The Amazing & Astonishing RPS Advent Calendar: Day 20

By RPS on December 20th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

The reader of Rock, Paper, Shotgun clicked on the “Read the rest of this entry” button. No, the reader clicked on the button. The button, right below this text. It was clicked on, if anything useful was going to happen.

It’s The Stanley Parable (and demo)!

John: It’s the funniest game in years.

That’s not my recent-o-brain misremembering. It is, without question, the funniest videogame in… I’ve no idea how long. I think I’d go back to the 90s. Heck, forget videogames. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve experienced in a long time. And for me – for someone for whom comedy is incredibly valued and fascinating – that’s one of the highest compliments I can give. How often this game made me laugh, and how cleverly it went about it, is so important to me.

I love that I’ve played it so much, gone through it over and over, and I still see screenshots of places I don’t recognise. I love that as I play it over and over, I start to lose track of the game’s own internal unreality, start to wonder if I’m really starting again, or if I’m stuck in the game’s progressive spiral, being drawn in further and further, never knowing if a fresh start is really a fresh start, or if my choices are being restricted in some new, peculiar way. Why are the corridors suddenly covered in post-it notes this time? Is that a random thing? Or am I so much deeper in its idiotic rabbit hole than I’d realised.

There’s no question that TSP is a satire of gaming, an arch critique of multiple genres, and more to the point, of the way gamers engage with games. It’s a pastiche of ourselves, of our expectations, and how we have developed such a complex vocabulary with gaming – it knows that vocabulary intimately, and knows how to manipulate it, and indeed us. But despite all this, despite how astonishingly clever this game is, I still value its humour above it all.

One other game, yet to appear in this calendar, made me laugh harder this year. But just the one time. TSP, and let’s not forget its exquisite demo, never let my smile fall from my face, and frequently turned it into delighted laughter. God, that yellow line. That’s the funniest yellow line of all time. And that moment – you know the one – I gasped. I adored that others were in on the joke, were happy for their project to be a part of it.

The Stanley Parable is incredible. It’s gaming’s Airplane.

Alec:
My head says this.
My heart says this.
My gut says this.

Nathan: 88888888

Jim: The first moment of the The Stanley Parable’s demo might actually have been the best joke in the entire demo and game, but at least that showed how high the bar was going to be, and also laid out the intentions of this clever little work of satire. Games have increasingly managed to be mirthful in the past few years, but it’s rare for them to also be as clever as The Stanley Parable manages to be. It’s not slapstick or offensive, it’s not overtly rude and insane, it’s simply wry, and careful. And that alone, that unique flavour, meant it was an enormous success.

I’ll concede that its structure can be infuriating. It’s the equivalent of a poorly structured Choose Your Own Adventure, funnelling you through the same few pages again and again, but I think it would take a rare brand of humourlessness to not laugh at the punchlines these led to, or to feel the pokes at gamerdom that the game makes.

If there’s something that writing about games has taught me, it’s that having a sense of humour does not mean you are not taking your subject matter seriously. It has been argued that The Stanley Parable is largely about mocking games, and gaming, and that’s essentially true. But the implication of that argument is that it doesn’t care about games, or doesn’t take games seriously as a form. Clearly the opposite is true. The jokes that The Stanley Parable makes are funny because they are true. They are funny because its creators understand and care about games. And that is the most important aspect of its achievement. The best comedians do actually care about their subject matter. They ridicule people because people matter. The Stanley Parable makes a clever farce of games because, well, games are a clever farce worth caring about. And that’s never been clearer than it is when playing this game, and when talking about it with friends.

And perhaps it’s that last bit that makes games like this so vital. For every indulgently solipsistic moment we get with games, it’s critical that we get something that we can take back out into the world and talk about. And that’s true here.

Adam:

If The Stanley Parable wasn’t so damn funny it’d probably be insufferable. Follow me for a moment, as I lead you across a tattered rope bridge that would make even Indiana Jones turn his back and head home for a quiet cuppa. That rope bridge is the hideously imperfect analogy that sprang into my head fully formed last night as I was wondering what exactly I could write about The Stanley Parable that hasn’t already been written.

Here it is. The Stanley Parable is the Portal 2 of ludonarrative metabobbins. Still with me?

When people told me that a mod had been released with the sole purpose of telling me that computer games are linear and lacking in the kind of adult decision-making that I apply every morning when I choose which trousers to put on, I almost ran in the opposite direction. It sounded like the most irritating thing imaginable. I don’t need to walk down fifty identical corridors while a sad-faced mime suffers on my behalf to know that I’m definitely not going to play Call Of Duty 14.

I also don’t need to subject myself to 3d spatial awareness puzzles with set solutions. I don’t like puzzle games and when it comes to Portal’s particular brand of ‘get from A to B’, I’m impressed, but dismayed. “Don’t make me try to do that”, I’d think whenever a complex room was laid before me.

But Portal 2 made me laugh and I cared about its characters, so I stuck with it and loved almost every minute. The Stanley Parable is the same. Take away the humour and it might well be the most po-faced preacher you’ve ever encountered. I’ve played that game before – the one that proudly informs you that other games are rubbish and that it is, in some way, the solution.

The Stanley Parable is not that game. It’s a sketch show about computer games, about office life and about freedom. It’s hilarious – the funniest game I’ve played since Portal 2 – and if it has important things to say, it says them while tapdancing across a floor covered in Whoopee Cushions. It wants you to enjoy your time with it and if you accidentally have a few thoughts while you’re laughing like a hyena, that’d be great. But it’s not a meditation or a sermon.

Portal 2 was a comedic script attached to a game that would have been – at best – fine without it. Copy those rooms and solutions without the voice acting and cleverness of the narrative and you have a plodding puzzle game.

The Stanley Parable is similar. It could have been a monochrome walk down a corridor with sad violin music and a single choice that isn’t a choice, leading to the death of a loved one. Instead, it dances furiously while parping on a kazoo and reeling off gags at a ridiculous rate. It’s an entertainer.

Remember when Wheatley asked you to speak and you jumped up and down instead? Watch the video of that opening sequence again and see if, like me, you despair for a moment when you realise there are tests to be completed. The genius of the Portal games is that they tied their puzzles to their narrative, so whenever one of the two flagged, the other propped it up. But I still think that ‘say apple’ is my favourite moment in either of the two games.

The Stanley Parable is that moment, become an entire game.

Back to the Calendar!

__________________

« | »

.

74 Comments »

  1. Mags says:

    Obligatory mention that it’s one of Steam’s daily deals today.

    (with the proviso that today finishes at 6pm)

    • RedViv says:

      Not quite, the daily deals last for 24 more hours after the new ones arrive.

    • RosaJHunter says:

      my roomate’s half-sister makes $86 every hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for five months but last month her income was $16579 just working on the laptop for a few hours. straight from the source… http://cpl.pw/OKeIJo

      • pilouuuu says:

        OK, so does that mean that she is buying copies of Stanley Parable for all of us?

  2. Commander Gun says:

    It is in the Steam Sales today, although tbh, i still find it a bit too expensive (at 7 euro) and i am pretty sure it wil get cheaper in a few months time. Still, looking forward to it!

    • marbled says:

      I was just thinking the same thing (though it’s £6 here) – it occurs to me though that Steam sales have really messed with my sense of what a computer game is worth if I’m thinking that £6 is too expensive and I’ll wait for the next sale!

    • ramirezfm says:

      I caved in and bought it at 50% discount somewhere along the line and never regretted it. It is a brilliant thing, worth the money. It’s about games. It’s about life, universe and everything. It’s like 42, but it’s 88888888. Oh just buy it already!

      (If you expect a game in a normal sense you will be disappointed though, just like one guy on the forums who said it’s a bad game, because he completed it in 10 minutes doing what the narrator said. Now that was hilarious.)

      • marbled says:

        I caved and bought it. That was a fairly predicatable outcome…. Still, the only other games on my list are Brothers, Gone Home and maybe Papers Please so this shouldn’t be an expensive sale for me (I hope).

        • bills6693 says:

          I’m sure you’ve heard it, but you HAVE to play brothers in one sitting. Its not too long to do that at all. Also with a controller (I’m sure you know).

          Just sit down somewhere comfy, turn off the lights and play the game from start to end.

          • kalirion says:

            Please tell me that’s not because the game doesn’t save your progress…

    • Paul.Power says:

      The solution is to play the demo – it’s free, worth playing anyway since it includes content not in the main game, and while it doesn’t tell you much about the game in a *literal* sense, how you react to the demo’s sense of humour will tell you if you think the game’s worth it.

    • The Random One says:

      I’ll wait for it to be on a Humble Bundle and play it DRM-free.

      Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    • captainparty says:

      Seven Euros is too much to pay for one of the most interesting and innovative games ever made, and certainly one of the funniest. Seven Euros. I think Steam has warped peoples perceptions of value.

  3. airtekh says:

    Normally I hate these ‘walk ‘em up’ type games, but I bought Stanley Parable on the strength of the mod and the demo, and it did not disappoint.

    It’s both very clever and absolutely hilarious.

  4. DrScuttles says:

    Truly video games’ Greatest Yellow Line is to be found in The Stanley Parable. The game has so many wonderful moments and there’s such a joy in discovering a new turn somewhere. And of course, Kevan Brighting’s voice is delicious. Funny as the script is, his narrator sells it perfectly.

    • RedViv says:

      I lost count of how many days, since playing through this path, I woke up and found myself with this stuck in my head. Though I think it has passed NyanCat Orchestrated by now. Interestingly enough, both were made by the same bloke.

      • DrScuttles says:

        It’s going to be a long day at work, but somehow it seems having this nestled within my brainpan and imagining a yellow line extending everywhere I walk will make it all okay somehow. Providing my adventure line leads me to the beer aisle in Tesco afterwards, that is.

      • particlese says:

        Oh, my…those might be best orchestral remixes I’ve heard since…possibly Darkest Omen and Final Fantasia roughly a decade ago. (Here, borrow my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses and pretend I found a link for the second one.) There are a lot of well-done remixes/arrangements on the net that I don’t much care for, but this Blake Robinson guy… :D :D :D

        Oh, and yay Adventure Line theme — I can’t frown and listen to it at the same time.

        Thanks for the link and the prompt (nyan cat) to rummage through his channel!

  5. Viceroy Choy says:

    TSP was fucking brilliant and I loved every moment of it.

  6. Timberwolf says:

    The Stanley Parable is made by Kevan Brighting’s narration. The way it goes from avuncular and reassuring, to tense, to outright petulant as you start disagreeing with the story is masterful. The inflections on “Stanley” alone tell a story if you persistently refuse to take the indicated route.

    It’s difficult to decide on a favourite moment, but I think the Stanley Parable Adventure Line edges out the running joke of the broom cupboard…

    • Viceroy Choy says:

      heresy!

    • Jerppa says:

      I just wanted him to shut up.

    • Illessa says:

      He really sells the handful of moments where it veers into pathos too – his delivery in the zending and the “Real” ending were genuinely heartbreaking

  7. Syra says:

    The funniest thing since portal then?

  8. Jack Mack says:

    Now I feel like a weirdo for enjoying TSP without finding it particularly funny. The moments of sinister beauty outweigh the gags, in both screen-time and effect.

  9. Dolphan says:

    Did you get the broom cupboard ending? The broom cupboard ending was my FAVOURITE.

    Played this for the first time last weekend after buying it in a previous sale. Can’t believe I waited that long. Utter genius (I particularly loved the museum, although I can’t really articulate why).

    • MOKKA says:

      Yeah this one was the best.

      (Also: You beat me to it! Damn you!)

      Probably the smartest Game I ever played.

  10. BTAxis says:

    Alec’s head, heart and gut all say “503 Service Unavailable”.

  11. Laurentius says:

    Game audience has already split up into different segments and I don’t see any unification in forseeble futre and maybe that’s a good thing. RPS ( a PC site, which is a segment by isfelf ) Advent Calendar is testament of it. Some games in it i played for hundreds of hours ( EUIV ) and some games I would have to be forced to even try as they are litteraly repugnant to me .i.e. The Stanley Parable.

    • Jack Mack says:

      “Already” seems to imply this only just started happening in 2013. People loved Chess while hating Poker.

    • Bluerps says:

      I’m not sure if that’s really the case, that gamers can be sorted into different, clear-cut segments. For example, I loved The Stanley Parable, but I have also played hundreds of hours of Paradox games. Isn’t it just different people liking different thing?

  12. Jonfon says:

    My favourite game of the year I think. I’ve spent more time playing things like Enemy Within, but The Stanley Parable was just brilliant.

  13. almostDead says:

    Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
    ooooo
    ooo
    o

  14. der_baer_fm says:

    This game mocked me. I do not like being mocked. It succeeded in making me want to punch the narrator – smug bastard.

    • Meat Circus says:

      One of this game’s greatest achievements is the way it gets inside the mind of the player. It knows what you’re thinking before you do.

      The scene when you’re running around frantically pressing buttons trying to defuse the bomb, and the narrator’s mocking you for running around frantically pressing buttons trying to defuse the bomb whilst recapitulating your entire gamer internal monologue about the BIG RED CLOCK?

      That’s BRILLIANT. And yes, it made me want to punch him.

  15. Gap Gen says:

    I seem to have missed Nathan’s glorious SP review when it came out. I’m sorry, Nathan. I liked the owls.

  16. Lambchops says:

    Yeah, this was great wasn’t it? I’m unlikely to ever return to it and it did get a bit weaker when it moved its gaze outside of the world of games (or was that just another joke or arch comment?) but for the most part it was thoroughly entertaining and a brilliant deconstruction of many of the different facets of gaming. Bravo.

    Oh and I’m intrigued;

    “I’ve played that game before – the one that proudly informs you that other games are rubbish and that it is, in some way, the solution.

    The Stanley Parable is not that game.”

    What is the identity of that game?

    • daphne says:

      I’m similarly curious about this, if only because it is Adam who mentioned it (my favourite contributor to this site — his words are always well-weighted).

    • USER47 says:

      My guess would be Spec Ops: The Line.

    • The Random One says:

      I don’t think he means a particular game; I think that he means several games have tried this before, in the same way that you might play a gritty military shooter and say “I’ve played this game before” (you haven’t, but you’ve played games that hit the same notes and there’s nothing new). In this case, he’s played several games that say “This is bad about games! We are going to do the same thing, but we’ll comment about that so you know we also know it’s bad!” and Parable isn’t one of those.

  17. lowprices says:

    Humour seems to be a real bastard to get right in games, but TSP nails it. The only games I can think of that made me laugh as much are the Portal games and the Ben and Dan games.

    EDIT: I feel compelled to point out that the Ben and Dan games are currently absurdly cheap on Steam.

  18. pilouuuu says:

    The reason why The Stanley Parable is so brilliant is not so much because of its humour, which indeed made me laugh out loud a few times, but because it is one of the few games that do what games can (should) do best. Choice and consequences!

    While games like The Walking Dead utterly fail in giving real consequences, TSP succeeds in developing a path according to our actions and giving multiple endings depending on which path we decide to take. That is what gaming should be about and where the medium surpasses any other form of narrative.

    I wish all developers played it and took notice of how to make choice and consequence. Ken Levine, are you reading? Put some interactive features from TSP on the next Bioshock and we’ll have a masterpiece! Meanwhile I’m expecting for TSP2 which gives us an even deeper narrative.

    • Merus says:

      Ah, but the game doesn’t give you a choice, does it. The only possibilities it gives you are the ones that it’s already decided you can take, and all it’s doing is tricking you into thinking you made that choice independently. You never really have any control over the proceedings; your choice is irrelevant to the game, but it certainly gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling that you’re charting your own destiny.

      • pilouuuu says:

        What happens is that the game gives you “choices” which have already been planned by the developers. I don’t see a solution for that in narrative-heavy games, until there is some way to create a procedural narrative that is coherent. Many games gives us plenty of choices like The Sims and Dwarf Fortress, but it happens mostly in our own imagination.

        What TSP does better than any other games is that the developers created Choose Your Own Adventure-like decisions during all the game and we get to totally different outcomes depending on what path we decide. Unlike something like The Walking Dead where every decision leads to the same ending or Mass Effect 3 where at the end we get to choose between three different endings, making all previous decisions meaningless. The Stanley Parable is a superb example of how to create multiple paths and endings and it only needs more of it! And some kind of gameplay like in Portal 2 would also be welcome. Maybe a Portal 3 with its multiple paths and endings would be a masterpiece!

      • Emeraude says:

        The game is a perfect example, as well as deconstruction, of what I call the “second suspension of disbelief”.

        For most narrative games based on gamist choice/consequence* to work, you need the first suspension of disbelief to work, you need to willfully forget that the characters and situations aren’t real.

        But for the gaming aspect to work, you also have on top of that to forget that you are not accomplishing anything, that everything you do has been pre-ordained by the designers.

        *:complex system-based simulationist games are somewhat different, given they can produce situations that the designer did not intend. Still so far the only valid ways to deal with this on a narrative level has been either to ignore the action of the player, or to use choke points to force some consequences/narrative framing, so I’d say it is valid point for them too.

  19. 88GJS88 says:

    I’ve somehow managed to miss this, but Portal 2 comparisons and specifically, the “say Apple” joke (which just made me laugh out loud in the office remembering it) has convinced me to give this a go as soon as I get home tonight.

  20. Bluerps says:

    So many brilliant thoughts about such a brilliant game. Thank you all for writing something clever about this.

    I think my least favorite part was the ending when you answer the phone, when you get to the apartment. That not only felt a bit mean-spirited, but also just plain wrong, to the point at which I stopped pressing buttons, said “Fuck you, this is not games.” and quit.

    The most touching part was when I found the ending with the lights and the staircase. I just couldn’t go through with it. Sure, the narrator isn’t a real person, but nevertheless after a few repetitions I felt like such a huge dick that I couldn’t continue. I stood on the platform for a moment and then quit. I gues that just shows how good the voice actor is.

  21. khomotso says:

    It’s worrying to think that my failure to enjoy the demo signals some strange brand of humourlessnes in me. But there it is. It came off more like an academic exercise in comedy: I recognized the structure, I got the jokes, they occasionally were amusing, they were often a little too obvious or easy, but it never provoked laughter. It was reasonably smart, and very forgettable.

    I would never have thought it brilliant and hilarious if so many otherwise intelligent people weren’t so damned sure.

    • Surlywombat says:

      They may seem obvious or easy, but its taken till now for someone to make them in a game.

  22. melnificent says:

    This and the original GTA (when it was released) are the only games my brother and I have sat and enjoyed together.
    We spent a good few hours just trying different things and laughing at the narrator getting more and more upset with us. Watching my brother helplessly clicking random buttons trying to stop the countdown was just too funny. He even went back to try again, thinking he’d done it wrong.

  23. psepho says:

    Hmm… I’ve now got five games left that I was sure would be in the calendar. Three are dead certs so it’s a toss up between LEGO Marvel and Bioshock Infinite being left out…

    • Meat Circus says:

      Given the hive mind are basically all on the record about how much they hate Bioshock Infinite…

      • The Random One says:

        I don’t think anyone on the Hivemind has said they hate Binf (unless you count Porpentine, I guess). Mostly they seemed to think it was good but nowhere as good as it could be.

        I’m so sure Binf will be on the calendar I’d bet real money on it. In fact, I’d bet real money on which door it hides behind: the 23rd.

    • The Godzilla Hunter says:

      If you don’t mind me asking, what are the other three games?

  24. Jake says:

    I actually thought The Stanley Parable was quite a tragic game a lot of the time. I am not sure it was funny – not funny in the same way as Airplane at least – as much as it was darkly comic. I mean, for the most part it felt like a game about being insane, schizophrenic and trapped in a perpetual waking nightmare (reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti’s corporate horror). The bit where you repeatedly hurl yourself of a platform, crawling half ruined back up the stairs each time, to your eventual death in order to silence the voice in your head which is begging you to stop… I mean sure it was sort of funny, but not ‘don’t call me Shirley’ funny.

  25. Emeraude says:

    One of the most schilling propaganda piece in favor of the Status Quo in recent memory.

    “Obey , that’s the only way to find freedom/happiness.”

    • The Godzilla Hunter says:

      Just because the narrator says that Stanley is happy does not mean that Stanley was happy in that ending, just saying.

      • Emeraude says:

        Was a joke (though I do think it has a modicum of truth to it). Probably too dry for textual form.

        • The Godzilla Hunter says:

          Ah, sorry.

          Further proof that there needs to be a special sarcasm font/textform like italics and underlines.

  26. derbefrier says:

    Almost bought this last night, still might buy it today. I loved the demo but for a game i’ll probably only play once and probably isn’t that long goes in the “when its 5 bucks or under” column. I did love the demo though and i’ll be stuck at home all weekend so i’ll get bored enough to buy it anyways.

  27. RuySan says:

    If Expeditions: Conquistador isn’t on this list i’ll be very annoyed.

  28. The Random One says:

    Was I the only one who thought Alec’s gut would say only FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAART?

  29. PopeRatzo says:

    What does Alec’s liver say?

  30. HAdr55 says:

    just before I looked at the check for $8124, I have faith that…my… mom in-law was trully bringing in money in their spare time from there pretty old laptop.. there friend brother haz done this less than eleven months and by now paid for the depts on there home and purchased a great new McLaren F1. visit homepage http://Buzz95.com

  31. Skabooga says:

    Well, shucks, if you’re going to mention The Stanley Parable in the same sentence as Airplane, I guess I pretty have to check it out.

  32. CookPassBabtridge says:

    OK FINE I bought it.

  33. SuicideKing says:

    “I’ve played that game before – the one that proudly informs you that other games are rubbish and that it is, in some way, the solution.”

    Far Cry 3?

    “Remember when Wheatley asked you to speak and you jumped up and down instead?”

    I realised how brilliant that moment was, when my elder cousin, who’s fairly critical of games (“you could read a book instead”), said “but i don’t want to say anything!”. I was like, ok, but at least press the spacebar. Chell jumped. I was like see, you didn’t say anything.

  34. wintersnight says:

    It’s not a *bad* game. It’s not an unintelligent game. It’s certainly a move in the right direction for those of us who would like to see more intelligent video games. But honestly, video game culture is not exactly a hotbed of brainwork. If this game bowled you over with its conceptual complexity or had you in stitches with its humour, you probably ought to play fewer video games.

    • Dozer says:

      The jokes mostly went over my head. But the Narrator sounds a bit like Roger Allam. Which is enough for me to get another copy for my brother, who loves Cabin Pressure.

      Incidentally, I’m going to recreate The Adventure Line™ using taxiway markings in X-Plane now.