In regard to The Stanley Parable and video games at large, we discussed how players form attachment and gain pleasure from the tension between fate and free will. The characters are caught in between this two way pull, and so are the players: most of us agreed that having infinite options leaves us paralyzed, while more limited gameplay allows us to track our own progress, which is satisfying. We choose to sacrifice [some? all?] of our control in order to make quantifiable goals, to feel purposeful in a virtual world. We’ll “push arbitrary buttons” if we think we can eventually win.
The idea of “creativity through constraints” is nothing new. I’m sure most of us have experienced this phenomena outside of new media — think of a class project where you’re “instructed” to “literally do anything.” (At least, more often than not this makes me feel totally lost.) So where The Stanley Parable fails to unlock any new ideas about the lack of true free will in video games, it is (or tries to be) something we haven’t seen yet: funny.
Humor is hard, for any medium. But I think exceptionally hard for video games or any type of interaction media. Where people might play video games for a number of reasons including entertainment, people generally seek out humor purely to be entertained. How does “being entertained” change if you’re required to create some of the humor? How can game developers hard-code laughs, give space for user interaction (choice), and still guarantee that players will laugh? Maybe, I’m a critic, but I don’t think this is possible. Of course, you can never be sure how a joke will be received in any medium, but definitely not when you hand over a piece of the control to the viewer/user/player.
But The Stanley Parable has been successful: it’s sold over a million copies. And there are other “funny” games out there, too, like Aura of Power a game satirizing contemporary politics. (This game is particularly interesting because the only way you can “win” or exit the game is by losing. This gameplay aspect is supposed to mirror politics, in particular the former premier of Alberta, Canada Alison Redford–who the player plays as– after her turbulent term which ended in resignation earlier this year.)
While these games are humorous, however, they are unlikely to induce belly laughs. But what they share is social satire. And satire is awesome! Truly, it is. But are other brands of humor possible in video games? I sure hope so.