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A Look Back at "The Beginner's Guide"

Megan Cronin

Posted on November 20, 2017 23:22

1 user

From Davey Wreden, a creator of critically acclaimed game “The Stanley Parable,” came a powerful story that feels like a punch to the gut, yet is both difficult (and ironic) to try to explain. Spoilers ahead!

How can I explain a game which begs for interpretation, yet revolves around the theme of toxicity in over-analyzing creative works?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun describes The Beginner’s Guide as “a first-person meta-fictional essay about human frailty.” Helpful? Probably not yet, but it’s a good start.

The Beginner’s Guide has you exploring video games made by designer Coda, who has stopped creating new content. The narrator, Davey Wreden himself, guides you through each game while explaining his relationship with Coda. Wreden asserts that the nuances in the games reflect Coda’s mental state, and can be used to infer why he stopped making games.

What starts off as admiration takes on steadily darker tones. The narration becomes unsettling. Wreden’s feelings toward Coda turn from those of friendship to dependency as he becomes desperate to help his “friend” out of what he interprets as depression, given Coda’s tendency to design levels with prisons and inescapable puzzles.

The kicker is that Coda was never depressed, and the game’s ending sequence begins with an email from Coda telling Wreden to never speak to him again. The entire time, Wreden had been manipulating Coda’s games to put his own meaning into them. Giving them meaning validated him, and staved off his own feelings of inadequacy, depression and loneliness, feelings which he projected onto Coda.

Storycade.com

“I needed to see myself in someone else,” Wreden says, pleading to Coda. “...Please, I need to feel OK with myself again, and I always felt OK as long as I had your work to see myself in … I’m fading. And all I want to know is that I’m going to be OK.”

The entire game was a desperate and arguably selfish bid by Wreden to get Coda to make games again. How meta.

But, what does it mean?

To project meaning onto something which thematically revolves around the dangers of searching for meaning where there is none is ironic at best, I know. Maybe we're meant to take it at face value.

Or maybe it is a commentary on Wreden’s struggles as a developer and his relationship with players after the success of The Stanley Parable. (Is the narrator even the “real” Wreden, or just a fictionalized version?)

Perhaps it's a commentary on the potential harm in seeking solace, validation and other powerful feelings from creative works. Authors cannot provide us with something we must find by ourselves in the real world, can they? Surely, we must forget about escapism through games, books and movies, and face our fears without fiction holding our hands.

Personally, this story gave me graduate school flashbacks. I see elements of the Death of the Author essay, which outlines how an author’s experiences and intended meanings don't matter once the material is in the hands of the consumer; consumers will use their experiences to project meanings of their own.

Or it is “just a game.”

Whatever it is, it’s powerful. Everyone, particularly creators, should spend an hour experiencing it.

Megan Cronin

Posted on November 20, 2017 23:22

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Source: Polygon
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