Review: The Beginner’s Guide

2 deep 4 me, but like, in a good way.

the beginner's guide

I had to think for a little while how to go about writing this, and I’m still not really sure of all the details, but I do know for sure that if you have any interest in playing The Beginner’s Guide, the more information you have about it, the less enjoyable you’ll find the game. Let me take a paragraph or two to tell you about the game and you can see if it sounds like your sort of thing. Everything after the “read more” line and subsequent spoiler warnings should only be read by people who have played the game or have no intention of doing so. I’ll be including a gallery of screen shots, also not intended for people who are still hoping to experience the game. It’s just that due to the nature of the game, the screen shots tell too much for me to not include. Okay, let me try and tell you a little about this game.

The Beginner’s Guide is a narrative-driven game, short and dense. It engages with the player, and asks something of them in a very personal way. The entire game is narrated by the creator, Davey Wredon, and as soon as the game begins, he connects with the player, through his honest tone, in a very intimate way. He tells you that he’s created this program to exhibit to you the video games created by a dear friend of his named Coda. Placed in what is a very convincingly crappy Counter-Strike map, listening to the narrator, the player forgets, for a moment, what is real. “This is a game,” they’ll tell themselves in response to the brief moment where they start to think that maybe they just really bought a game exhibition off of Steam. They’ll lift one of their headphones away from their ear, and look around the room to establish where reality ends and the game begins. What Davey Wredon has created for us is most certainly a game, but his presence in the narration blurs the line so well, that you’ll believe that Davey is speaking to you as a real person and not just a character.

There are no real goals or game play objectives in The Beginner’s Guide, you’re just along for an interactive ride. For fans of such narrative-driven, or to a lesser extent, “art games,” I think they will find this game is a very good example of those. This game does not waste your time. It tells you a story and takes you on a journey, and if that’s the sort of thing you enjoy, I think this game is for you. I do think, however, that some of the primary themes of this game are really difficult for many people to relate to. A certain amount of appreciation for video games and their creation is required to understand this game, and even being immersed in video games such as I am, I still felt that part of it was lost on me. Likewise, creation being used as an outlet is another theme this game explores heavily, another element I found going over my head, and I’m sure plenty of other people will have the same experience. I’m not going to tell you that I understand every symbol and deeper meaning of every part of this game, but I did enjoy it. Its story didn’t grab me like some games have in the past, because I had trouble relating with it, but The Beginner’s Guide made me feel things that video games normally do not. I’ll do my best to try and explain what I mean.

If you want to play The Beginner’s Guide, STOP READING. And click here to purchase a copy of the game for yourself.

The Beginner’s Guide is a game that immediately lies to you. It presents the idea that the game you’ve just purchased is an exhibition of games curated by Davey Wredon on behalf of his friend, Coda. The fascinating thing is, that every player is almost guaranteed to believe this lie for even just a brief moment. As I walked around the Counter-Strike map that is the prologue, I thought that it seemed convincingly enough like the first map someone with very little design experience would have made, and for a few moments, I believed Davey, because he was very convincing. It didn’t take me long, however, for me to realize that all the levels in the game where hand-made specifically for it, to tell a story, and maybe Coda is, or at least based on, a real person, but these were not necessarily his games. Being able to see through this thin veil and establish this was just a game trying to tell me a story allowed me to settle down and come to terms with the story as it was being told to me. The realization did cause a knee-jerk reaction, however, and I found myself thinking “where’s the twist?” Perhaps I was jaded by the medium, but I was very anxious to find out the big plot turn, because I knew Davey, whom I trusted and believed so much in that moment, was not telling me the whole truth. Soon, I came to terms with the fact that the game is only intended to last for an hour and a half and I would get my answers soon enough.

Now, with the parameters of the game established, and my disbelief suspended, I listened to Davey as he guided me through the early works of Coda. I was listening to every word, and trying to get in every detail, because that’s all there was to do; there were no goals or scores or enemies, just details. I was absolutely enthralled, falling deeper into the game’s universe with every new game, guided by Davey’s voice, who, at times, seemed to know what I was thinking.

After about forty minutes, I had to take a break to make dinner. It made me really sad. Less so because I was hoping to play the game in one sitting and I was frustrated my errands that afternoon took longer than I wanted, but more that I missed Davey and Coda. In such a short time, I formed a connection with both of them: Davey with his honest, friendly tone, so convinced he was doing the right thing, and Coda, whom I’d never met or heard, but I felt like I was getting to know better and better with each level, diving a little bit further into him every time. I decided to just take the rest of the night off because now that my girlfriend was home, I felt like I could no longer play the game. I wanted to be alone with Davey inside Coda’s soul and mind.

Inevitably, I couldn’t let it go. I needed to see it through to the end, and I knew that it was the sort of game I was going to have to sleep on to fully appreciate.

After about the halfway point of the game, the tone of the game becomes decidedly more dark. Coda’s games had been getting more and more strange with each passing stage, and then they started taking on stark themes of self-loathing, loneliness, and mental constipation. One stage is a game where you go around a house endlessly cleaning up, your work never done. Another, a series of games about being stuck in a prison that ends with you calling your past self on a pay phone, just to have someone to talk to. The next game places you in a space ship on a collision course, with the only way to save you and everyone else is to yell into the void “the truth,” that creating things is hard, and not necessary rewarding.

At this point, I am very concerned about Coda. For a while, I was convinced that the story was going to end by revealing that Coda could no longer deal with how he felt, and took his own life. The story that was developing is much more complex than that, however.

This game connects with you in a very unique way, having you play these games that are representative of the creator. Through this, you can relate to and understand Coda is a very unique way, because the interactive element almost allows you to experience what he was feeling when he made the game. You also have a very intimate connection with Davey because he is speaking to you so directly and openly. In the end, it’s the complex relationship between Davey and Coda that pull at your heartstrings.

Over the course of the game, Davey has been making modifications to Coda’s game for you to make them more playable or to reveal things that you wouldn’t normally see. This tendency Davey has to change things and adopt them is a key element of the story, and also Coda’s biggest point of contention, the thing that drove him so far away.

Coda created games as a point of self-expression. They helped him cope, and deal with things when times were tough, because he viewed the ups and downs as a part of the process. Davey fixated on the low points, and became obsessed with helping him, so he took it upon himself to modify and exhibit Coda’s work to reaffirm for Coda that he was doing something good that people enjoyed. What Davey didn’t understand is that for Coda, making games was never about impressing other people. Coda made games for himself, and in that way, they were personal and intimate, not to be shared with other people. Davey was incapable of seeing it that way, obsessed only with how much he enjoyed Coda’s games, and eventually, he adopted himself into Coda’s work, taking in the praise for the games as his own. Coda, feeling betrayed by Davey and his exhibition and modification of his work, withdraws himself to make one last game.

This final game is made specifically for Davey, the true meaning of which is only revealed after he, once again, betrays Coda’s trust and modifies the game to make it more “playable.” At the top of The Tower, Davey finds a literal exhibition of Coda’s grievances against him. He realizes that he screwed up, and he’s responsible for pushing Coda away, because he didn’t understand the nature of Coda’s work and what it means to him to be a creative person. Davey, who is reliving this again with the player, is overcome by how badly he messed up and that the fact anyone is even playing these games is an even further transgression against his good friend, eventually excuses himself and leaves.

The player continues to walk to the top of the tower, and is presented a unique element from an earlier game: a beam of energy with which you’re meant to sacrifice yourself for the greater good, but in the original game, was glitched, and lifted the player up through the world.

This final room has a lot of mixed meanings, in my opinion, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Originally, I thought that when you walked into the beam, it would finally work as intended, and you would die, representing the death of Coda or Davey, unable to deal with how they feel, what has happened, or what they’ve done. Instead, when you touch the beam, you ascend. Still possibly a metaphor for death, as a very popularly held belief is that when you die, your spirit rises to Heaven. As you’re lifted up, you can look down, and you see from that room spanning in every direction, an infinite maze. Does the maze represent the endless wandering that is life, the only relief from it being death, and in turn, ascension? Or is walking into the beam representative of accepting yourself, and thus allowing you to escape from endlessly wandering the maze, looking for direction?

I’m not sure. This game has proven itself to be much more thought provoking than I originally thought it was going to be. I was very much concerned that the themes were something I wasn’t going to be able to relate with, and I would miss the point. Although the first part of that is true, and I don’t directly emotionally connect with the story, I still found it very interesting and thought provoking. The story in this game, and the way that it is told, is extremely unique, and helps it stand out against other similar games. I can see how some people would be off-put by the $10 price tag for the promise of an hour and a half of game play, but I think that people who want a game that tells them a story in a unique way without wasting their time could find a lot of worse uses for their money.

E-mail the author: Nick Obleschuk.
Follow the author on Twitter: @Big4Vlad

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