Published on October 3rd, 2015 | by AjayLikesGaming0
Review – The Beginner’s Guide
The Beginner’s Guide is the work of The Stanley Parable’s co-creator, Davey Wreden. Despite both games forming a narrated linear first-person tale, devoid of traditional mechanics, the two games could not be more different. While The Stanley Parable used humour to explore the illusion of choice, and the relationship between the creator and player, The Beginner’s Guide is a poignant and reflective look at the person behind the game, what games tell us about their creators, and the treatment of creation as a whole.
Narrating the game himself, Wreden explains that the purpose of The Beginner’s Guide is to show off the work of his designer friend, Coda — a peculiar figure with a history of abstract and experimental games. Coda’s work ethic is unusual, however, in that he has no interest in showing his games to anyone; he creates one, deletes it, and continues onto the next project. With a deeply introspective Wreden theorising that one can get to know the mind of this illusive man through his work, our journey through Coda’s backlog begins.
In many of these brashly named “walking simulators”, the authenticity of the world is tantamount to our immersion within it. Yet The Beginner’s Guide has no interest in fooling us into believing these constructs. It’s direct in acknowledging them, often taking you out of bounds, breaking its puzzles, or talking to you about a specific mechanic. None of Coda’s games are consistent in their approach, and we are not expected to make sense of them as a whole. But with each game we finish, we begin to conjure up an image of just who Coda is.
It is this character study that makes The Beginner’s Guide such an interesting experience. As we work our way through his games, we begin to see patterns; themes of solitude, anxiety, and depression. A series of games based around prisons conjure thoughts of isolation, a repetitive house-cleaning exercise breathes monotony, and a series of hundreds of fake online messages invoke feelings of obsessiveness and loneliness. Though each game is rather unremarkable on its own, when played sequentially, we begin to concern ourselves with this mysterious man, and long to understand him.
Yet The Beginner’s Guide is just as much a study of the young developer, Davey Wreden, as it is with his mysterious friend, Coda. Wreden is obsessed with Coda; he admires him, and spends the entirety of the game waxing philosophically about the meaning behind his work. But more than anything, Wreden desires to understand Coda as a person. What drives him to create these unconventional games, and most importantly, why does Coda seek no validation for his creations? Wreden’s own reflections are perhaps equally as engaging as our own wonders about Coda.
Many may find The Beginner’s Guide a self-indulgent, pretentious walk through a Tumblr blog, but this astonishingly human tale should capture the hearts of those open to the ideas it puts forth. Its rawness and unwavering honesty is, at times, uncomfortable, but it results in a truly poignant experience that sets itself apart from near enough anything out there.
It is not a game that is likely to achieve mass appeal, but at a mere 90 minutes in length, it is worth giving a chance – especially as something this reviewer considers one of the best character studies committed to a video game.
Summary: Though not for everyone, The Beginner's Guide is a testament to the unique storytelling methods that the medium of games facilitates. Davey Wreden's hugely personal look at his mysterious friend, Coda, spins a dense tale about creators and creativity. Highly recommended!