A walking simulator is a « game » in which the player does not get much interactivity at all. As the name of the genre implies, it is often limited to walking around and sometimes exploring a location. In fact, the « game » I will be writing about in this article, The Stanley Parable, takes place mostly in corridors and linear paths. So while I do consider it the barest amount of interactivity required to call it a game, and in fact, I’m more willing to call it an interactive art piece rather than a game, I would still consider it a proper addition to the market.
Let me explain. The Stanley Parable’s protagonist is Stanley, a mundane employee with a mundane job consisting in pushing the keys a monitors tells him to push, finds out that his monitor is strangely silent and all his colleagues have disapeared. Thoughout the course of the game, as he investigates, the voice of a narrator guides you, the player, towards the « right » directions, when it branches out -as it oftens does- though you are always given the right to ignore him and do the opposite, which will greatly anger the narrator. I am not going to spoil more of the story, but you should know that the overall experience is quite short, betting more on replayability than raw lenght, and the situations you will find yourselves into will vary greatly. This replayability stems from the sheer number of choices the player is subjected to, and it increases even more the further yu contradict the narrator, who will comment on all of your actions with great humour.
If you needed any convincing that this « game » (yes, I keep the quotation marks going, as I’m still unsure of how to actually classify it) is worth your time, it’s the writing. The Narrator is pretty much the only character in the « game », although another, female Narrator can replace him under certain cirumstances. He is also an antagonist, if you decide to contradict him. Much of the plot revolves around metafiction, and a reflexion on the medium of gaming itself.
But that is not really the point of this article. Others have already analyzed the “game” better than I could ever do.
I would simply like to adress two concerns some people could have when considering the case of The Stanley Parable. I certainly did have them. Should this be classified as a game? And more importantly, does this even have a right to claim being a game and to be sold on games platforms such as Steam?
Let me adress the concerns of classifications first. It is mostly a semantic one, which doesn’t mean that it is not important: we have to be clear and accurate when discussing games, so as to fully understand the subject matter. A definition of a game I consider valid includes not only interactivity in a virtual context, but also a challenge. This could be an article in its own right, but it could essentially be summed up as “beating the game” or “winning the match”. In a linear game, be it Mario or an RPG, the challenge is to reach the end of the game while it tries to prevent you from doing so; in an online game, it is to beat the other players, in a sandbox game, the player decides what his challenge will be. In The Stanley Parable, the challenge is to obtain the right ending, or discover all of the endings. Therefore, I do not consider it unnaceptable to call it a game, even though it is an exception among walking simulators.
I also don’t object to it being sold as a game, provided of course proper disclosure of what it is. There is a umber of niches to fill in this free market,and this is definitely a niche title. Even believing in a quality ontrol filter for Steam should not prevent this from being sold on the site, because this is clearly not a bad product. It is just something different, and in an industry so codified, it is a breath of fresh air… but it is not for everyone, and it’s fine too.