Quick Answer: The video game The Stanley Parable relies on similar narrator tropes as the film Stranger than Fiction. Both protagonists begin to hear a disembodied voice narrating their every move and must choose whether or not to follow its every word or try to escape their fates. In exploring the effects of a narrator on one's life, both The Stanley Parable and Stranger than Fiction are clever, darkly funny reflections on control, fate and autonomy.
The video game The Stanley Parable (2011) and the film Stranger than Fiction (2006) share a striking number of commonalities. Each follows a nondescript white-collar worker—Stanley and Harold Crick (Will Ferell), respectively—who must navigate his environment alongside the commentary of an omnipresent narrator. In both works, the mysterious voice seems to know everything that will happen to our protagonists. As a disembodied voice begins to narrate his every move, Stranger than Fiction's Harold becomes increasingly (and understandably) paranoid. Though we never see Stanley (the game is presented to the player from the first-person perspective), we can assume that he—and by extension, the player—would also be slightly disturbed as well. In exploring the effects of a narrator on one's life, both The Stanley Parable and Stranger than Fiction are clever reflections on control, fate and autonomy.
Harold (Will Ferrell) becomes paranoid after hearing a narrator
In addition to being omnipresent and all-knowing, the narrators of The Stanley Parable and Stranger than Fiction share much in common. Both works have dry, darkly humorous British narrators (voiced by Kevan Brighting and Emma Thompson, respectively). Both narrators want to write their protagonists’ stories but must eventually adapt to the protagonists’ wishes. Moreover, while both Stanley and Howard are desperate to escape their fates, they also realize that it may be impossible to become fully autonomous due to forces outside of their control.
Stanley disobeys the narrator in The Stanley Parable
One difference between the two main characters is that Harold cannot directly interact with his narrator whereas Stanley can. In Stranger than Fiction, Harold learns that the narrator’s voice belongs to author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) and realizes that he is a character in her upcoming novel. Since Karen Eiffel is known to tragically kill all of her protagonists, Harold must find a way to avoid his imminent death. However, this is nearly impossible since Harold has no way to control his own actions as they are determined and written by Eiffel.
Emma Thompson as author/narrator Karen Eiffel
Stanley, on the other hand, is not a character in a book. He is merely an office worker who goes to work one day and finds everyone missing. It is only then that he discovers a disembodied voice of a particularly witty British man speaking to him. The narrator begins delivering exposition, but Stanley can choose to listen to him or create his own path. Depending on the choices the player makes, the narrator will comment and alter the story to reach a different ending, of which there are many.
(Flow chart below contains spoilers for The Stanley Parable)
Every possible ending of The Stanley Parable
It's also interesting to examine the intentions of both narrators. Neither narrator is malicious in his or her intent; they do not necessarily want to harm anyone. Karen Eiffel is unaware that her characters are real people and the narrator of The Stanley Parable (usually) tries to stop the player from making any rash decision that could lead to Stanley’s death. In fact, if the player obeys the narrator, Stanley can reach a happy ending. Then again, is it truly a happy ending if Stanley has no free will? In the game, players can try and forge their own path and seek out better possibilities to find their own happy ending, if such a thing exists.
Both The Stanley Parable and Stranger than Fiction are equal parts hilarious and devastating as they make us question and reflect on our existence. As this year is the fifth anniversary of the game and the tenth anniversary of the film, now is a great time to revisit these two darkly funny, existential works.