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The Stanley Parable is a mind-bendingly layered and complex satirical commentary on video game tropes which itself takes the form of a game and absolutely changed my life.

The mechanics are simple. You simply explore the space in which you find yourself. There are no objectives, no quests, no achievements, and the only progress it is possible to make is progress through physical space; thus it completely warps and blurs the distinction between what Hertz calls “exploration and narrative action” beyond all form or recognition. There is a plot, dictated by a narrator who is obsessed with your story as the main character. He guides your movement, and yet you are forced to make choices as to where to go and what to do at every turn. You are challenged to defy him in order to explore the multiple endgames besides the one you are led to. And you do. Because you are human. Which means you are curious and your thirst to know all that could have happened is unquenchable.

As what Hertz calls “exploration and narrative action” intertwined to become completely inseparable, what shocked me was not that the game related to my own life. What shocked me was that my own life was profoundly unsettlingly like the game. The number of choices I make every day based on intuition or instinct alone is staggering; and yet I find myself approaching them strangely like a computer, by projecting the possible implications forward (shrinking timespace) and meticulously calculating the best course of action.

To me, this is the only rational approach to Dr. Chun’s question about how the quantitative processes a computer is restricted to can produce such a vivid, navigable space. I think the answer lies not in how we are changing computers, but how computers are changing us. Our society is becoming “one which is based on continuous calculation at each and every point along each and every line of movement,” but in which this calculation is fundamentally indistinguishable from the abstract, qualitative forms it gives rise to. This is the essence of Thrift’s concept of ‘qualculation’: a world in which new qualities are being constructed, which are based on assumptions about how time-space can turn up which would have been impossible before, spaces which are naturalistic in the sense that they are probably best represented as fluid forces which have no beginning or end and which are generating new cultural conventions, techniques, forms, genres, concepts, even…senses.”