What happens when you get a couple of casual players to try out the totally unique experience that is The Stanley Parable? Victor finds two “unwitting” subjects to find out.
Warning: SPOILERS ahead!
It’s very difficult to pigeonhole exactly what The Stanley Parable is exactly. Simply calling it a video game doesn’t do it justice. There are no enemies to kill. No bosses to encounter. No points to earn. There isn’t even a story… well, not the kind of singular narrative we’re used to anyway. I would say The Stanley Parable is something that should be experienced without any prior knowledge what it’s about.
I inadvertently found out the premise of The Stanley Parable and went in knowing all about how the story will change based on the decisions I make on the fly. I avoided reading how to get to all the multiple endings as much as I could. I tried to find as many branching paths as I could. During my first playthrough, I got the ending where Stanley became crazy after wandering in the basement.
As a “hardcore” gamer, I’ve think I’m conditioned to always take the least direct route. When I play an RPG, I never go through the main quest immediately; I take on the side quests first. I think most veteran gamers are this way. That got me thinking: how would a casual gamer, who has no prior knowledge of The Stanley Parable, react to a “game” that doesn’t follow conventional patterns or tropes?
So, I got two of my cousins, Mary Rose and Kinoni, to try it out. When I sat them in front of the computer, I gave them one simple instruction: Play the game as you would play any other game. That’s it. After that, they looked at me curiously like I was some strange taskmaster (which you could say I was at the time, I guess) and let them play.
Let me describe Kinori’s experience first since she tried it before Mary Rose (who was sent to another part of the house as to not influence her). At first, she was very tense and tentative. “There’s nothing that will jump out at me all of a sudden?” she asked. I reassured her there wouldn’t be any monsters or anything. I even explained to her there isn’t any fighting/shooting. She continued on.
When she got to the point when Stanley has to choose between the left or the right door, she asked me what door she should take. I told her it was up to her. She went in the right door as instructed by the narrator. She did try to turn back but the door closed behind her. This did make her more wary but she pressed forward.
Kinori followed all of the instructions of the narrator (she got stuck at the part where she had to punch in the code on the keypad since she couldn’t find it at first). She arrived at final decision where she had to choose between turning the facility’s power on or off. She pondered the choice as if she wanted to see what would happen if she does reactivate the system. Ultimately, she did shut down the facility and Stanley escaped.
After getting the Freedom ending, I asked her what she thought of the game. She said it was “okay” (which is code meaning she found it boring). “Why did you follow the narrator’s instructions?” I asked. She replied because that’s what she thought she needed to do to finish the game. That’s when I told her the “secret” of the game. That there are multiple ways to go through the game and the narrator will actually react to your actions. I then had her play the game again with that knowledge and, ultimately, she deliberately disobeyed the narrator every chance she got and got the Insane ending. Still, she wasn’t enthusiastic about it.
I then had Mary Rose try out the game. Her reaction was pretty much the same as Kinori’s. The feeling of dread that it was a horror game. Following all the instructions given by the narrator. She wasn’t able to finish the game because we had to attend to a family affair but, at the rate she was going, I’m pretty confident she was going to get the Freedom ending as well. She also thought the game was “fine” (in other words, it was boring for her). I did tell her about the multiple paths she could take but, much like Kinori, Mary Rose didn’t really care for it.
So, what did I infer from this? I guess it’s The Stanley Parable isn’t something for casual gamers. Maybe it’s because of the mere fact that it doesn’t follow the general rules “regular” games follow. There’s no rush from killing baddies. No high score to achieve. Other than getting all of the endings, there is, well, no real goal to The Stanley Parable. So, the experience of going through the game multiple times would be tedious for them.
I can’t say I blame them. If I didn’t play so many games for so many years, I probably would’ve done the same things and react the same way. Much like when comics started to tell more complex stories or when movies became more artistic, it’s difficult for most people to make the transition to something radically different that pushes the boundaries of a medium.
I do hope more game developers will try to experiment with the uniqueness of the medium and try out new things like The Stanley Parable did in the future. I know there is a market for it but they shouldn’t expect to attract the typical casual gamer just yet. They’ll come around eventually… I hope.