Am Playing: The Stanley Parable
The games that end up closest to my heart are the ones that are slightly mad and very funny. I appreciate the absurd. Psychonauts crossed the slightly mad line into completely bonkers, and it remains one of my favorite games of all time — despite the hell that was the Meat Circus (and I played the nerfed version!). I replay Portal & Portal 2, despite knowing the puzzles almost by heart, just to listen to GlaDOS. The Cave, Trine/Trine 2, Dead Rising, even WoW — they are all FUNNY and therefore beloved. It’s not that I don’t like more serious games —it’s just that they have to work harder to grab my interest. Assassin’s Creed is fantastic, I’d say, but I’ve never been able to sink into it. Bioshock got me because it is beautiful and it is retro, and Half Life 2 got me because it’s just very, very good.
This weekend I picked up a new game, and also started playing a couple of games I’ve been holding on to. The “new” game actually came out quite a while ago, but after watching a few youtube clips of it I had had HAD to have it and broke my ban. The Stanley Parable started out life as a Half-Life 2 mod and then morphed into a stand alone game, built on the Source engine. It’s a game in the sense that you are controlling a character (sort of — at one point, the narrator points out that if you look down you can’t see your legs) and exploring an environment, making choices that affect the story line. It’s more of a semi-cynical love letter to video games, though. The Narrator explains what you are supposed to do, engaging directly with Stanley in a very break-down-the-third-wall kind of way: “Oh come on, do you really think you deserve an achievement for clicking on a door five times?” But you don’t have to do what the narrator asks. If he narrates Stanley going through the door on the left, you are perfectly free to go through the door on the right. He’ll scramble to catch up: “Stanley went through the door on the right, knowing perfectly well that this was not the way to the conference room,” he’ll say, annoyance coloring every word.
And that’s the best part of this game for me. On my second play through of Portal 2, I spent a lot of time not doing what Wheatley asked, just to see how exasperated he’d get. I enjoy pissing off game mechanics. I’m clearly not alone. “Stanley had such a poor grasp of clues in his environment I wonder how he managed to not be fired,” sighs the narrator as I veer wildly off the narrated course. It’s a meta game that’s making a comment on the nature of gaming. Or something, I don’t know, I didn’t think too deeply on it because I was having too much fun. My favorite moment was when the narrator was attempting to make a heart felt speech on us getting off on the wrong foot, and instead of listening to him I jumped off the elevator to the platform below. “REALLY?” He barked. “REALLY, Stanley?” You betcha.
Plus the little bits of content floating everywhere. The meeting room whiteboards are gems:
And then there are the achievements:
I played a couple of other extraordinary games this week, too — The Swapper is everything I hoped it would be, and more on that later. I also started Gone Home which I can only play if I’m chatting with someone else at the same time or I get too scared. This is the kind of game that actually scares me, and there will definitely be more on that later. I suspect the ending won’t be all that scary, though. I think the fear of this game comes through the workings of my imagination, and the end will be something prosaic. It’s probably also a commentary on jumping to conclusions. Just because it’s a stormy night, and you’re in a mansion in the middle of the woods, and the lights are flickering, and your family appears to be missing, and your sister has left you odd notes saying things like don’t tell Mom and Dad what you find in the attic, and there’s a bad history attached to the house, and there are hidden passages, and there’s electronics missing, just because of ALL OF THAT, doesn’t mean that something terrible is going to happen. Stop ASSUMING.
(All three games are available on Steam, and all three have Mac OS versions, bless ’em.)