Journal #6: The Stanley Parable

From Digital Art:

As Eduardo Kac puts it, ‘the passage into a digital culture–with its standard interfaces that require us to pound a keyboard and sit behind a desk while staring at a screen–creates a physical trauma that amplifies the psychological shock generated by ever-faster cycles of technological invention, development, and obsolescence.’ Current interface standardization has led to an overall restraining mechanism for the human body, which is forced to conform to the computer and monitor–although these standard interfaces will probably radically change in the future. (Paul 170)

For me at least, this large block of text called to mind a game I had played recently called The Stanley Parable. Link to video walkthrough here.

Watch the first two minutes of that and you’ll get a solid notion of the game’s core concept: You are Stanley; you sit at a desk and push buttons on a keyboard according to instructions from a computer; you are happy with your job.


Already the over-exaggeration acts as a form of commentary–Stanley is like “an extension of the machine” (Paul 170), doing its bidding in a robotic fashion that leaves no room for creativity or self-actualization.

If you watch the video further, you’ll come to realize that the work is primarily a commentary on the role of choice in video games. You, playing Stanley, are able to act in ways that contradict the narrator, whose task it is to document your story. Questions concerning the virtual self are brought into focus here: How do one’s physical and virtual selves differ in their reactions to cognitive dissonance? Is the virtual self more free to make decisions that seem contradictory, or disobey authority out of curiosity? The Stanley Parable even breaks the fourth wall, asking us what we’re doing here, interfacing with a machine.

It’s a unique game for its genre, and the questions it raises are worth considering.


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