Interactive fiction is, and has always been, hit and miss at best. It usually comes in a strictly all text format, and even when the story itself is heart-rending, touching, and a shining example for others to live up to, it almost always comes with the stigma of having a flawed input system. The program cannot recognize the verb you want to use. A particular description doesn’t quite give you the necessary grasp of the scene. Or perhaps it goes so far as confusing the player, making a task such as looking through a window impossible without ten minutes of aggravation, trying in vain to move a flower pot for which no action seems to suffice. Enter The Stanley Parable.

The Stanley Parable is a free, 3D interactive fiction mod for Half-Life 2, which most PC gamers already own. If you are one of the few who does not own that magnificent game, fear not. It can also be played if you have the Source SDK base 2007, which is a completely free download through Steam. The game only runs about thirty minutes should you explore every possibility, but do remember that it is free, and is quite the experience for being such. I would have easily paid a small sum for this mod, and I was quite surprised at the excellent content that is literally being given away.

The story is about a rather dull man named Stanley, who has done the same job, working for the same company his entire life, known only to his boss as Employee #427. He sits at his console day in and day out, pressing buttons on the keyboard one at the time, doing only as he is commanded by a view screen located on his desk, typing one illegible sentence after another. However, one day, for some unexplainable reason, he stops receiving commands through the screen. Curious, of course, for this has never happened in all the years he has worked for the company, Stanley leaves his post for the very first time. What transpires afterwards is a series of rather peculiar events, controlled by the player and narrated by a very memorable voice, though the man goes unnamed throughout Stanley’s brief story, guiding him(or misleading him) at every turn.

Though brief, much is explored in the Stanley Parable. Human will is brought into question, as is knowing what is really best for you, and even what right and wrong really mean. It seems to suggest that one must always go with the flow if one choice is made, but contradicts itself, saying that a man or woman should be independent when another path is taken. Though the story will not bring a tear to your eye, the story will assuredly make one wonder about the human condition, and what being human even means. This mod would be an excellent addition to anyone’s game library, giving the player half an hour of entertainment, but hours of deep thought, just as it gave this gamer a sleepless night.