The Stanley Parable: What is Control?


Disclaimer: I have not personally played this game. A youtuber (Philly D) that I follow created a Let’s Play (he only played 3 endings) of this which I watched ages ago and the recent discussions in class reminded me of it so I decided to write about it.

The Stanley Parable is a mod of Half Life 2 and like Everyday the Same Dream and One Chance , it is a game that tests the player’s ability to change something about their reality. The game starts with a narrator explaining that you are a happy worker named Stanley, a.k.a. employee 427, whose job is to push buttons as instructed by the screen in your office. However, one day the instructions stop coming and you are told by the narrator to investigate.

(If you are able to find the mod, I recommend you play it before reading on because it spoils the fun. If you can’t find it maybe watch the same Let’s Plays that I did so my entry makes more sense)



Unlike Everyday the Same Dream and One Chance, the narrator in The Stanley Parable follows you every single step of your journey, narrating every action you are supposed to take even before you decide to take it.  Although you do have the ability to defy the narrator, no matter what rebelling action you choose, the narrator will still be there responding to your choices with enough passive aggression to make children cry. As you progress through the game, you really only have two choices:  follow the narrator’s instructions or disobey them. Depending on your decisions and timing, you will be able to achieve six different endings, none of which I would consider a ‘winning’ one.

The whole dilemma that Stanley is facing in this game is that he is alone, and regardless of what decisions you make and ending you achieve, Stanley will always be alone. Now, the argument can be made that your goal does change once the story begins to unravel. The narrator slowly reveals that Stanley has been mindlessly following orders from a machine, so the new goal could be to stop the machine and break free from its control. It’s actually kind of interesting because following the narrator’s instructions to stop the machine gives you a feeling of control but disobeying the narrator’s instructions also gives you a sense of control. I personally feel that in the end, that sense of control is all a delusion. If the goal is to break free from the control of the machine, and you do so by following the narrator’s dialogue, then you are no better than mindless Stanley when he followed the whims of the screen.  If you choose to go against the narrator’s instructions, you are just faced yet again with more preset dialogue. Ultimately, both choices provide you with the same result: a prewritten response. Even though you might feel like you have control, the amount of conforming or rebelling actions you have against the narrator is decided by the narrator.

To achieve any self-control in this game, I feel that you must find a way to disconnect entirely with the narrator. There is an unofficial 7th ending to The Stanley Parable on youtube that I would consider the closest thing to achieving control in this game. In this ending, you are able to escape the narrator indefinitely by pressing the up button for the elevator scene but rushing out of the elevator before the door closes. By doing this, you never reach the next scene that activates the narrator’s dialogue and therefore you have gained some form of control back. The only issue with this ending is that you are now trapped in the elevator room without any methods of escaping it. However, even though you aren’t provided a fancy end screen and credits for this path, maybe it is the lack of someone else telling you that your journey is over that shows that you have truly gained control.

Though, if you really think about it, every ending including the unofficial 7th one could be considered the same because you as the player are a person who is sitting at their desk, pushing buttons and following orders from a screen. So, even if you progressed through the game and achieved a satisfying ending, aren’t you just exactly like Stanley was at the beginning of this game?

  2 comments for “The Stanley Parable: What is Control?

  1. darlingchaos
    January 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    I find the idea of control a really interesting and brain-wrinkling one. The idea of some kind of providence guiding all of us is something that a lot of people try to scoot out from under, whereas that kind of “divine intervention” or pre-determination is really comforting to others. I personally find having my every move chosen for me, having my path narrated and laid out in front of me seems like a really frightening thing. Unlike games like dis4ia which have limited control to the point of being a completely predetermined story with one ending, to which the reader/player has no choice but to arrive at, games like The Stanley Parable are creepy because they remove the player’s sense of agency but variable endings remain. You don’t know how it’s going to wind up, and it’s not entirely up to you how things go.


  2. Bekka
    February 14, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Parable, defined as a short allegorical story made to teach a truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. By calling Stanley’s story a parable, some questions about our own lives are raised. Do we really have a choice in our life? Or is the illusion of choice like the illusion Stanley faces? Whenever we try to become independent are we just following another predetermined path? Is The Stanley Parable telling us that we have no free agency in our lives? It’s questions like these that burn in the brains of many. Some people believe they hold complete control over their lives, other put control in a higher being. Maybe it’s because I’m doped up on cold medication that I’m pondering all this, but now I’m questioning my life and whether or not we’re all Stanleys having our lives predetermined by some omniscient narrator… I should just go to bed.

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