When somebody insists that I simply must play the next big thing, itâs not uncommon for me to respond with âIâm really busy at the moment, but Iâll get to itâ. Thatâs why I was so late on the bandwagon for The Beginnerâs Guide. Now that Iâve played this masterpiece, Iâm infinitely ashamed of myself for not putting aside an hour and a half to experience it sooner.
Few games have affected me as deeply as The Beginnerâs Guide. I found it difficult to talk about the experience afterwards and, even now, Iâm struggling to find words that adequately convey how this journey intellectually and emotionally impacted me.
If you are yet to play the game, then I must echo the sentiment of every games reviewer on the internet: stop reading now. Go and play without the spoilers that lie ahead. And if you start to say, âIâm really busy at the momentâ¦â stop yourself and find time. Itâs worth it.
The Beginnerâs Guide starts with Davey Wreden introducing himself as the person who wrote The Stanley Parable. He calls its story absurd, and contrasts this against the straightforward series of events that constitutes The Beginnerâs Guide. He uses dates and names to give the narrative credence. He makes you question whether or not his game developer friend, Coda, is fictional or if everything is a true story.
As they work their way through Codaâs micro games, each narrated by Davey, some players become so invested in the story that by the end they are convinced Coda is an actual person. While I never truly suspected The Beginnerâs Guide to be a work of non-fiction, I still have a lot of questions about whether Coda is ârealâ; are Daveyâas the narratorâand Coda two separate people, or is The Beginnerâs Guide actually a dialogue between two parts of Daveyâs mind?
Coda wants to create games as a way of expressing himself, without necessarily making them enjoyable for a player (or even showing them to a player). His games can be pointless or impossible, with extra levels hidden behind unsurpassable walls. He likes to push the boundaries of what a game can be.
Meanwhile, Davey doesnât understand why Coda keeps his games hidden. He is convinced that external validation is the most important motivator for creating, and that games should have a purpose. Although Coda doesnât want anyone to see the games he creates, Davey secretly shows them to his friends behind Codaâs back and then, again, to us. Similarly, when lamp posts consistently start appearing at the end of Codaâs games, Davey comments that this might be an indication that Coda has grown tired of his games not containing a goal, but by the end of the collection it becomes clear that Davey was inserting these lamp posts into Codaâs games without Codaâs consent.
The credibility Davey established with his recounting of dates and names, and even his email address, in the first chapter is undermined by this discovery. If Davey was responsible for the lamp posts in each game, what else did he modify? Were these games the struggle between two parts of the one developerâs mind: the part that wants to create while considering purpose and audience, and the part that wants to create for nothing more than catharsis and experimentation and enjoyment?
Perhaps this interpretation resonates with me simply because I know that these two voices exist within my own mind. When I was younger, I created solely for the enjoyable release. I rarely showed my work to anyone, often deleting documents as soon as they were written. I can completely understand Codaâs playful renaming of his computer Recycling Bin as âImportant Games Folderâ.
But, at the same time, I wish I could recover some of those lost words. Perhaps there is something that would have been salvageable in them or something worth sharing, even though past-me had no intention of doing so.
Because Codaâs games were never meant for release, they are marked with the thumb prints of their creator. We are deliberately and constantly reminded that we are playing a game. This is mentioned in Daveyâs narration of the first sceneâa 3d level designed for Counter Strikeâwhich suggests that the âcolourful blobsâ and âfloating cratesâ âdestroy the illusionâ that the scene could be real.
I found this first scene fascinating. As a player, I have certain expectations when approaching a game, so encountering a brightly coloured wall in a desert environment or a stack of platform-like crates that I couldnât quite climb was unsettling. The Beginnerâs Guide is filled with moments like these: loops you canât break, mazes you canât pass, codes you canât crack. Deliberately placed signposts that remind you that this is a game, created by a person who has absolute control over your experience. Even in a branching narrative, somebody sat there and wrote the endings, and you can only choose between the options you are given.
In this way, The Beginnerâs Guide truly was a guide, of sorts, for me. I had been meaning to dabble in 3d level design and C# coding for some time, but I was unsure what I could make that other people would want to play. The Beginnerâs Guide reminded me that I could create without an audience, or even a purpose. I could create without a plan, without anything other than a desire to learn new things and make something that I was satisfied with.
The result was Walls: an experiment in Unity 5 that accidentally found its way onto the internet because, even if it was made just for me, the egoist in me couldnât resist sharing it with the world. It was essentially created as a personal learning tool, to test some of Unityâs functionality, to learn basic C#, and to mess around with models and materials. But it also borrows the floating crates, impossible colours, and repeated symbols of Codaâs games as a way to question the growing trend of making videogames as ârealisticâ as possible; of wondering what happens when we remind players that they are navigating a game environment according to the freedoms and limitations imposed by a developer; and of asking whether challenging game conventions acts as a welcome surprise, or as a frustrating and isolating experience.
The Beginnerâs Guide affected me intellectually and emotionally, as a creator, a consumer, and a person. It inspired me to listen more closely to the many voices inside my mind, to create for the sake of creating, and to question everything I am exposed to. Iâve barely begun to talk about all of the incredible, goosebump-giving moments that The Beginnerâs Guide had to offer me, and Iâm sure that each person who experiences this journey walks away having learnt different lessons. What did The Beginnerâs Guide teach you?
This post was originally published on alaynamcole.com