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⤹ stanley parable and existential dread

Hello hello! This is Zabeth back after a month or two of no updates, I am indeed back. Was facing through some issues here so I decided before I left I'd write one of the longest blods I've ever written, a two-parter based off of video games being a medium of art which totaled up to more than 14,000 words! I decided I'll make myself start writing more and with this publish we should hit around 10,000 words (give or take with both intros and outros) but this blog will be a game that I never got to play but I've seen countless of videos on and that is Stanley Parable. I'll let the rest of my essay do the talking for me, and as always, Enjoy Reading!~

Stanley Parable and Existential Dread

2013 was an incredibly big year for gaming. We had releases like The Last of Us, which went on to become one of the biggest game series of all time, Grand Theft Auto (which I've talked about for long enough), and even the return of franchises like BioShock and Tomb Raider. All of these games had massive launches with a ridiculous amount of hype behind them. 

But it's important to note that it was also around this time that the indie gaming scene was starting to come out with some really interesting ideas. In 2013 alone, you had games like “Papers, Please”, which revolved around working as an immigration officer, with all the gameplay basically boiling down to identifying who's allowed in and who's got to be denied. There were also games like “Gone Home”, which, despite coming under quite a fair bit of criticism due to the fact it was incredibly short and hardly featured any gameplay to speak of, was still an interesting idea in terms of the atmosphere it creates, as well as making the story the sole focus. 

It's a different debate to whether you think it's an appropriate style for the video game format, in particular, as there are lots of reasons for and against these types of games that don't fit into the typical mold of video games from the past. If you're looking for a scary experience or some fast-paced action, you're not really going to find that in either of the games I just mentioned. But despite the fact you might not personally enjoy what these have to offer, I think the concepts and actual execution of these ideas alone should be appreciated. Papers, Please in particular is a fantastic example of a wholly original idea played out in a unique way, with an art style that can only really be associated with that game alone. Not to mention, due to the fact we're talking about indie games here, it was made solely by one guy, that being Lucas Pope. 

But the point I'm getting at is that during this period, some real experimentation was starting to be seen, as not only was making video games starting to become more accessible due to the new kinds of software that were being released on PCs, like RPG Maker.

But with online stores like Steam and GOG becoming far bigger and more utilized by the average video game player, this also gave way to a much easier form of actually distributing these games by making everything digital. When removing the physical media aspect, it meant these games made by small teams or maybe even one individual get the opportunity to be experienced on a far wider scale than ever before.

The Release Of Stanley Parable

Which leads us nicely into what we're going to be focusing on today. This is the story of a man named Stanley. The Stanley Parable was released in October of 2013 and was developed and written by Davey Redden and William Pugh before being its own standalone release. The game was initially a mod that was created for Half-Life 2. However, due to the immensely positive reaction to the game's concept and how it executed its ideas, it was eventually remade into its own thing, albeit still using the Source engine. Although it was also remade again in [year], which is the version we'll be looking at today. This time being ported to the Unity engine due to its compatibility with consoles, with the Ultra Deluxe edition being the first time console players could actually experience the game for themselves. 

But outside all this technical jargon, let's have a look at the game itself and try to understand why it was given so much acclaim and frequently described as thought-provoking, profound, and mind-bending. From the opening cutscene, we get introduced to the narrator voiced by Kevin Breiting. Shocked, frozen solid, Stanley found himself unable to move for the longest time. But as he came to his wits and regained his senses, he got up from his desk and stepped out of his office, with his smooth and bassy performance giving quite literally a perfect off-kilter atmosphere. Straight away, it's a performance that initially sparks intrigue within the player, describing Stanley's mundane life of pushing buttons, a deeper theme which we'll explore later. But then, when being told no more orders were being sent to Stanley and all of his co-workers have seemingly vanished, there's definitely a creepy element that gets introduced here. 

The Aesthetic Of Stanley Parable

I always wondered if that was something which only affected me personally, but after seeing countless people play this game as well as the fairly recent backrooms aesthetic, I can definitively say the initial moments in this game could lead to some people thinking it's some kind of horror. Now, because the game's all based around reaching several different conclusions in relation to stanley's story let's run through the first outcome that i found and make some observations along the way and then proceed to analyze how the paths could have segmented from this initial route the atmosphere is easily the first thing that strikes the player it's fantastic and despite not being completely unique or visually stunning in any fashion that is the point it's an environment that fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the beginning of this story with the empty office spaces and wide open warehouses giving an immense feeling of isolation right off the bat but as we'll see later on the minimalistic art design

Does give way to some genuinely distinct visuals that can only really be associated with this game alone. Straight away, you'll recognize the narrator isn't just confined to the opening cutscene, but he's quite literally narrating everything you're doing. 

"Stanley decided to go to the meeting room; perhaps he had simply missed a memo." 

This alone is a downright bizarre inclusion for a video game, as typically the interactive aspect in games has all revolved around giving the player freedom. Even in games that are crafted to be linear experiences, you find you're merely guided towards certain outcomes, and even then, you've still got an element of discovery. Right from the start, the narrator is describing every emotion that Stanley or rather you should apparently be feeling, as well as describing the exact actions we should actually be taking. This immediately creates an interesting disconnect between the player and the game, with the idea of meta being one of the key devices that makes up this experience. 

This is shown off most blatantly in the first real choice we're given: being told to enter the left door but at the same time being given the option of entering the right door instead. 

"When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left." 

An excellent piece of game design, which I assume is taking notes from games like Portal, teaching the player the rules of the game in the most stripped-back and simplistic manner possible, and then going on to become more elaborate as things progress. The intrigue alone will likely lead to most players entering the right door, and of course, the narrator's dialogue adapts to this supposedly wrong choice that you just made. 

One thing you'll notice about this game, and specifically its dialogue, is that due to the surreal and oftentimes absurd scenarios you end up in, I think many players were taken aback by some of the things the narrator says. Entering the employee lounge, for example, will lead to several instances where the narrator will sarcastically say, "The detour was apparently worthwhile for this completely empty room. Wow, yes, this room, it's nothing." 

When you initially hear this, it could stay nothing for the entirety of your playthrough, but it's things like this which could eventually become the feeding ground for some real deep and perhaps even philosophical thought. I'd say that's likely more to do with how the game pans out and some of the concepts which are eventually presented, but the room in itself is fairly interesting off the bat. Why were we even allowed to go here if the narrator is in control of telling our story? Why didn't... he stop us from going here why was there even a second door to begin with you can boil this stuff down to. that's the game. that's how it works but i think that's ultimately destroying the overall point of this stuff i'm pretty sure these moments are supposed to have you constantly questioning not just your own actions in relation to the narrator's instructions but the game itself and what the point of the alternate pathways actually are and what they mean by following the path onto the cargo lift

And entering a room with a phone, we'll eventually be taken to an apartment with the narrator convincing us we've got a wife who we've apparently been neglecting over our work.

"All right, now I want you to come in and tell me all about— [Music] [Laughter] Gotcha! Oh, come on. Did you actually think you had a loving wife who'd want to commit their life to you? I'm trying to make a point here, Stanley. I'm trying to get you to see something. Come inside; let me show you what's really going on here."

This is the first ending of the game where we're forced to press keys on our keyboard while the narrator tells the story of our death. This is where some of the first real existential pieces are thrown at us, essentially rewriting what we were initially told in the opening about Stanley being happy with his life of endless button-pushing and now painting it in a far more sinister context of being stuck in a monotonous cycle of doing the same thing every single day with no change and no end in sight.

"No, he's eating lunch. Now he's going home. Now he's coming back to work."

One might even feel sorry for him, except that he's chosen this life. But in his mind—ah, in his mind, he can go on fantastic adventures from behind his desk. Stanley dreamed of wild expeditions into the unknown, fantastic discoveries of new lands. It was wonderful. And each day that he returned to work was a reminder that none of it would ever happen to him. Stanley's described as a nobody who does nothing of worth. His job's easy and makes near to no impact on anyone or anything, and his life is quite literally on a loop of going to work and coming back home. But it's eventually revealed the titular Stanley Parable was in fact an idea that Stanley came up with in his own mind, along with several other fantastical adventures which he himself will never be able to partake in.

Down one path lay an enormous round room with monitors and mind controls, and down another was a yellow line that weaved in many directions, and down another was a game with a baby, and he called it The Stanley Parable. Much like how he chose the right door at the beginning, Stanley chose this mundane life which is easy but utterly dull. The existential thoughts are being channeled heavily here as we start realizing Stanley is in no way a character but simply a vessel for us, the player, a real-life person. Unlike Stanley, we're not a character model with a texture placed on us, and our existence doesn't dissipate and reappear at the press of a launch button. The narrator still talks directly to Stanley for now, despite the things he says clearly being a reflection of how many people in real life actually live their lives. But as we can see in one of the other endings, he's not unaware of the possibility of an actual player taking on the role of Stanley.

"Wait a second, did I just see— No, that's not possible. I can't believe it. Had I not noticed it sooner? You're not Stanley; you're a real person. I can't believe I was so mistaken."

It's important to note that although this was the first ending I got in my playthrough, most of the endings are available from the get-go, even those with credit sequences which I assume are in some way the definitive endings. So when the narrator mentions all of the different possibilities that Stanley came up with in his mind, it works on two levels of meaning: those being a foreshadowing to the events we'll eventually see as well as a retrospective reflection on them. The way this wraps up is brilliant, describing Stanley as merely an observer of these ambitious thoughts as he pushes the same old buttons day in and day out.

"And I tried again, and Stanley pushed a button. And I tried again, and Stanley pushed a button."

It's speaking to us on a number of levels. We're clearly supposed to be reflected in Stanley's actions, but there's a number of ways you can perceive this. For example, you could take it in the most literal way, being that much like Stanley, people in the real world have to work in jobs they hate all their life to earn money to survive. But you can also look much deeper and apply that to any number of things we do on a frequent basis. For many people, playing games will be one of them. And in the case of The Stanley Parable, we can play, replay, and play again to our heart's content but as the narrator says in reality all he's doing is pushing the same buttons he always has nothing has

Changed in a game sense, there's only a set amount of endings; once we're done, we're done. And in a real-world sense, despite getting involved and interacting with this strange environment, on the outside, nothing's changing. Playing The Stanley Parable will likely have near to no impact on anything or anyone in a physical sense. And remember, this is just my perception of these events, and as you can see, we've already reached a point where the abstraction and symbolic nature of the game's dialogue has led to a cavalcade of possibilities and meaning. And the best part is that, in my opinion, it's wholly deserved. 

There's many pieces of media that attempt to say something akin to what's presented here, but sometimes are so pretentious in their presentation they entirely miss any point that might have been there. David Lynch is my favorite filmmaker, so you can assume I already enjoyed this experimental approach to storytelling, but it's important in things like this, there's an actual through-line, a concept, an idea. Throwing random things at a canvas has artistic merit in its own right, but if you're actually attempting to convey something specific and intentional, I think there should at least be a starting point for the observer to attach to.

And like that, we're thrust back to the start, with that ending in particular, arguably being one of the most depressing in the game. It describes the life of endless monotony and tedium, working and sleeping until Stanley eventually dies. 

That's how most endings are capped off here: simply a cut to black and then reappearing back into the office at the beginning. It's effective in both giving the somewhat generic environment a recognizable and memorable appearance by having it shown to us frequently, but on a gameplay level, it's also an important signification that we've started over and it's time to try a different approach. Unless the game's conveyed there's something beyond the restart that we need to follow, which it occasionally does in endings like the confusion ending. It's telling the player that if they choose that path again, they'll likely reach a dead end.

This is where things start to branch off majorly, as beyond the right and left doors, there's a variety of parameters the player can mess around with to get some wildly different outcomes. Let's start with what's the polar opposite to the ending we just witnessed, that being the mind control ending. Where we follow all of the narrator's instructions, making our way up to the boss's office reveals the narrator's intended path to be quite standard and boring. We follow each instruction to a T, so that already eliminates any sense of discovery. But the actual content that's included is also fairly typical of what you'd see in any piece of media: a secret underground facility with a not-so-subtle commentary on the boss being some sort of big bad capitalist villain.

The best part about this ending is what I can only assume as a huge contradiction in some of the narrator's lines. With the entire plot of this one being revolved around mind control, it becomes clear that by following the narrator like this, in a way, we're being controlled. This mind control facility—it was too horrible to believe. It couldn't be true. Had Stanley really been under someone's control all this time? I think that idea is intentional, but it also seems the narrator takes no notice of this obvious hypocrisy. Writing a story about freeing yourself from mind control while at the same time controlling our minds to free ourselves from that very mind control.

Turning this off will lead to the narrative's true ending. And although he often times reveals himself to be a majorly overbearing figure who gets furious when things don't go his way, this ending is genuinely positive. It still makes zero sense, as assumedly despite being told Stanley would now have free will and immense possibilities before him, he'll still be followed by the narrator, therefore not breaking this mind control. Although maybe that's just a cynical way of looking at it. Perhaps this is just supposed to be a positive ending to somewhat contrast the narrator's oftentimes aggressive behavior.

I constantly doubt the narrator's intentions, as simply by choosing the alternate choice in this one scenario and instead turning on the mind control machine, due to the fact we were so close to his perfect ending and messed up at the finishing line, he opts to launch a stressful countdown sequence where upon reaching zero, we'll be completely obliterated by an explosion. During this time, he torments us as much as possible, doing things like prolonging the countdown, telling us he erased our co-workers, and simply mocking our attempts to try and stop the countdown by pushing all the different buttons around the area.

This is an important outcome as it shows that despite the narrator's intentions ultimately being good, reaching a conclusion that has a positive message at the end of it, when disobeyed, he also proves himself to be a truly bitter and vindictive storyteller. Notice how these two endings in the previous one are substantially different in the messages they're trying to convey. The first one was all about the repetitive cycle a person's life can fall into when not taking advantage of all the different possibilities they can actually explore, whereas the other two are much more focused on the actual scenario that's played out within the game.

Although you could argue turning off the mind control machine had some correlation in a real-life context, it's ultimately more about the actual character of Stanley, who as we've established isn't really a character at all. That's something else this game does very well; however, the ideas it's conveying are oftentimes scatterbrained in their approach. One ending will have you questioning your life outside the game, whereas others will make you question why you've done certain things within the game itself. I like how it never takes itself too seriously, something which will become important when looking at some of the new content.

The Endings Of Stanley Parable

Those last three endings are what I'd say are parts A and B. They're the outcomes you'll end up with if you follow the most obvious paths after the point where you enter the right or left door. But the incredible part about this game is that there's countless other pathways in between these routes too. And unlike other multiple choice games which only give the illusion of choice, here every new pathway you discover is likely to lead to a brand new and oftentimes even more elaborate ending. The most confusing one, of course, being the confusion ending, which much like the title implies, spawns out of the narrator getting utterly lost in his own story after we go in a direction which is so far off the beaten path.

"So now, in order to get back, he needed to go... um... From here, it's, um... left. Oh no, no, it's to the right. My mistake."

I'd say this ending is more interesting in terms of the game itself, being far more impressive in relation to its multiple restarts with brand new and contorted versions of environments we were previously familiar with. It's another element of commentary, this time of game design, both taking a look at how other game developers lay out the progression of their games as well as being a self-reflective look at this game's own mechanics. It's no mistake that this ending in particular is strung...

Out over the course of several restarts, quite blatantly mirroring how we restart after each individual ending. This time, though, it's used effectively to make us feel even more trapped and isolated, going further and further down a rabbit hole where every subsequent restart messes up the game even more and gets us even more lost, eventually culminating in the Adventure Line being put in place—a bright yellow line that shows us exactly where to go, exactly where the story is.

Years ago, when I played this for the first time, I likely wouldn't have thought anything of it, but I suppose due to my recent delve into the GTA franchise, I now realize this is likely commenting on the frequent hand-holding many open-world games found themselves doing with objective markers, icons, and predefined destinations all being implemented to supposedly make a player's experience more smooth and understandable, which despite definitely being a factor, also brought a complete dumbing down of the games themselves. It's why I find so many of Bethesda's and Ubisoft's games so difficult to play, as although their worlds are usually undeniably grand and expansive, you're typically always following the markers on your mini-map to your next objective. It's no mistake that I frequently hear that when you completely ignore this element and instead head off in a random direction to explore on your own volition, you can get some genuinely engaging and dynamic encounters. It's not that these games are always boring and lacking content; it's the fact they always seem to guard you away from it, instead focusing on what they think is the most important parts, much like the narrator does for pretty much the entirety of this game.

This exploration element is even explored here as well. We're after following the line past the fern, which I have to assume is another jab at other multiple choice games like The Walking Dead and Life is Strange, both of which emphasize the impact of their choices despite not making any substantial differences throughout their respective stories.

"Wait, cut the music, go back and look at that fern, Stanley. This fern will be very important later in the story. Make sure you study it closely and remember it carefully. You won't want to miss anything."

We end up restarting again, this time heading in a different direction to the line. Much like we can do in countless open-world games, we ignore what's supposed to be the main objective and head off in a brand new, uncharted direction, making the events which play out far more interesting as we have no idea where we might end up or what we might discover along the way. This all leads us back to a choice between two doors once again, and I think it's no mistake that we're told to walk around in circles at this point, as that's quite literally what this ending's conveying. We've gone around in circles for a while now, basically doing the same things countless times over and expecting something to change.

But something does change here, just for a brief second. When we finally head into the right room, we're presented with a Confusion Ending schedule, laying out all of the events that just happened and all of the events we're apparently going to take in the future. Much like everything else, our supposed adventure was rigged from the start. There was no adventure, but once again, a predefined path that was already planned to happen from the beginning. But in a genuine act of defiance, the narrator refuses to adhere to this schedule, and as a result, the timer stops.

"I won't restart the game. I won't do it. I won't do it. I won't do it."

And the timer stopped. Does that mean... Did we do it? Did we break the cycle, the... um... whatever it is that made this schedule? How would we even know?

What initially seems like the possible start of an actual adventure, the game breaks, and we're brought right back to the start. Well, in the meantime, as I said at the beginning of this one, I think it's both self-reflective of the game's own handling of the player's choices, but also how other games handle them. The one time we actually defy the game's expectations, a new path isn't revealed, we're not given any new content, the game doesn't adapt—it simply breaks, much like a bug or glitch the game wasn't prepared for this outcome, and because it can't adapt, it takes us back to a state that is familiar, which also happens to be something that we've seen countless times at this point.

This commentary on existential thor mixed with game development is presented much clearer in endings like the Mariela Ending, where upon heading down instead of up to the boss's office, Stanley launches into a full-blown crisis, questioning why he's got voices in his head telling him what to do, why he can't see his legs, and why the room seems to be on a loop. It's basically the depiction of someone getting immensely panicked at the possibility of being in the Matrix. The questions which get asked are ones that are solely confined to the game and its engine. He can't see his legs because that wasn't programmed into the Source Engine. He's got a voice in his head because the game's MP files are playing at the exact times they were set to play.

The stuff which I felt was genuinely quite profound though came in the game's quieter moments, as well as the bulk of the Ultra Deluxe's new content. 

There's a path you can take by dropping onto one of the lower platforms while the cargo lift is moving, which, much like many moments before, we're presented with two doors, this time being red and blue. Both of these have unique outcomes, with the blue door looking at the idea of focus testing and other actual games like Firewatch and Rocket League. This moment happens as a result of the narrator getting fed up of your feedback and not knowing how to please the player, but in the original version of the game, this led to us getting transported to Minecraft instead. 

It's funny they chose the game Firewatch to begin with, as despite definitely being an experience I remember enjoying the first time round, it's yet another one of those games that I think of as being immensely restrictive. No matter what dialogue options you pick, nothing's going to substantially change. I do think this moment might be more just meta for the sake of being meta, though it's fun to introduce these games that many players will be familiar with, but ultimately if there was any point about their designs, it's somewhat lost on me. They obviously would have needed permission to use these, so I can't naturally assume this is supposed to be some kind of criticism, but I also don't think it's an outright appraisal either. Like the narrator says when being brought into Rocket League, we're stuck inside an arena, it's impossible to get lost, so I'm not sure.

If that's commenting on this game's linear nature of events and gameplay or if it's just commenting on how us, the player, has the tendency to go in directions they aren't supposed to. The most effective part is definitely when we head down to the beta testing areas, managing to escape the narrator for good, but at the cost of being completely aimless. It's the dark side of the idea that's presented during the confusion ending. Whereas there, the idea of heading on our own journey was filled with excitement, now we see the real consequences of that fact by reflecting it in a real context. It's portraying these events from the scenario that they weren't planned—getting lost and escaping the narrator has now led us to a set of test rooms with no light, no narration, and no motive. We're just wandering around aimlessly because we didn't want to play by the game's rules. We got our freedom, but at the cost of an experience. There's quite literally nothing.

Firewatch and Rocket League might have their set design choices, but without them, you've got nothing for the player to attach to. And that's where things come full circle with the idea of rating our experience and playtesting the narrator's game earlier, making it very clear this is all commenting on players' reactions to the games they play. It's rather bluntly saying that the player is free to criticize the games all they want, but it's also saying they don't entirely know what they want either. This doesn't have to be the case for everyone, obviously, but having been involved and actively interested in the gaming community for years now, the type of person this ending is talking about definitely exists—those who don't take into account what it takes to actually create a game and what parameters must be put in place to make a game enjoyable for the majority of players.

Going back to the red and blue door, though, upon entering the red door and actually following the narrator's guidance, we get a genuinely enlightening moment. Much like how I explained in the true ending, the narrator's intentions are genuinely good; he wants to show us a story that actually conveys a sense of optimism. And this is shown off here too, with this moment easily being one of my favorite things I've ever witnessed in a game.

"Here, yes. Oh, it's beautiful, isn't it? If we just stay right here, right in this moment, with this place, Stanley, I think... I feel happy. I actually feel happy."

It's simple, but the way the music and visuals are handled here are so effective that they create something genuinely beautiful and artistic. But naturally, that's not how this game works. The developers must have been aware of how powerful and peaceful that moment was, as the aftermath of this shows us hurling ourselves off a flight of stairs over and over until we force the game to restart again. This angelic period is brought to a slow and crushing end because we couldn't bear to miss out on some other content. Our actions are painted almost as a consumer, not someone who wants to appreciate the art.

"Is it over? It's going to restart, isn't it? I'm going back."

And it's these kinds of ideas that get heavily explored in the new stuff added in the Ultra Deluxe content, being released in nine years after the standalone game came out. It's easy to say the expectations from fans were high due to the huge time gap. There was no real need to ever remake this game; it already made its impact years ago. So going back to it now could both jeopardize the original vision of the game and also just be a disappointment.

In terms of what's included with such a large amount of time, the possibilities for what could be added as well as the assumptions which may have been made from fans almost sets it up to fail, and that's exactly what we see the game grapple with in everything here. And funnily enough, the thing it most heavily reminded me of in recent memory is the Brazil special from Smiling Friends. Much like that episode, it was purposely hyped up as something brand new from the original game, with the title Ultra Deluxe being painted out in gold text and the trailers appearing to be self-aggrandizing and promoting the idea of new things. But as we see when actually accessing this new stuff, it's purposely set up to be a disappointment from the get-go.

The door that leads to this new content is just tacked on randomly as we head towards the two doors at the start. We get led through some warehouses and told about the brand new edition of the game in what I assume is supposed to be an incredibly lazy and lackluster manner. And then, when getting down to brass tacks, there are intentional issues that are put in and actively commented on by the narrator—the slow-moving elevators, the lame and unnecessary new mechanics, and then the abrupt ending. But of course, that's not all there is to see but simply the start of this divulgence into the idea of going back to an IP that's loved by many players. I'd say this new content isn't just revolved around the original game and the acclaim it got from both fans and critics, but it's just as much about the idea of remakes in general—an idea that's fantastic in today's current climate with games like The Last of Us getting remade and getting a fair amount of backlash due to the fact it doesn't look substantially different from the original. And I'd say that although you can definitely see the visual upgrade in that game's case, you've got to start taking into account other factors like what you're actually charging for the remake and if it's worth it in comparison to the features which have been added.

Just like films and TV, games can also have underwhelming remakes, which is what makes the narrator take us to the memory zone, reflecting on the past and what made the original game so great.

"I call it the memory zone. It's where I've been storing all my favorite memories so I can relive the peak experiences of my life whenever I want. Experiences like the launch of The Stanley Parable on PC."

For me, this was a deeply resonating idea. So many people go through their lives capturing memories through videos and pictures, but you've got to understand what the purpose of that actually is. So many people nowadays live under the guise of nostalgia, talking about how much better things used to be and reflecting on older and happier memories to brighten their mood from their current reality. That's pretty much exactly what we're doing here. The new content failed us, and as a result, we're left longing for those peak experiences, much like the narrator is.

We've turned to what used to be, but at the same time, this is just a reflection. We simply can't learn anything new as we're already aware of everything that's on offer here. But on top of that, we then start getting into the more game-related side of things, being shown glowing reviews from outlets like Destructoid and GameSpot, praising The Stanley Parable for its experimental and innovative gameplay ideas. "Nine out of ten, don't you get it, Stanley? The game was perfect. It didn't need anything else. It didn't need new content." Much like all memories in life, though, the more you start analyzing them, taking them away from the untouchable rose-tinted retrospective view, the more the reality starts to seep its way in. As time moves on, your memories become gradually more foggy. You forget the minutia and primarily only remember the high highs or the low lows.

And that's what we bear witness to when looking at the Steam reviews. The warm positive feeling we feel slowly fades away as we get shown several negative reviews criticizing the original game's content. Everything from the narrator, the multiple endings, and the ideas it's trying to communicate get labeled as dull and pretentious, with the narrator himself questioning if these people are actually right in their criticisms.

"Richie, Stanley, I'm not preachy, am I? You wouldn't tell me if I'm preachy. Honestly, you can."

No goodness, this is actually quite shocking for me. I don't think the idea of self-reflection in someone's work is all that unique, but I'd say it's rarely conveyed in a gaming sense. I remember figures like Kojima doing this kind of stuff with the Metal Gear series, but in a far subtler manner. We're literally getting shown reviews here, after all. And with The Stanley Parable in particular, I think it's an interesting point to focus on, as from the outside, I imagine due to its experimental nature, it will have certain players writing it off almost immediately, even though it might actually include things they'll enjoy.

It's commenting both on the reaction from these players but also just as much about the developer's own reaction to this, reflected in how the narrator starts doubting himself, taking us away from the underwhelming new content and perhaps thinking the original stuff wasn't all that much to talk about either. The ending of this one is easily one of the most profound moments I've experienced in a game for a long time and immediately removed any doubts that I had looking at reviews on the game, claiming there wasn't enough stuff to warrant a remake.

We stumble across a review which says adding a skip button would have made the original game better, not having to sit through all of the narrator's dialogue. And upon hearing this, we actually attempt to implement one, much like the game's ending. We're actively feeding into the player's requests and showing how what players want might not result in the best outcome. The button's initially only supposed to skip forward until the narrator is done speaking, but every subsequent time we push it, it seems we jump forward an increased amount of time, starting off small and then eventually getting to the point where the narrator starts panicking, the lights go out, and the plant in front of us dies.

"Stanley, please don't push the button again. It's been hours. Oh, Stanley, you're back! You're back! Oh my goodness, I have someone to talk to again!"

Now, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly this ending is getting at, as I feel like it might be one of the deepest in the game. Initially, it appears we're suffering the repercussions of the skip button itself, moving past any kind of enjoyable adventure that might have come from this game as we're simply not giving it the time of day. But in relation to the game's narrative about Stanley versus the narrator, the idea which is mostly explored in the red door ending and when unplugging the phone is telling us once again that skipping past the narrator is missing the entire point. Much like how there's no story without Stanley, there's no Stanley without the story.

All in all, it's touching on similar themes that we've already witnessed, but the difference is how it's conveyed. The atmosphere of this segment is unbelievable. Despite being stuck in this soul room, after a certain point, you genuinely feel like you could be jumping forward millenniums at a time, with the environment becoming incredibly dark, the narrator eventually straight up disappearing, either giving up his attempts to communicate with you or perhaps more morbidly dying, and certain contrasts which are presented here just took me aback completely. Like the brief moment of calm we get in the midst of this desolate darkness when vegetation bursts in through a hole in the ceiling, accompanied with birds chirping and ambient music in the background, only to have that stripped away and replaced with almost absolute darkness and these haunting wind sounds from outside.

It's things like that which are presented so well, and for me personally, I'm still solely seeing this as a reflection of the game design subject. We luckily managed to skip forward to a point of bliss before being thrust back into the darkness. There was a moment of joy in this otherwise horrifying experience. But this is the great thing about abstract art. It fills the player with intrigue and interest. Even though I've come to one conclusion, I don't feel completely confident that I'm right, and I'm not sure I want to be. It leaves room for even more discussion about what all this stuff means, perhaps to reach an entirely different outcome that you yourself might find more plausible.

The actual cap off to this ending is just unreal too. Eventually managing to escape this concrete box and running free into this now desolate wasteland again. The image is so striking that countless ideas come into my mind about what this could possibly relate to. Is this still commenting on the player's reviews, showing that by skipping over all the content that could ever be considered tedious or boring that we eventually end up with nothing is this going back to the existential ideas about what lies ahead of us and what our purposes are perhaps it's linking back to the narrator and how when finally being given the opportunity for a genuine sense of freedom there's nothing left to be seen i'm not here to say what conclusion anyone should come to because

I just don't think that's appropriate. It strips all the potential away from your own ideas that you may personally find more interesting and plausible. But the final thing we're going to focus on is once again found within this new content, diving heavily into these gaming-related ideas. There are a few endings I haven't commented on, like the Not Stanley ending, where you unplug the phone and eventually end up being removed from Stanley, witnessing the narrator wait for you to make an action in a very melancholic fashion at the end.

"I need this. The story needs it. So, you hear me? He eventually realized that he needed us just as much as we really need him."

There are also some secret endings which aren't as substantial, like the two where we can glitch ourselves out of the map, the Museum ending, as well as the Escape Pod ending. All of which we'll look at later on in a slightly different context. But that's about all there was in the original game. After the mind-altering experience that we have with the skip button, the new content door is rebranded to being "new new content", where upon reflecting on the criticisms which were thrown at the game, the narrator employs a number of techniques to get people on site. First of which being that the game is now completely rebranded as "The Stanley Parable".

"Which is why I'm very proud to announce, for the first time ever, The Stanley Parable!"

Despite being pretty much the same game in both appearance and content, adding "new" apparently makes it a wildly different experience. I don't think I even need to comment on the vast number of game franchises that employ this slimy method to their game releases. This is where we're showing all of the brand new features to this sequel, such as the button that says the name of the player that is playing the game but actually only being a prototype that says. Being encouraged to use our own imagination to make the button worthwhile. Then we've got a bucket, which despite just being a bucket, ends up hilariously creating quite a substantial difference to some of the pre-existing content. We apparently end up creating a vastly different game world in this sequel simply by picking one of two balloons to add to the office spaces. And best of all, we've got collectibles which apparently give us nothing in return, although that is a bit of a lie on the game's part.

This is arguably the most outwardly critical this game gets towards all of its gaming-related contemporaries. Despite the original game never needing things like the bucket or collectibles, they've been inserted simply to liven up what would otherwise be the exact same experience. I've seen people genuinely criticize this element of Ultra Deluxe, but I can at least somewhat understand that the entire point is obviously that, in an effort to make a critique on games that do this kind of thing, it's employing it to a game that never needed this stuff, that being The Stanley Parable itself. If you're annoyed that things like the bucket and the infinite hole make up this new content instead of a wider variety of new endings with even more branching paths, that's perfectly fine, but it's simply not the game's intention. It's like getting annoyed at a story for going in a certain direction or killing off your favorite character. You might not like it, but the intention's there, so that's all that really matters.

This is eventually shown to be exactly what it is when the narrator attempts to show off all of this stuff in a presentable manner but simply can't.

"Who am I kidding, Stanley? This isn't a coherent video game at all. It's a lot of gags, and I do very much enjoy creating gags, but they don't add up to anything. I wanted more than anything to create a sequel that would capture all the magic of the first game. I wanted fans to love it. No matter how good these gags are, they wouldn't stand on their own. They would need the structure and the gameplay of the original."

This is where it's very clear that the writer, Davy Redden, is distinctly channeling his own thoughts through the narrator. It's similar to what he did with his game, The Beginner's Guide, although in that case, it was literally him that was talking. After much deliberation, he realizes this new content is nothing of worth, particularly. It's a bunch of gags that, despite having a certain level of charm comparable to the original, simply don't stack up to what was presented the first time round.

This is where Ultra Deluxe definitively becomes known as The Stanley Parable, reflected in the brand new title screen which, despite looking very nice, is wholly reflective of the idea of repackaging the same game into a brand new box. The narrator even says that to make this game work, he needs to inject his new ideas subtly, which ultimately defeats the entire point of referring to the game as The Stanley Parable to begin with. But these changes are actually presented here, with there now being a bucket at the start of every attempt, where we can now play through each individual ending once again and have it adapt to the fact we're now carrying a bucket with us.

This idea is ridiculous in itself, but that's why I find it so great. It's fully acknowledging the impact the original game had on players and avoids adding brand new stuff that varies too much and instead opts to modify what we're already familiar with. The most substantial part of this new content is a bucket, and in many ways, that one sentence can sum up the charming atmosphere of The Stanley Parable in general. And although I said it doesn't bring brand new stuff, I'm not sure I can say that with full confidence, as although these endings are still reached in the same manner, their outcomes can sometimes vary quite drastically.

To me, there's also a very clear move in the direction of talking about relationships, whether that be in a romantic context or perhaps the relationship between a game developer and its players. For example, the Press Conference ending is made far more crushing by conveying the idea of being so invested in something that people just don't care about or ends up resulting in failure. Fitting in line with the game's absurd tone, this is represented as Stanley being obsessed with pressing the number three.

"But just imagine that in any number of different scenarios, and what the narrator says at the end becomes far clearer. He was unloved, uninteresting. He was a failure. And in that moment, Stanley knew that the bucket would never again take him seriously. There would be no connection, no deeper understanding. The bucket merely sat there in his arms, indifferent. And so it began that slowly over many years, the two of them grew more and more distant. They spoke less and less, neither wishing to state the obvious, that any sense of real respect between them had eroded since that day at the press conference."

It's not about being interested in the number three, it's about having a passion for anything but then not having that reciprocated by anyone else and actually being abandoned by those who once believed in you because of your failure to create something that people care about. The bucket and Stanley in this one could convey a huge number of things with how they lose touch and grow distant. One of the most famous examples I can think of in a gaming context is the whole Konami situation, once being seen as one of the best game publishers out there, with their current status being a complete shell of their former self. This really is working on a number of levels. You can see it like I just described, or perhaps paint it more in the light of a failed relationship.

These ideas are also conveyed in the bucket version of the Phone ending, with the narrator describing a scenario where he introduced us to the bucket and then the bucket started controlling our lives, not allowing us to spend any more time with the narrator, going out on adventures, because we're forced to spend all of our time with it. Quite clearly reflecting a controlling and toxic relationship, perhaps with the ending of this one being the narrator falling into his temptations for a chance to go out with the bucket instead of you, or maybe it's just trying to convey more clearly what the actual meaning is here.

"Stanley, give me the bucket! Give it to me! Give me the bucket, Stanley! I need it! Give it to me now! Give it or I'll..."

Outside of those new endings, there's one final thing we need to witness, and that's the Epilogue. You'll find that whenever you relaunch the game, you'll be asked to configure things like the time and brightness, with these text boxes eventually becoming sentient and making us configure some completely pointless things. But after this, a random text box starts becoming reflective about what his purpose is, because of course it does. We unlock the Epilogue, emerging back in the barren wasteland from the Skip Barn ending. We can head in any direction we want, much like that ending. The way the music and visuals are used here is absolutely incredible.

"I'm not typically one to get teary-eyed at a game, but these moments were so affecting to me. After everything we've just been through, it shows a real understanding in how to convey an atmosphere appropriately. It's not being goofy like a lot of the other moments can be, and it especially doesn't have the narrator, which I thought was particularly important in making this moment even more personal. Despite oftentimes being a rather meta and satirical experience, they clearly know when to take something seriously as well as how to effectively carry that out."

Eventually, we rediscover the Memory Zone, as well as the crashed escape pod with the bucket inside. And I think the execution in what I assume is the final moments we'll ever see from The Stanley Parable name is, to say the least, too masterful. A lot of people like optimism in their endings, and I do understand that not everyone wants to watch something and come away with a bitter and cynical mindset. But there's also a very good reason to go to those places. In art, we need to explore those cynical possibilities and negative emotions just as much as the good stuff. And that's essentially what we get here much like the previous time we visited the memory zone we're looking at reviews but this time for the non-existent stanley parable.

Although that brings an interesting point since these reviewers have no way of being real, that means Davey is essentially trying to predict people's reaction to the ultra deluxe and assuming that some of the reviews I read on Steam aren't simply trying to feed into this narrative. I think he hit it right on the money; the silence drills in these points very well. There's nothing more to see outside of these people's comments, all of which are utterly scathing towards the game, labeling it as uninspired and disappointing.

I can't help but once again think of games like Cyberpunk, Fallout, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Anthem. Much like we see here, not only were fans furious at what they received, but the developers of all the projects I just mentioned had to personally apologize for what they were attempting to sell. It's important to realize that no matter how hard the game devs might have worked on these games, they weren't in control of when they were pushed to the masses, and as a result, it seems like the people that were making these games didn't have any passion for the projects, which is very rarely the case. It always seems to be they've simply run out of time and are forced to stop working, something that's become increasingly common in the modern-day gaming climate, with companies tagging on gigantic day one patches to their releases because they simply weren't ready to be released yet.

The last thing we do is end up back inside an office going against the developer's wishes of ending the franchise at the sequel and instead deciding to milk the franchise as much as possible. This ending irks the ideas of freedom but through the guise of a monetized and capitalist viewpoint. I suppose the idea of not caring about your legacy isn't bad in theory; it removes any kind of limitations from your work and presents a real freedom from being judged. But at the same time, in this context, it's only about making new games to get people's cash, which is exactly what we do here, being an even more shallow attempt, even when comparing it to the nares sequel idea by simply adding a new number to the title screen and also adding a subtitle to allegedly create an entire new experience. What was once an experimental project with actual artistic merit has been turned into a money-making machine, a franchise that pumps out media as more of an exercise compared to anything genuinely worthwhile.


And that's The Stanley Parable, a game which presents so many ideas and leaves the player with numerous questions that only they can answer themselves. As I mentioned, it's a game that oftentimes is on the line of being deeply profound but never crosses into being preachy or pretentious. The things it's presenting are all valid for analysis, but it's never overbearing and never takes itself too seriously. If you don't want to think too deep into things, the bucket can just be a bucket, a quirky addition that you become attached to. But much like everything else under further analysis, it can be seen to be holding several layers of meaning under metaphor and symbolism that it can be even more interesting to those looking at this stuff in a philosophical light.

In terms of its mechanics, it's not special at all; there's no actual gameplay here. The closest we get is stopping a baby from going into a fire, and even then, that's just pressing a button over and over. But much like the games I listed at the start, the gameplay was never the point; it was all about the story and the presentation of its ideas. The original Stanley Parable was brilliant enough with its commentary on game design and free will, but the Ultra Deluxe has deeply affected me in a way that no other game has in recent memory. It made me think about a variety of things not just in a media sense but in terms of my actual life, how I've lived it and how I'll go on to live it in the future.

It's an experience that I highly recommend to anyone. Despite me going through the game in detail here, what many would consider to be a spoiler for the entire game, I still think it's something that you need to experience for yourself. I didn't show everything this game has to offer anyway, and much like how I've come to my own conclusions about certain things, perhaps experiencing the events of the game for yourself will lead to a new outcome for you personally.

For those solely looking for an enjoyable game with an addictive gameplay loop, this most likely won't be for you. But for those who are interested in the game painting itself as an adventure before slowly revealing itself to be a front for some truly insightful ideas handled in a subtle and classy manner, I can't recommend this game enough. The end is never the end in The Stanley Parable, but if the epilogue's anything to go by, it's telling us that all good things eventually must.

And that's a wrap! Thank you to everyone who waited until my unannounced hiatus ended and thank you for all the love and support from the last blog post! Truly your comments all keep me going and especially to my one consistent reader out there, you know who you are ;) This blog took me a while especially with how much I had to look up about the game and trying to get my gritty hands on it as well but all in all I believe my efforts were worth it. Thank you so much for reading through and as always,

With matsalab,


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⊹ ࣪ ˖ elizabeth

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wc: 9977!! <3

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