Metafiction: The Stanley Parable

Metafiction has been around for centuries but only recently has it started showing itself in popular video games. Metafiction refers to literature that consciously comments on the medium they are presenting through in order to bring up questions about the relationship between reality and fiction. For example, in The Stanley Parable, the player is not only playing the game but is also being played by the game.

In the beginning, the player’s character is introduced by a male narrator. The character’s name is Stanley, a.k.a. employee 427, who works at a company where his job is to push buttons all day as instructed by a screen. One day, Stanley notices that no instructions are appearing on the screen and journeys out of his office to figure out the reason why. Throughout the game, a narrator follows Stanley while voicing every action the player should take even before they reach the area to do so. If the player makes Stanley deny the narrator’s instructions,the narrator will passive aggressively attack Stanley on every aspect of his life including and not limited to his personality, intelligence, and appearance. In the end, the game seems to only offer two pathways: obey the narrator or disobey the narrator.

Which door should you go through?

Which door will you choose?

In reality, the real options are not obey the narrator or disobey the narrator but to not play the game or to be played by the game. What I mean here is the whole goal of the game is trying to free Stanely from a mind-controlling machine that has been governing his actions, however, to break free from its control you have to follow another machine’s instructions. Ultimately, no matter what option the player picks, the narrator will bring Stanley to a premade area of the game feigning that he is upset at Stanley’s choices. In the end, the player becomes no better than the Stanley when he followed the whims of the computer screen.

The Stanley Parable is a metafiction that raises the player’s attention to the stale linearity of video games. We can only move where the game makers allow us to go and every step is planned out for us before we even begin the journey. The Stanley Parable lays out this truth for all of the players to see. It breaches the lines of reality and fiction by directly addressing the player’s actions while using Stanley as a metaphor.

No matter what game we ultimately play, we are never really fighting monsters or collecting gold coins but we are all Stanley, sitting in front of a computer pressing buttons on a keyboard and gaining the feeling of satisfaction through the pixels on the screen.

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