The Beginner’s Guide is something of an introspective adventure. An adventure that wends through the creations of a struggling game developer. It’s a journey that explores friendship and loneliness, and the narratives we create from them.
It’s also an examination of our judgement, our motivations and the myriad of effects our relationships have on our work, and vice versa. The Beginner’s Guide invites you to experience the desperation and the elation of creation, but asks that you think deeply about the relationship between the creator and the observer in return, and suggests that sometimes our interpretations of art say more about us than the art itself.
Seldom do games work on so many levels.
(Beware: possible spoilers!)
The Beginner’s Guide begins with a white screen. You hear a voice recorded over the bright nothingness. Davey Wreden, the writer of The Stanley Parable, tells you of a (presumably fictional) friend he has, named Coda, who created hundreds of unfinished games through the years 2008 to 2011. His aim, he tells you, is twofold: 1) to understand Coda by examining his work and 2) to encourage Coda to reenter the world of game development. Wreden’s goals change as you traverse Coda’s buggy virtual worlds. With each new level, a new layer of Wreden, rather than Coda, is revealed, culminating into a startling conclusion by the game’s close.
The most interesting aspect of The Beginner’s Guide is the Wreden’s need to modify. He offers the players with “improvements” and “solutions” to works that never intended to be played or “solved.” Wreden’s ego always wins out over Coda’s, regardless of Coda’s implicit (and even explicit) wishes. By the end, you come to realize how limited you are by Wreden’s perspective. How much does he really know about Coda? How much is he projecting? How much information can we take as fact? How much is fiction?
The Beginner’s Guide never really provides you with any concrete answers. As the name suggests, it is merely exploring the beginning of something. The beginning of what exactly remains unclear. Is it meant to show the beginnings of artistic expression? The beginning of existential crisis, the beginning of doubt and blame and hopelessness? The beginning of togetherness or isolation? It’s hard to say.
The Beginner’s Guide may simply be exploring the dysfunctional relationship between Coda (who may, in reality, represent another aspect of Wreden’s personality) and Wreden and expresses this dysfunction through Coda’s increasingly abstract games. Maybe the players are supposed to desperately search for answers where there are none: Wreden’s fatal mistake. Or maybe Wreden wasn’t mistaken at all. Maybe there is a solution, maybe there is an answer to Coda’s creative (and social) problems hidden within his games.
The endless number of interpretations of The Beginner’s Guide is part of the reason the game works. Its gameplay is minimal (I finished the game in ninety minutes), but a large part of experience of The Beginner’s Guide isn’t in the gameplay itself, it’s in the lingering thoughts and questions it leaves with you. Much like a David Lynch movie, half the fun is pulling it apart, deconstructing it, just to put it back together again to pull it apart once more.
I wholeheartedly recommend The Beginner’s Guide to lovers of story-driven video games, to fans of stories that grapple with friendship and the hardships within them, to admirers of any kind of interactive fiction. Give The Beginner’s Guide a try, and see if you can stop yourself from appreciating its sincerely thought-provoking questions (and coming up with a few of your own).
Thanks for reading! What questions popped into your head while you played The Beginner’s Guide? Tell me in the comments or tweet @gamebloggirl!