What do you play after The Stanley Parable?
After a game that has you questioning choice, agency and free will and openly mocks video game conventions like linear storytelling, achievements and – ha! – winning, what’s next? Do you go back to acting out the role of captain Blazkowicz (who chose young guy over old guy using the old utilitarian moral choice crutch of ‘lifetime still to be had’) and make him jump though hoops to save the day?
Well, I know I will (shall?). At some point, or so I’m told, there will be nazis in space and hell if I’m going to miss it even if that has gone from novelty gimmick to trope in the blink of a few years. But not right away. The juxtaposition would be too jarring, too uncomfortable. I need to acknowledge some points that Stanley has driven home first.
So here I am on a road outside of Duisburg. It’s early morning and the sun is ahead, behind a few clouds. It’s a beautiful day. I have been commisioned with bringing a digger from Düsseldorf to Bremen and I’m endeavouring to do just that. In Euro Truck Simulator 2 you are not the chosen trucker, the one destined to bring coal to Newcastle before they run out. You cannot win ETS2, you can only play it. ETS2 allows me to make choices about brands and colours of truck but the game and I both know that those are essentially meaningless and neither of us pretends otherwise. Oh and destinations. Paris looks much like Krakow when from the perspective of a trucker, though. The aim of the game is to stay on the line and do the job with a minimum of fuzz. This is no sandbox. If your idea of trucking life is = freedom then this is not for you. Your job is to loose yourself in a mindless activity and minimise your own agency. Like Stanley prior to leaving his office. ETS2 is probably what all that button pushing was. The game must have crashed on him, the poor sod.
I’m driving a digger to Bremen. I’m not a hero, I’m not a rebel and I’m so unspecial that other drivers pigheadedly refuse to back off when I’m trying to execute a three point turn on the autobahn.
But still the Parable is hard to leave behind entirely. The road is your adventure line and you follow it, knowing it will take you to your destination. But what if I did a runner? What if I drove this digger to Bratislava instead of Bremen as I’m tasked to do with 5,269 virtual Euros as motivation? Or dumped it in a ditch and watched the sun set on Lyon? Would that be a story? Or just the Sidewalk ending?