Screen shot from Stanley Parable video game.

The Stanley Parable and the Kingdom of Heaven

Gamers and Steam-users of all stripes have at some point have encountered or heard about the mind-bending game The Stanley Parable. Much has been written about this game, including many positive reviews, but few people have noticed the connection between The Stanley Parable and the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Stanley Parable is a deceptively simple game with seemingly endless pathways and endings that all reflect in one way or another on the possibility of choice and the question of free will. The gamer plays as Stanley, a young office worker who sits all day in his cubicle obediently pressing the buttons that show up on the screen. But one day, no commands come up on the screen and the player, as Stanley, is left to wander the empty office, aided only by the voice of the Narrator.


The game is less a video game with objectives and tasks to complete and beat (the game can be beaten in 5 minutes with a simple obedience to the voice of the Narrator)—it is rather a bit of modern art, a meta commentary on video gaming itself where the Narrator reacts when the player makes choices against his narration, often launching into existential rabbit trails regarding the (im)possibility of free will.


Google defines a parable as “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.” The Stanley Parable is no exception to this rule. The more one distrusts the voice of the Narrator and makes choices in opposition to his will, the more rabbit trails and tragic endings the player encounters. And the game makes clear, the more deviance and “free choices” the player makes the more truly entrenched in determinism the player gets. The meta question that this video game poses is “how can one have free will when everything is already laid out for you beforehand?” Implying, that there is no true freedom, even within this video game, as all the choices for or against the Narrator are already pre-programmed anyway.


As alluded to earlier, the only way to truly “beat the game” is to obey the voice of the Narrator, and this obedience leads to a shutdown of the game itself and indirectly prompts the gamer to re-enter the real world.


Here it is where the Stanley Parable is at its most prophetic. It reveals a cheeky critique of gaming itself (the more you play this game, the more you, like Stanley, receive pleasure from the mind-control of simply pressing buttons on a screen toward the illusion of freedom!). At the same it time reveals the paradox of Grace: that it is only in obedience to the will of the God that we obtain true freedom.


In The Stanley Parable, there are many seductive and tempting opportunities to veer off course which always end in paranoia, confusion, and (humorously) nihilistic endings, but if one perfectly obeys the voice of the Narrator he leads them straight to the mind control centre to switch it off, out of the video game altogether, into the real world.


I have not yet found a better articulation of the Christian message in any video game so far. Not even in That Dragon, Cancer (which is a BEAUTIFUL game, however) and certainly not in Left Behind: Eternal Forces.


photo by no.thisispatrick