For a game that claims to be about free choice and determinism, The Stanley Parable sure fails on every account to engage in a meaningful philosophical dialogue. It makes me sad to see such a potentially compelling narrative medium wasted on a boring, pretentious, and unambitious storyline. The game is cute and a little funny, but that’s all it ever ends up being. It tries very hard to be deep and clever and philosophical, but the writing makes it pretty clear that the author hasn’t read a single hard book in his life. What good is “intellectual humor” written by a non-intellectual?
The closest thing to “philosophy” we see in The Stanley Parable is in the narrator’s musings, but these musings are pretentious, apeish, and uneducated. Show any serious academic or even a hardcore armchair theorist the lines in The Stanley Parable and they’ll just laugh at you. The script — and the choices in the game — are completely meaningless, and not the good, Albert Camus type of meaningless, but more like the Epic Movie kind of meaningless. All the endings of the game, from “The Good Ending” or whatever you want to call it to any of the various “Rebellion/Confusion Endings” are completely superficial and devoid of content.
The narrator occasionally asks dumb, pseudointellectual questions like, “is the journey without a destination a journey at all?” — Good question! How about you try to actually answer it instead of just dropping it, you idiot? Was this supposed to be deep? Why does the narrator even ask these dumb questions if the writer never bothers (or indeed, is intellectually incapable of) seriously considering or answering them? There are few good writers who can get by with questions alone, and I think it’s pretty obvious that the writer of The Stanley Parable is nowhere near talented enough to do this.
Probably the biggest philosophical red flag in The Stanley Parable is when the narrator goes into nonsensical, tautological rants about existence that use a made-up “intellectual” vocabulary that you would never see in any serious writing. You know how scientists and engineers absolutely hate it when Hollywood movies use made-up computer jargon and sciencey words in important scenes?
“I’m making a GUI interface using visual basic to track the killers IP address”
Well, it turns out that there’s a STEM analogy to Hollywood Science, and it’s called Engineer Philosophy. The author of The Stanley Parable is clearly interested in philosophy. Indeed, he may be so interested as to talk about philosophy on his weekends at the bar from time to time, and maybe even on Reddit when he’s bored. But such idle, armchair discussion about philosophy was clearly not enough. The writing in The Stanley Parable only ever goes through the motions, mimicking the articulation and gestures and intonation of “intellectual comedy” without producing the cerebral content to back it up. Listening to the Latinate-ridden narration in The Stanley Parable is like watching someone pretend to speak English.
In the end, The Stanley Parable is basically the snarky writing and free will narrative of Portal without any of the cleverness and philosophically compelling dialogue that made the game good in the first place. Oh, and of course, Portal was actually a fun game. To be more fair to the developer, let’s compare The Stanley Parable to an indie game: Hotline Miami was a 2d indie game made in Game Maker by a Swedish guy, and it is not only cheaper to buy but also leaps and bounds more fun and better-written than this overhyped superficial junk.
The Stanley Parable is cute. And it’s arguably funny. But at its heart, it is only a pale imitation of philosophical humor, a shadow made by a cave-dweller. If you want to play a deep, funny, and clever video game about free will, then just play Portal instead. And if you want to enjoy an indie game about free will, then play Hotline Miami. And if you want to read a deep book that is funny, clever, philosophical, and also about free will, then read Notes from Underground. But please do not play The Stanley Parable. There is nothing fun about listening to the rambling philosophy of an uncultured and unworldly engineer. PSA to any literature-inclined STEM majors reading this post: do not blindly parrot the words of philosophers when the last book you touched was Orwell’s 1984 in a 9th grade English class.