As the title of the game suggests, The Stanley Parable is, at its core, a simple story about a character named Stanley. The moral lesson to be drawn from the experience of playing the game can be subjective to the ending a player reaches. Of the endings I have discovered so far, my favorite has been the museum ending.
To arrive at this ending, the player must follow the narrator’s instructions to just before the very end of the prewritten story. When traveling down the final hallway to the Memory Control Room, the player is told to walk straight ahead. If the player takes a turn down a hallway labeled “Escape”, the narrator assures them that they will encounter certain death. The hallway brings the player to a pedestal moving along a track leading them towards giant metal plates. Just before they are about to die with the narrator telling the story of their last moments, another narrator takes over and the player falls through a hole in the floor.
The second narrator chastises the first as the player enters the museum, saying “and yet it would be just a few minutes before Stanley would restart the game, back in his office, as alive as ever. What exactly did the narrator think he was going to accomplish? When every path you can walk has been created for you long in advance, death becomes meaningless, making life the same.” As the player makes their way around the first exhibits, the second narrator asks, “Do you see now? Do you see that Stanley was already dead from the moment he hit start?” Even before exploring the museum, this feels to me like one of the core themes of the game conveyed by this ending. Choice is at the core of The Stanley Parable. Allowing the player to disobey the narrator granted a sense of agency beyond following linear story. This quote calls into question the basic assumption of the game mechanics as they relate to the theme. If Stanley was dead from the moment the game began, all the options for choices set out and narration scripted, any disobedience simply falls in line with a presupposed plan and the essence of truly meaningful choice is lost. While that seems on the surface like something that falls counter to the game itself, I think calling attention to the illusion of meaning in games allows The Stanley Parable to function as a piece of media both subject to and doling out criticism of the state of the art form.
In the Museum
As the player begins to explore the museum, narration stops. The museum walls are full of models of employee desks, various props from stages of the game, buttons that play an array of sound effects, and samples of iteration in design through the game’s development process. At the center of the first room lies a diorama-style map to the initial choices the player encounters. To me, the most interesting piece of this room and of the museum as a whole is a sign next to a model of the room with two doors. Shown in the gameplay video, the sign explains that the doors were the first piece of The Stanley Parable with the rest of the game built around it. The game is revealed to have been designed as an exploration of the contradiction this room posed.
In an interview with designers Davey Wreden and William Pugh about the architecture of the game, Pugh states that the room is completely symmetrical so as to let the player define their relationship with the narrator without bias from level design . This point in particular speaks to the signature of the lead designer Davey Wreden. In his other work, he often begins with a simple puzzle or concept to which he draws the player’s focus. He makes this the core of the experience, not always explicitly, while building a world around that concept and treating it as a window into the true theme of the game. Pugh’s comments on the level design of the door room fall neatly into his game formula while still allowing The Stanley Parable to branch into various incarnations of something presented as a simple choice between obedience and disobedience, or predefined story and freedom.
 Warr, Phillippa. The Impossible Architecture of The Stanley Parable. Rock, Paper, Shotgun, 21 November 2014, https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/21/the-stanley-parable-architecture/. Accessed 28 Sep. 2018.