From pranks to the award-winning Stanley Parable

From pranks to the award-winning Stanley Parable

In 2014, a 19-year-old William Pugh took to the stage at a glitzy ceremony in San Francisco to receive an award for The Stanley Parable, a video game he had helped create. Pugh’s acceptance speech was delivered via irreverent text scrawled on prompt cards, which he dropped to the floor, one by one, in silence.

Pugh’s rebellious, anarchic streak is clearly visible in his games. The Stanley Parable, for example, is a clever exploration of the idea of player agency. You play employee 427, a man who loves his job in a towering office block and who one day looks up from his desk to find his co-workers have vanished. As you explore the office, your actions are commentated on by an omnipresent narrator (played by Kevan Brighting), who as well as reporting your movements offers prompts and clues as to what to do next. The narrator chastises you when you divert from his instructions and spoil the story ahead of time, restarting the game where appropriate without your consent. As the game progresses, a complicated relationship forms between you, the character, the game designer and the narrator.

Pugh’s latest project, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, is a similarly postmodern, experimental take on game design. You play a stagehand, working behind the scenes of a theatre, while on the other side of the scenery an unseen “player” works their way through a series of puzzles. The director of the show, voiced by British comedian Simon Amstell, gives you directions such as “press this button” or “pull that lever”, chastising you when you dilly-dally or misread the instruction to amusing effect.

The son of two art teachers, Pugh, who describes himself as “pretty weird”, has always pulled “a lot of elaborate pranks” in order to “highlight the absurdity of modern life”. He fell in love with video games following a short stay in hospital when he was six years old. “They had a Nintendo 64 for the proper sick kids,” he recalls. “I immediately latched on to it. My first game love would have to be Banjo Kazooie — it had such a style and voice to it and it was the first game I played that managed to tell a good story. I loved the music and I recently had the chance to work with the composer, Grant Kirkhope.”

Pugh studied for just two weeks at Leeds College of Art before dropping out to make video games. He taught himself how to make 3D environments by creating custom levels for popular games such as Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. But it was only when he met The Stanley Parable designer Davey Wreden through an internet forum that he was presented with an opportunity to bring his recalcitrant eye to a commercial remake of Wreden’s game. “I think I might be anarchic because I want to be very sure that I’m doing what I want to do – not what’s expected of me.” Indeed, Pugh remains coy about his next project. “I want to surprise people,” he says. “If I told you what I was working on, that would defeat the purpose. I have fantastic media training.”

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