Stanley’s Agency

According to the introduction to Janet Murray’s article, agency is defined as the amount of impact the player has on the computer world around them.  Super Press Space to Win Adventure RPG (SPSWA), The Stanley Parable, Depression Quest, and Howling Dogs all have very varying degrees of agency.

First on this list, SPSWA has very little agency. The only choice you have is whether or not to hit the space bar to continue the story.

On the other hand, the Stanley Parable gives quite a bit of agency to the player. You can choose from many different paths to experience different endings. These possibilities may not compare to what you get in the openness of some RPGs, but choice still exists. However, the Stanley Parable pushes you to question your agency by making your choices seem meaningless. The narrator pushes towards a certain path and will often times punish you for disobeying. If you do follow the narrator to the end, the control of Stanley will be taken away from you as you exit the building. Ironically this happens right after the turning off of the mind control facility. It’s almost like you turned on the mind control facility instead. For relinquishing your agency to the narrator you are promised you would be freed, but instead you are just robbed of all of your agency. Despite all of this, the game does in fact give you choices that affect the endings.

Depression Quest is similar in that it gives you choices that enable you to change the outcome of the experience. It also plays with the concept of agency in that it limits your options based on how depressed you are. It gets the point across that those who are depressed just do not have the option to do some things. Depression takes agency away from its victims. In Depression Quest, you do have quite a bit of effect on the narrative so I think it definitely gives a good amount of agency to the player. It is not just a click through story.

Howling Dogs, on the other hand, feels more like SPSWA in that its narrative cannot be affected by the player that much. It is pretty much just a click through story.

Now, knowing how the agencies stand up, the question of their game status comes to mind. First, does agency have any right to be a criterion for what a game is. Well if we use the definition that games are a set of rules, literally any action could be considered a game. The rules of nature restrict every step we take. I think there is something more to what a game is. Building off of the set of rules definition, I define a game as a constructed set of rules that are followed to different outcomes in the hopes of finding joy through challenge. By this definition, I am placing an emphasis on agency as one of four criteria. The agency in the Stanley Parable and Depression Quest qualify them as possible games while SPSWA and Howling Dogs are ruled out. Going one step further with this analysis, I would also say that both Stanley Parable and Depression Quest are games by my definition. They obviously both have rules and can give joy in a few ways. The one i would have to convince people of is the challenge. Well, in Stanley Parable, there is challenge that can be perceived. You could set yourself to try to do all of the endings or to piss off the narrator. In Depression Quest, your main challenge is that of beating depression. So while they may not look it, both of these are games in my opinion.


One thought on “Stanley’s Agency

  1. “It’s almost like you turned on the mind control facility instead. For relinquishing your agency to the narrator you are promised you would be freed, but instead you are just robbed of all of your agency. ”

    When I play TSP, I’m constantly reminded of the movie War Games, where a computer almost starts WWIII because it thinks it’s playing a game. It only is stopped when it realizes that there is no way to win a nuclear war. It’s final words are, “the only way to win is not to play.” So it is, imo, with TSP. The only real agency we have is to shut down the game. But that’s the point, the metacritique–so it is with every game in the end.


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