It's morning, the sun gently approaches your windows and calmly lifts your blinds with its fingers of light. Another day has begun, but instead of hopping from bed to shower, you lie there and contemplate your existence for a while. You think to yourself, "Why go to college today? Sure, I am nearly finished with an admirable degree program. With that pretty piece of paper containing fancy calligraphy, my chances of landing a decent job will increase. Perhaps I'll teach kids. Or maybe open my own jelly bean business. But what does it matter? I'll be dead in sixty years or less, and no one will remember me. And if anyone does remember me, their memories will die with them! So I think I'll just not go today. Yeah, I'll venture to the Appalachian Trial and get lost in the mountains." Then the mailman arrives. You walk outside to your mailbox and pull from it a few envelopes marked with Federal Loans in the upper left corner. A rock jumps up and down in your stomach. Inside the letters are enormous numbers with a dollar sign preceding them, and they are your authority. You must obey them. You must go to school and get a degree. Then you must work for the man until you die. These are the matters of The Stanley Parable.
Stanley lives a less-than-exciting version of the American dream. His job requires virtually no skill, creativity, or boldness, but Stanley is nevertheless content, until one day he finds that no one has dictated orders to him. No one has told him which random buttons to push on his keyboard. Suddenly, the thought of making an autonomous choice comes to his mind, or was it the prompting of the narrator that inspired him to rise from his worn-out desk chair? That's the biggest question of this game. As Stanley, you explore the office and choose to obey or disobey the stern, emotionally volatile narrator's voice. Will your choices lead you to freedom? Will you escape the narrator? Will you become his partner or his enemy? How will Stanley hold up psychologically? Can he endure unique physical and mental challenges?
With a healthy interjection of hilarity and superb writing, The Stanley Parable allows you to explore all of the aforementioned possibilities. While there is something to be said about how The Stanley Parable mocks the predetermined paths in video-games, the philosophically-minded folks may find a deeper meaning within the walls of the deserted office. This is a game about predestination and fatalism of humans in society, but it's so darned funny, you may not make the connection. Regardless, it's an exemplary narrative-driven, open-ended game that both champions choice and disdains it. Another duality is its super-slick visuals, which are purposely squeaky-clean yet bland. Full of contradictions, The Stanley Parable thrives as a game that lacks...gameplay. The only complaint I have is that in one or two scenarios, you are forced to make a certain choice, but in those particular situations, perhaps that is the point. Go play it. Now. I'm telling you that you must. Fine, have it your way then. Actually, no, you will play it. I'll see to it that you do.