Amongst arrays of cubicles, one encounters vestiges of the employees who used to reside there, gleaming hints of personality among the filing cabinets and busted copying machines: lime green rotary phones, multicolored plastic file bins, jumbles of scattered papers, computer screens displaying Solitaire or lists of emails or nothing at all. Yet, when I played The StanleyParable for the first time, one workstation immediately stood out – the sparse desk of Employee 432.
432’s desk consists of the static gray partitions characteristic of the office building, with the number 432 in large, bold, yellow font on the left side, which joins another, slightly shorter partition piece running parallel to the wall, at a right angle. A black-colored desk lamp rests with its bulb pointing slightly downward. No cord to plug the lamp in is visible. A dark gray-colored circle resides near the corner of where the partition walls meet, presumably a place where one might hide cords that plug in electric appliances, although no such cords are visible from underneath the desk. An electric pencil sharpener, the crowning jewel of the desk, sits in front of the circle. The material of the desk itself appears to be synthetic wood material, with a white varnish coating the top of the surface, pocketed with shallow scratches. The desk itself is held up by metal supports that form the letter “I” as it connects with the underside of the desktop and the floor. Employee 432’s desk chair padded with a cloth of slight beige dots appears to be identical to his officemates’, held up by five rolling wheels, each attached to a respective leg spoke, and constructed mainly out of a dark grey plastic-y material. Beneath the desk, a line as yellow as the bolded number highlights the partition walls, and, on the partition parallel to the wall, gray text reads “G814-F1 Partition Corp. Providing Partitions for 60 Years.”
In analyzing the character profile of Employee 432 via the study of the physical artifacts which bear his “countenance” (just a number of identity), I endeavored to determine why the number of “432” would warrant such spread throughout gameplay. The number “432” has significance in spirituality, healing, music, and interesting (coincidental) references pertaining to physical locations and popular culture. Some sources claim that 432 Hz, known as Verdi’s ‘A,’ tunes music in a way that is mathematically consistent with the universe. Such sound promotes healing and cyclic growth. One particular area of gameplay utilizes soothing sounds to set the mood and play with one’s emotions that reminds me of such calming music. Other sources claim that the healing properties are rubbish and point to a conspiracy where Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of propaganda, tuned music to 440 Hz as a means of enthralling the German people. Still other references to “432” include the tallest residential tower in our hemisphere, the location of a Virginia hospital, and a Bruno Mars song. Not all of these findings may apply to The Stanley Parable, but it goes to show that this number holds significance in many areas of “real life.”
Employee 432 exists in various forms throughout The Stanley Parable. One does not simply play this game once, for the number of possible endings entices the player to continue exploring additional areas of the game and interacting with items in different ways. Yet among the rooms filled with stars, tempting buttons, lines, staircases, offices, doors, plants, and Minecraft, I kept finding the specter of 432. When I entered the meeting room, one of the various whiteboards that described a meeting schedule read “WHAT TO DO ABOUT 432. (don’t tell 432 about the meeting).” Later on, when I entered the monitor room (for all of my game iterations), I checked the camera observing 432 – he had not been fired as I originally believed he would be. In the Museum, I examined the model of the first section of office spaces, and immediately recognized 432’s cubicle. Following The Stanley ParableAdventure Line TM resulted in encountering filing cabinets filled with countless “Employee 432 Peer Reviews.” Others who have played The Stanley Parablehave been able to obtain high quality images of paperwork that I encountered in my playthroughs – files within the game folders that I could not open with my technology – including an example of an employee evaluation of 432 by one of his dissatisfied coworkers and a special provision for him located within the Employee Observation Protocol.
Who is 432? One of the people with whom I’ve been discussing The Stanley Parablewith theorized that he is a “pencil pusher,” which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “a person who has an office job that is not interesting” (Cambridge, 2018). Is the employee “that guy” in the office, the one that takes all the grunt work that nobody wants to do, or is he just the office idiot? Why would the game designer bother to include references to this enigma, creating a ghost that haunts the game if you keep an eye open? These questions are expounded upon within many forums discussing The Stanley Parable as players record where they have seen 432 throughout the game.
Playing The Stanley Parableactively engages the player in self-evaluation and close reading. In order to fully grasp the mega meta message which the game lives and breathes, the player relates oneself to the Narrator, Stanley, and the environment within which the player/Stanley acts and interacts. The Narrator exists as a force to be reckoned with – one may choose to follow his direction or trailblaze a new path. And yet, the Narrator’s autonomy within the storyline varies depending on the player’s movements and choices. Woven discreetly between the thoughts of narrative tropes, plot lines, game conventions, fourth wall breaks, perceptions of choice and control, games as art, and satirical renderings of game design and interaction (which are heavily expounded upon by the incomparable Narrator himself), 432 exists and makes his mark on the “game world.”
The choices that the game designer makes in building a game, from the most vital game mechanics to the smallest aesthetic detail, has a purpose. Examining and searching for Employee 432, whom we never explicitly meet in the flesh during the game, may seem a practice in futility, an Easter egg hunt of sizeable proportions within a game with so many additional layers of content and reflection to offer. Yet I undertook such a hunt in order to demonstrate the richness of the world which The Stanley Parable creates. In a game where side-stories drive home the main purpose of playing the game in the first place, the existence of a fragmented personality through artifacts contributes to that overall goal.