The Stubborn Parable
I just finished grading my students’ final portfolios. This next-to-last grade is based on a research paper – often the first they’ve ever done – and really separates the wheat from the chaff. In developmental, you often see a reverse bell curve, where students who follow your directions generally do well, getting mostly B’s (with a few A’s), and those that do not follow your directions do poorly, with D’s and F’s (which have no functional difference in my developmental program).
These portfolios were no exception. I had a handful who did every tiny piece of documentation perfectly and really worked to incorporate the sources into their paper intelligently, and I had some who didn’t even bother with a Works Cited page. It is what it is, I suppose, but it certainly starts to be wearying after seeing the same thing every semester, regardless of what new strategies I try or programs I pilot. Some will do the work you ask of them, and some won’t, no matter what.
That whining aside, it’s interesting how similar this situation feels at times to The Stanley Parable, a game I’ve been playing the last few days. If you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out. While I think it’s overpriced (even to some extent when I got it on sale for half price), it’s well worth a modest investment (I paid 10 bucks and feel all right about it). The game is truly brain-tickling. It’s a narrator-driven game, like Bastion, but it’s real “mechanic” is an almost metaphysical or existential experiment in what it means to play a game.
There were many, many times when I just had to sit and absorb the craziness I’d just heard, and I daresay the game made me feel a bit crazy at times. It’s incredibly well conceived and executed, and – dare I say something so self-serving – feels like something I’d come up with if I had the patience and knowledge of computers to put something together. It’s satisfyingly batty.
My wife DM’d a D&D campaign for a while until it fell apart (as they always seem to), and at one point we were sneaking into an “abandoned” mansion and encountered a floating mouth. This mansion adventure went on for three or so sessions, and the entire time this floating mouth just followed us along, not saying anything, not responding to us, not engaging us in any way except to float along and follow us. It is singularly one of the most crazy elements to any D&D game I’ve ever played, and it has been an entertaining story for years; my buddy and I still joke about it. More than jokes, though, when I described The Stanley Parable to my buddy, I said to him, “It’s like a whole game of floating mouths,” and he knew exactly what I meant. (It turned out that once we reached the ballroom at the end of the adventure, the mouth announced us and vanished, so it did make sense in the end, but up until that point it was just a beautifully odd addition to the environment.)
Another great thing about The Stanley Parable is watching others play it. I played through four or five different scenarios and then plopped my wife down to try it. She followed exactly the same path I had on the first run up until a really key moment and then did something so unexpected I hadn’t even considered it. As a result, she produced a wholly new outcome that I may never have even dreamed of. That’s the beauty of the game; it’s unexpected opportunities.
I haven’t broken down just yet and looked up an “all possible outcomes” spreadsheet, but I’m pretty sure someone has put one together. I’ve found – let me see – 8 possible endings. I’ll list them in a P.S. since they’re spoilers, but anyone who’s played and wants to see how I’m doing and potentially provide feedback, feel free. For those of you who haven’t, I do recommend you play it, but I’d wait until it’s at least 50% and probably more like 66% off. I’ve logged about 5 hours and paid about 10 bucks, and I don’t know how much more I’ll play, but I daresay those 5 hours may really be worth double the standard 1 for 1 “Ed Value.” I certainly don’t come anywhere near regret when I reflect on the purchase; I’m just cheap.
Now, time to grade my students’ final exams, half of which will be good, half of which won’t. Then we’ll “Begin the Game Again” next semester and see what new paths I can explore. Maybe I’ll find something truly unexpected, like my wife did. Most likely, though, I won’t.
Stubborn (and grading)
P.S. SPOILER ALERT
2. get blown up
3. Go down stairs
4. Answer the phone (that was my first ending)
5. Unplug the phone (that was my wife’s first ending)
6. Jump from the lift
7. Take the maintenance elevator
8. Take the “escape” route to the museum
Did I miss any? I assume I did, especially since my wife blew my mind, and thus I can’t really predict what else might blow my mind. I know the computers can be turned on and off, so there might be something there, and I know there’s a crap-ton of buttons in the explosion part, so maybe there’s something there, but I sort of expect not, as it would defeat the whole point of the narrator’s monologue during that event. Thoughts?