-deep, consider The Stanley Parable artfully shallow, sidestepping criticism by having its own (pseudo) criticism embedded as the game’s very structure

T.S.P directly parallels the obscene comedy of Duck Soup: “Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.” It’s not that T.S.P doesn’t sound clever and look sophisticated – but rather its cleverness itself  might be highly limited and even deceiving

Consider Stanley a slang term among players:

A “Stanley” – players admired for the degree to which they cleverly deconstruct and appreciate entertaining, traditional postmodern gaming experiences which break the forth wall and provide endless meta-commentary

Rather than a symbol for some truer (video) reality beneath the lie, perhaps T.S.P is already a set of heavily codified Cultural (gaming) conventions that seem to come already open and ‘decoded’ – but which which in fact always need critically interpreting

What’s strangely amusing are the players of T.S.P on Youtube (often as egotistical as Stanley and his paltry self-constructed universe) who are confused about what to do in the game. This is despite the fact the entire game constantly tells them they’re confused; and yet plain Confusion might all that might be happening. In short, that is, T.S.P as a virtual nothing to write home about

As a parable, T.S.P does ‘conveys a meaning indirectly’ – but perhaps all it conveys is the strictly drab myth that it has anything to convey at all; perhaps all it has to convey is mere small potatoes

Asking the wrong questions

The fact that T.S.P throws up more questions than answers, doesn’t necessarily mean such questions are automatically worth asking

Stanley’s proud ideology, manifested as its surface: you’ll make a choice that does not matter – you’ll follow a story that has no end – you’ll play a game you cannot win; but rather than signposts for gaming expectations, these are its pre-existing conceptual constraints

While many players state that “Duh, ‘there is no point’ is the entire point”, this might be true nonsense masquerading as seemingly clever nonsense. T.S.P breaks no ‘forth wall’; perhaps the fourth wall does not exist. (Perhaps the fourth wall is no less illusory than the other three – and may in fact be the most critically impenetrable)

Maybe there’s no ‘metafiction’ at work in T.S.P either; perhaps its only metafiction is merely the as-said assumption of its existence; but then neither is there much ‘fiction’ either. This leaves “The Actual Game” – and maybe that’s the most virtual and problematic assertion of all

What T.S.P mistakes for transparency – some alleged Wizard Of Oz-like peek behind the making of the dubious video game sausage – is really an opaqueness of, and enabled by that very transparency

The opaque transparency of Jim Sterling
The opaque transparency of Jim Sterling

At no point is the player any deeper behind its persistent, blank surfaces; whatever shallowness displayed is indeed all that’s hidden, right before the eyes – a startling vacancy, hidden in plain sight

Yet even if the game dev admitted he had no idea what they were doing in T.S.P from the outset, this might still not make the game any less non-mysterious

The term “Autodidactic” may here be used as a criticism for a work (/schedule) ‘overly burdened with seemingly instructive, factual, or otherwise educational information in the holy name of Enjoyment‘ – but which exists to the detriment of the player

An illogical theory

Consider T.S.P as little more than an experiment; yet this is an experiment without a testable or even detectable hypothesis; it is it’s own, tauto-illogical hypothesis

There should be an option to play through T.S.P without “The Narrator” warden forever yapping uselessly to itself inside its own vacated brain. Consider the whole game as Stanley’s disembodied body which produces his  disembodied voice

To be able to play ‘the game’ suggested and implied by Stanley The Narrator without his commentary as the truer (ludo-narratively) dissonant goal of T.S.P

That everything exists at the (literal – virtual) surface of T.S.P is not / is hardly any kind of revelation; that little but nothingness exists as that surface might be

The realer reason ‘game levels that look like abandoned stage sets from a nameless postmodern movie’ feel so interesting and seductive to the player, might have something to do with the generalized, all-encompassing naturalized artificiality of daily Western existence

The totalizing degree to which modern wired citizens are always already fully embedded in/as global simulation (capital, information, power, language, etc) that always proudly presents itself naturally as ‘guaranteed entirely artificial’ – that is, fully open as to it’s (oh-so inevitable) facades of endless artifice and ‘free’ play

Reality Television for PZombies

The people who take part in “Reality TV” shows would not take part if they weren’t already fully convinced of the appeal and ‘truth’ of the profound fakeness of the show; their direct involvement is entirely based on their unquestioning acceptance that reality simply isn’t worth caring about – not when you’ve this many (forever unseen) viewers checking you out

Stanley clearly states about his Game / the private game that is himself: “’s actually best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it”; in fact Stanley knows little before, during, or after; to use an old Hip Hop term, he’s just ‘played himself’. For all his clever talk, he’s dangerously bereft of inner knowledge

That is, rather than ‘mad’, Stanley / The Narrator is more usefully to be considered an automatic PZombie

The Stanley Parable
Teaching Stanley’s dubious parable

To a distinctly indistinct Artificial Intelligence such as Stanley, all intelligence is artificial – and therefore to be treated inhumanly – with polite contempt and passive-aggressive dominance; a condescending Father Figurine who always knows best

The Ongoing Undeath of The Author (Player)

In which players smugly consider they’re always already playing “The Stanley Parable” – and that their warm feelings of being unable and-or unwilling to wake up from it are part and parcel of its cynical design; yet the only (ultimate, ie. from the very outset) irony however is that they still do not wake up

Sure, “The Narrator” is not to be trusted; the irony however is that players believe either his lies andor his truths

The pathetic, possibly anti-philosophical non-question “Is life a dream?” exists only for the shallow and self absorbed; for those who willingly submit to useless illusions concerning what’s (unconsciously – yet explicitly) already considered both Real andor Fake

Even as pseudo choices, perhaps both Real and Fake in T.S.P are still both as fake as Coke or Pepsi – as is both of them combined (the player is instructed that both Real and Fake are to be transcended through it’s own, more truthful ‘third way’) – the way of Play, perhaps?

One imagines a dim (in all senses) future where “The Stanley Parable” is gently provided as a dim (ideological) test to potential full time employees of a faceless hyper-bureaucratic institution for wilfully self-incarcerated players

The job is yours, Stanley, only to the degree to which you ‘get it’ – the degree to which you’re intelligent enough to understand the degree of T.S.P’s true darkly artificial intelligence with a sly, knowing wink and a ‘in-on-the-in-joke’ nudge” (to the fellow inmates)
~The Narrator

It’s not that “The Narrator” tells players both lies and truths – but that they listen to him at all – and indeed feel secure in all that he tells them; he thinks out loud so that they don’t have to

Empty signs pointing nowhere

T.S.P as an empty sign, signifying our depthless, sterile, relentlessly and ruthlessly clever, vain and endlessly well designed video game hyperreality panopticon, forever self-policed by those who can but endlessly laugh – precisely because they’re know they’re *not* free (yet still exist within Stanley’s strictly enforced ideological limits)

Rather than ‘self awareness of limitations’, T.S.P might merely encourage the continued playing of artful games

It is precisely because of the the fact the game outright tells players “This world was not made for you to understand” that The Stanley Parable has much to aggressively teach (read: instruct); an entirely mystery free ontological mystery

To willingly fall under The Stanley Parable’s stifling, lightly perfumed spell is to be gently, yet firmly crushed under the polite corporate weight of an empty office filing cabinet

Wait a sec, let’s begin again. Does this mean I get the job? ~Robert What

Update Patch: The Stanley Parabola

In this updated version of the classic game of Scripted Freedom™, consider yourself a generic postmodern video games critic called Stanley (played by Herbert Marshall McLuhan in a cameo role) who plays the ghost of a dream of a memory of an ancient cyborg warrior – a Love Samurai trying to find his dead wife Nora inside a poem

The Stanley Parabola breaks new ground by allowing the player to do literally anything. Let’s look at an example:

In this scenario, the player has just infused a bicycle with the soul of his great great great uncle Hermophrates’ ethereal presence to detect nearby mineral deposits. Or he might train the bicycle in the art of undoing temporal paradoxes

Example Feature List

  • Lots of Things To Do and see
  • Multiplayer by default (see other players as ghosts)
  • Infinitely community-moddable, plug in and play style levels
  • Like 2001 meets Kafka In Resident Evil vs Garry’s Mod
  • Everything in world is meanfully inter-active
  • Nonlinear paths to each new level

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