I haven’t played the Stanley Parable, so I write this with a bit of trepidation.
Recently, Galactic cafe, the developers of Stanley Parable, removed a training video called the Choice, because it was deemed offensive. The scene depicts what can be reductively described as a white man setting a black child ablaze. Let me repeat that for you, a white guy setting a black child ablaze. Funny, right? Well, at least I thought it was. I have a weird sense of humor the likes of Dave Chappelle have nurtured. Racism, to me, is funny. Especially, when it is something as ridiculous as a white guy setting a black child on fire, but is there something more intellectual going on with the Choice video?
The video begins with the narrator saying, “Choice it’s the best part of being a real person, but if used incorrectly can also be the most dangerous.” The training video then shows a hypothetical real-person named Steven whom has a choice. Steven, the hypothetical real person, happens to be a white man in khakis, dress shirt and tie. Steven is a hypothesis as to what a real person looks like, and hypotheses are supposed but not necessarily real or true. Stanley Parable is an self-aware game from what I’ve gathered, and I can only assume that Steven is commentary on the assumption that a white well-kept, middle-age man is the perceived definition of normal, which most people know is not the truth, but was widely believed in the 1950s.
Narration continues to explain Steven’s choices, “he could spend years helping improve the quality of life for citizens of impoverished third world countries,” while the narrator says this a black child accompanies Steven on screen, and Steven lights a cigarette in the child’s mouth. The narrator continues, “or he could systematically set fire to every orphan living in a thirty kilometer radius of his house,” and then the video shows Steven with a gas can smiling while the black child, also smiling, is in flames. Lastly, the narrator poses the question, “what choice would you make?” The joke? Neither are good choices. For one, in the 1950s, the time period the video steals its style from, smoking was thought to improve life. Virginia Slim once ran an ad that said the cancer sticks made you thinner, of course, we now know they don’t. Steve, on the other hand, thought he was doing the black child a favor with the cigarette. Also, systematically setting fire to every orphan within a thirty kilometer radius is not a good choice, but in comparison makes giving a child a cigarette angelic. Neither of the choices make sense.
Sense is a perfect segway into my next point. The narrator continues, “Remember unlike here, the real world makes sense, and at no time should you make a choice that does not conform to rational logic. If you find yourself talking to someone who does not make sense, in all likelihood that person is not real.” Again, Stanley Parable is aware. The video is saying neither choice is logical, and if Steven were to choose either choice chances are he is a hypothetical, real person. Get it?
I also found something else humorous about the video. The narrator goes on to talk about the importance of choice. How many you should make a day? Do they even matter, “If you begin to wonder if your choices are actually meaningful, and whether you’ll ever make a significant contribution to the world just remember that in the vast infinite-ness of space your thoughts, and problems are materially insignificant, and the feelings should subside.” That resonated with me because being offended is a choice, and the video clearly is saying an individual opinion is insignificant. Yet, they pulled the video based off of a couple complaints.
Although, the video did not offend me I would never be so insensitive as to say someone could not find this video offensive. It is, in fact, racist, but the black child being burned is not the butt of the joke, Steven is. I believe the intentions were to point out how idiotic that time period was, and to highlight the, while flawed, better world we live in now. Regrettably, I’m optimistic to a fault and would sooner assume that it was laundry day for a KKK member, than call him a sheet wearing racist.
It is commendable that instead of arguing the point, or ignoring the point, Galactic Cafe pulled the video. Cautiously avoiding offending someone in the current game industry political climate is probably the best decision for their careers.