Any plans I had for writing about walking through a haunted house this weekend were postponed because of two deadly words: food poisoning. I hardly get any free time during the semester. So, I took advantage of my bedridden status and played a game that I’ve been wanting to play since a friend told me about it last year: “The Beginner’s Guide.”
If you’ve played the “Stanley Parable,” you know the kind of wacky ideas that game designer Davey Wreden has the potential to create. One of the huge standouts of “The Beginner’s Guide” is that Wreden does a self-insert. He’s narrating the game.
The concept is that Wreden’s friend, “Coda,” (I use quotations because Coda is only a fictional character) was a game designer and had this three-year urge to design a game that takes place in a prison. Wreden walks the player through all of the games that Coda designed during that three-year period — and every game ends with a lamp post at the end.
Throughout each different playthrough “The Beginner’s Guide,” the player is continuously getting the game spoiled for them through Wreden’s narration. In the very first level, Wreden warns that a glitch happens at the end of the level. The player is meant to sacrifice themselves to the whisper machine. However, they start ascending, rather than being shocked.
It’s a question of how far an artist is willing to go for their art, for their art to be seen, for their art to be accepted.
So, Wreden narrates how his relationship with Coda progressed as he walks the player through all of the games that Coda ever created, while making modifications to Coda’s games to make them more sensical and convenient for the player. Eventually, Wreden admits that Coda was very depressed, which might be why he became so focused on prisons.
The player learns after Coda stops making video games because he no longer enjoys it, Wreden shares Coda’s games with some of his other game designer friends — doing so against Coda’s wishes.
The very last game that Wreden walks the player through, Wreden informs the player that Coda made the game especially for him. In this game, Coda directly addresses Wreden. “Why do you keep putting lamp posts in the game?” Coda asks. The player learns that all of the games they have played through are skewed by Wreden.
The perspective shifts and the player learns that “The Beginner’s Guide” is all about how Wreden was projecting his own feelings about his own games onto Coda. Wreden constantly tells us how Coda feels and what he intended.
After the perspective shift, I totally called this one: the end to the very last level is the very same “glitch” that happens at the end of the first level. The player finds themselves in front of the whisper machine once again and when they step in, they begin to ascend.
“The Beginner’s Guide” is a commentary on the fact that we only get to view the world of video games through the eyes of the designer after several modifications and changes have been made — some that might have skewed the designer’s intentions for the player.
Oftentimes, it can even be a player that is projecting when we interpret how the game is meant to be played or what it actually means. We can all be Wreden at times.
The game designer gets sacrificed to the game. It’s a question of how far an artist is willing to go for their art, for their art to be seen, for their art to be accepted. The critiques, the edits — is it all worth it?
Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year English major with minors in creative writing and journalism. KM867219@wcupa.edu