Hello dear reader, is this reality truly reality or is it just a simulation? Have you ever played a video game? If you haven’t, you can usually bet on a very similar narrative among most games. You start playing and you’re some hapless individual with an innate and untapped power that you’re about to master. A billion hours later and your character is now something akin to a god. This is what you can expect from playing most games because they’re just games. They’re made to give you something that you’re lacking in what you might consider to be your real life. Which brings us to one the black sheep of the gaming industry: The Stanley Parable.
Unlike most games, The Stanley Parable is a game in which you are some poor schmuck named Stanley working a dull office job for all eternity. You have no power, no real choice, and nothing special about you whatsoever. The narrative is something that you make sense of and ascribe your own thoughts to. You have to find your own meaning and it allows you to reflect on what you may or may not be missing in your own life. This is a bit abnormal in video games because usually the narrative is grandiose and somewhat shallow. The stakes are normally through the roof and it’s up to you to save the world/galaxy/universe.
In 2016, a small game studio named Squanchtendo was started with the creator of The Stanley Parable along with the co-creator and voice of Rick and Morty. When the two creators collided they ended up with a virtual reality product known as Accounting. That game takes a similar approach to The Stanley Parable however the tone is darker and the narrative is much sillier.
In Accounting, you are a virtual accountant and you travel deeper into other virtual worlds. While in these other worlds the time you spend in them does not stop and you eventually come out of each one at a different point in time. You eventually make your way out of each of these worlds and the game ends. Which leaves you with the thought of whether or not this is reality and if you should try to escape it, the game’s ending carries over to after you’ve finished it.
It’s not just their narratives that makes these two creators unique, it’s also their business models. The first product from Squanchtendo was priced at the modest price of free. While this does reflect the small amount playtime it offers, it also is a product that fans definitely would have paid for. The Stanley Parable was also priced pretty low for its content which was around $15. The primary reason that these games are priced so low is that they are not being funded by massive companies.
These creators made a conscious decision to focus more on an individual story than a sprawling experience that the larger companies tend to align themselves with. The focus on a smaller more compact narrative has become a trend for indie developers in recent years and continues to be the case. Generally indie developed games have a smaller price tag to go along with the experience they’re selling. Whereas the larger companies have settled on a $60 price tag on just about anything they put their name on.
At the end of the day they’re selling a product, whether it’s a six hundred hour adventure through the galaxy or a ten-minute-long reality-bending romp in your office. While it’s subjective which of these are better than the others, fans like myself can only hope to see more creators taking pointers from the little guys because you’re never too big to learn something. So tell me, do you exist or does it even matter? Are you a fan of any of these games? Does VR lend itself to video games enough to justify the purchase?