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Narrator: This is the story of a man named Stanley.
The Stanley Parable is a modification of Valve Corporation's Source engine. It follows the story of a man named Stanley, who spends his days pushing buttons as commanded by his boss, who issues orders to his workers via a system of monitors. However, one day Stanley notices that he hasn't been given any orders in hours. What follows are events that change his life forever.
Without giving anything away, the game is an interesting exploration of interactivity and makes comments on the idea of freedom. The Narrator is the sort of character you love to hate, like GLaDOS from the Portal games, and his light-hearted but sometimes dark dialogue makes the game not just thought-provoking, but also fun to play. In 2012 an HD Remix, with vastly updated graphics, and a mobile version, with new content poking fun at smartphone culture, was released.
You can download this Source mod here.
WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.
It is prudent that you play the game before you read this page. You have a choice in the matter, of course.
- Doesn't really matter though, in the end. The tropes are still here.
- Adult Fear: Some endings make you question your own life, and not just the gaming. Are you as confined as Stanley?
- Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending: Some of the endings fit into the former or latter, mostly because your attempt to establish your own freedom ends up with you dead, or worse.
- Book Ends: The "Narrator" and "Pawn" ending.
- Boss Battle: Played with. On one of the endings, it looks like it: the Narrator even teases you with a timer and many buttons in the room where you're in, even with some music. And then he reveals that it's actually a Hopeless Boss Fight. No, not even that, actually. It's not even a battle, you never had any chances of actually surviving.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: At one point, if Stanley disobeys the Narrator enough, he will arrive in a room where the walls contain the default dev texture, and there's a big box replacing the sky, with the Source skybox texture. The narrator even mentions it. Of course, it gets better. Really, this crops up all over the place: it's integral to the nature and impact of the piece.
- Choose Your Own Adventure: Every choice you make can result in the story taking a completely different, unexpected turn.
- Crap Saccharine World: The dulcet tones of the reassuring voiceover start out pleasantly, at least if you do what you're told, but if you read between the lines of its congratulations for doing so, you see constant reminders of your lack of autonomy and puppet status, and the subtle wrongness of the situation comes into sharp relief the moment you disobey.
- Deconstruction Game:
- Of linear games that tell you exactly what to do while giving the illusion of a living, explorable world.
- Also of games that inspire a last second Heel Face Turn Rebellion, Soup Cans, Game Breaking Bug, Screw Destiny and the issue of who controls who in a game.
- It's also a rather nice deconstruction of Narrators and the whole idea of plot in a story.
- Driven to Madness: One of the endings, if Stanley decides he can't face his boss.
- Empty Room Psych: The whole damn game.
- Endless Corridor: Forms a Room Full of Crazy.
- Failure Is the Only Option: To quote Cakebread, the designer:
"You will make a choice that does not matter. You will follow a story that has no end. You will play a game you cannot win."
- From Beyond the Fourth Wall: The only way that Stanley (the player) will know the code to the keypad is for the third-person omniscient Narrator to relate the anecdote of how his boss picked that number. Lampshaded when the Narrator suggests Stanley was just pressing random buttons to get the correct number.
- Game Breaking Bug:
- In the original mod, it's possible to press a button on the elevator, then run out of it before it starts moving, leaving you stranded. This seems to have inspired the "Cold Feet" ending.
- Also in the original mod, you can also close the door before leaving the room you start in, after which the door cannot be re-opened. This may have inspired the "Coward" ending in the HD Remake.
- Also, in the Mind Control Facility, you can kill yourself by jumping repeatedly from the upper ledge out of spite. The "Powerful" and "Zending" endings in the HD Remake seem to be inspired by this.
- Golden Ending: An ironic variant. Stanley can shut down the mind control device and escape to freedom. The Narrator describes how Stanley has thrown off his shackles and demonstrated what he can do when there's no one to tell him what to do. Ironically, the only way to get this ending is to do exactly what the Narrator tells you to do. Worse, the Narrator says there was no longer anyone to tell Stanley what to think or feel, and that he is happy. On the other hand, the completely Off the Rails ending may be considered a Golden Ending, since the Narrator basically gives up without killing you.
- Hannibal Lecture: Several, all directed at the player.
- Hypocritical Humor: The Narrator wants to tell a story about a man throwing off the shackles of control and making his own decisions, but becomes increasingly upset when his protagonist rebels directly against the narrative.
- Interactive Narrator: Probably the most literal example.
- Ironic Hell: Being stuck in an empty room with no stimuli, no way out.
- Jerkass Gods: The Narrator will not only blow you up, but will add an extra minute to the countdown mid-way through, just because he's enjoying watching you squirm.
- Lemony Narrator: Particularly if you do the opposite of what it says you will do.
- Mind Control: Stanley's boss has been keeping a machine that controls the emotions of his workers.
- Mind Screw: The game preys on the psychology, training, and paranoia of gamers, and then does it six times over with the different endings, each poking a different gaming nerve, and doing a bang up job with it.
- Minimalist Cast: Just Stanley and the Narrator. Except for two endings, one which introduces a second narrator, and another which gives us the perspective of a young woman who happens upon Stanley's dead body.
- Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The Narrator is perfectly acceptable if you only do what he says, but if you start to ignore him, he goes a little crazy.
- Multiple Endings: There are six altogether.
- Narrator: Stanley follows all of the Narrator's directions, making his way to the machine that's controlling him. He shuts it off, and steps out into the world. The Narrator says that without anyone to tell him what to do, Stanley was happy.
- Tragedy: Stanley follows the Narrator's directions up until the very end, where instead of turning off the machine, he turns the power to full. The Narrator gives Stanley "The Reason You Suck" Speech, telling him that all he had to do was follow his instructions. After taunting him with a timer and buttons placed around the room, the Narrator reveals that it's all futile, and kills Stanley. The game's creator noticed, during testing, this was the most commonly achieved ending for first time players.
- Futile: after attempting to disobey the Narrator early on, Stanley gives in when the Narrator says "Stanley decided to punish himself" and is pulled toward a crushing plate until a second narrator intervenes, and talks about how the Narrator had no more free will than Stanley. She begs him to pause the game and quit because it's the only way to save himself, but he lets himself die.
- Mariella: Stanley takes the wrong direction on the stairs, and ends up running through an endless loop of rooms, where he slowly becomes aware of the Fourth Wall elements of the game. It drives him mad and he dies, at which point the perspective moves outside his body, and the Narrator begins to talk about the woman who'd just seen Stanley drop dead in front of her.
- Pawn: as punishment for disobeying the Narrator, the game is restarted, but now instead of being content with his job, Stanley is absolutely dejected, given constant commands that start with pressing buttons, become things like "please kiss your son goodnight", and end with "please die" before the cut to black.
- Freedom: defying the Narrator at every turn, Stanley gets him fed up enough that the Narrator lets him step into a room filled with blank wall and skybox textures, then drops him in a Half-Life 2 level to let him see what it feels like to have a level not meant for him at all. Finding a tiny crack, Stanley crawls out of the level, and explores his office building on his own, without the Narrator. Then, the Narrator comes back briefly, says that he hopes the story Stanley made up for what he was doing was satisfying, reminds him that he'll be there at the end to tie things up, and warns him that he was happy to sit back this time, but only this time.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The game as a whole, but especially the normally bustling Half-Life 2 map you can get dumped in.
- Off the Rails: Electing to do the precise opposite of what the Narrator says you will do causes him to get more and more upset. Going Off the Rails too much makes him snap, and he may quit or pull a Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. Heck, half the fun in this game is finding new and interesting ways to go Off the Rails.
Narrator: Stanley was fat and stupid, and really really ugly. He probably only got his job through some sort of family connection. That, or drug money. Also, Stanley is addicted to drugs and hookers.
"Stanley decided to punish himself."
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: The Narrator is the most passive-aggressive observer since GLaDOS and backs it up with absolute power over the world.
- Post Modernism: So very much.
- Railroading: The Narrator makes sure to nudge Stanley in the proper direction if he dawdles in a room a bit too long. Aggressively so.
- Reality Warper: The Narrator is kind of a dick when he invokes this.
- Smash to Black: Several of the endings. Literally, in one case.
- This Loser Is You: Stanley blindly presses buttons, obeying prompts on a screen with no understanding or wider life, depending on others to tell him what to do. Brought home strongest in the "Phone" ending. It might also be targeted by certain developers, represented in the Narrator, who treat their players like sheep, demanding arbitrary actions and expecting responses to events rather than allowing creativity or considering other responses.
- Timed Mission: Played with. Engaging the mind control device ticks off the Narrator, and he starts a countdown to nuclear detonation. He then starts going on about how you're in a video game and how you're probably trying to frantically the stop the timer by clicking on pointless buttons scattered around the room when in truth you cannot.
- Tyop on the Cover: In the demo, the signs and the text above the doorway leading to the "demonstration" read "THE STANLEY PARABLE DEMONSTATION". The authors revealed in the Reddit AMA that the typo was unintentional, but they decided to Throw It In.
- Unreliable Narrator: You can make the Narrator this or not depending on your actions. He tends to not be amused.
- Unwinnable by Design: This covers five of the "endings". Even the "good" ending in hindsight is a Pyrrhic victory.
- Villainous Breakdown: While probably not fitting the terminology of "villain", the Narrator gets progressively more and more antagonistic as you walk through the game without following the pre-determined story.
- Voice With The Level Editor
- Wham! Line: Many. They often overlap with other tropes:
- Noticing the Fourth Wall: "Questions that had been with him all along, he just couldn't put his finger on them. For example, why couldn't he see his feet when he looked down?"
- Genre Savvy: "This is a video game." And later, Wrong Genre Savvy: "This isn't a challenge, it's a tragedy."
- Book Ends: "This is a very sad story about the death of a man named Stanley."
- Ironic Echo: "And Stanley was happy."