you’re not as clever as you think you are

I didn’t want to like The Stanley Parable. I had played it a few years back when it came out and I wasn’t crazy about it. My main takeaway from the experience was “Yeah, I get it.” I knew what it was trying to say and what its criticisms were, and I wasn’t very impressed. I saw it as an insult to all the games I enjoyed and that its points were not insightful.

When it was assigned for this week, I decided to give it another chance. Maybe I was a little hard on it the first time around, or perhaps I missed something. So I sat down and played it with a new set of eyes.

It was soon clear to me exactly why I didn’t like it the first time: the game was smarter than me. It knew exactly what I was thinking every time I made a decision. Every time I thought I was outsmarting the game, the game was one step ahead of me. I felt at odds with the narrator. As much as this initially annoyed me, I now see how brilliant it is. Because of the design of the game, the narrator can always win. This also makes it satisfying whenever you successfully annoy or confuse the narrator.

I also now appreciate the game’s criticisms. In class, we classified it as a metacritique, or a work that critiques its own medium. In the context of the course, I am able to admire some of the arguments made by the game. The game illustrates most clearly the illusion of control, what gamers expect from a game, and the affordances of agency. All of this actually reminds me most of the Walter Ong reading from early in the semester. I feel like this game was able to portray a conversation between me and the game. It felt truly interactive, as if I were in a discourse with a new age Socrates about game design. It also relates to Walter’s idea that criticism of new media must be in the same new media. The best way to discuss the flaws of common game design is with a game, highlighting the charm of metacritiques.

I still may not agree with every point made by The Stanley Parable, and I may still think it comes off as a little pretentious, but I must admit it is very clever. The game is very sharp-witted and thought-provoking, making it an essential experience when discussing storytelling theory.

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