The Beginner's Guide Review
Spoilers for you but not me
The Beginner's Guide is a game - and I suppose that's the wrong word for it. It's a walking simulator, but that's too obvious, isn't it? And what if it actually isn't that? Should I call it a visual novel? An interactive story? What do you call the Stanley Parable, beyond "oh, you're so fucking clever, making me do things and then commenting on the things you made me do like I had a choice"? I'm sure walking simulator is a good word for it, a perfectly fine word, but then that denigrates storytelling as a whole, as if oral stories were "listening simulators" and visual novels were "reading simulators". You could describe a visual novel as a program, the same as you could describe this thing as a program, but everything on your computer is a program, so that's vague.
Back in the day, everybody called these types of games "Myst" clones. And while Myst could charitably be called an adventure game, like having a 3D scene instead of a 2D one, the perspective was unbroken to give the illusion that it's your story, and to be honest, there wasn't much of an adventure at all. Same deal with programs like this - you walk around, like Myst, and that's all I know because I'm writing this up before I even play (but then is "play" the right word?) it, and I don't even know if there are puzzles.
It's funny how gamers go out of their way (alright, only the Channers) to take the piss out of walking simulators, when by and large they aren't games at all. A game implies there are rules and challenges and some sort of end-goal, and while you can be pedantic and say there are rules like "you can't walk out of the map" and challenges like "walk until you reach the end", that's less pedantic and more fucking pedantic. Compare the many intricacies of a game of Omaha poker, where it requires thinking, strategy, money management, social manipulation, the sense of when to push your luck, and tangible rewards for getting good at it. It's a game's game, and the difference between a game and a toy is that a game rewards you for playing it within the context of the game itself, and not in an external sense like the sheer beauty of the thing.
It might be worthwhile to give examples. Spec Ops: The Line is a game, because there are challenges involved that you have to overcome in order to progress, like killing enemies before they kill you, and you feel rewarded for partaking in the challenge. Yeah, game design takes the fun out of anything it describes, but bear with me. If the game was just a bunch of blokes walking in a desert where all the potential gameplay was in cutscenes, or simply didn't exist, then it wouldn't be a game at all. You could charitably describe it as an interactive story, but then, so are choose-your-own-adventure books and haunted houses. So I suppose I have to describe the exact feeling of walking through a haunted house equivalent.
It's not a game because there's no goals. I defined video games before as "goal-oriented interactive entertainment", which is a solid definition, but then that ignores programs without goals, like Minecraft, which we always consider video games out of tradition, and trying to rewrite the lexicon is, bluntly, difficult. So the implication is that the goals are built-in to the games, and not as a result of external motivations, which means that games like The Sims and Minecraft and Saints Row (if you take the plot out) are just sandboxes. They're toys to play with, because while there are ways you interact with them, there's no internal expectation of how you interact with them.
But even then, these walking simulators aren't toys, because there's nothing to play with in any meaningful sense. You can make a pen a toy, but it wasn't designed in any sense of the concept to be a toy, so whatever joy you get out of speedrunning Gone Home is purely internal, and doesn't make it a game or a toy or whatever. So I suppose, with these definitions cleaved, the only way to define things like Stanley Parable, Gone Home, the Square Enix thing whose name I always forget despite mustering up some passive anger at how much it panders to millenials (Life is Strange!), and This concept, is to call them environmental sims, because they simulate an experience in a way that is totally dependent on the environment they present.
While I understand that this term, "environmental sim", will be little mentioned and soon forgotten, I came to the conclusion after some discourse of video games, and it's the discourse that is the true value of the effort to make the term, and not the term itself. I'm giving you food for thought as to what a game is, what a toy is, et cetera, and while I don't apply such basics of basics to my own game development (even though the last time I "developed" a thing was eight months ago), you might find it useful as seeing games not as some magical thing that exists out of the ether, but well-constructed pieces of art.
It's interesting to note, too, that the deeper you get into gaming history, the more you realise just how experimental and alien things were way back in the day as compared to now, when nobody knew what they were doing. Nowadays, things are standardised according to current cultural trends, seeming less like "games made by gamers for gamers", and more like dancing bears developed with the bare minimum amount of entertainment required, for the sole purposes of being sold. Not appreciated for their mechanics, not appreciated for their creativity, but just as prolefeed being developed to pander to those who don't really care about games at all. That's fucking sad to me, honestly. There's so much potential with such a young medium, and to see greedy motherfuckers take all that potential away is a disservice to how much gaming means to so many people, and a disservice to how many lives it can change.
On Blindness and Spoilers:
The Beginner's Guide is an ~~environmental sim~~ wherein you walk around a bunch and do some things. To be honest, I have absolutely no fucking idea what the Beginner's Guide is. All I heard about it was a Jimquisition segment where he talked about his life, a Mysterious Mr. Enter segment where he talks about the game for an hour (didn't watch though, as he told me to play the game within the first minute, so fuck me then), and a Steam review telling me to play it. In all cases, they suggested that I go in stark fucking blind. And you know what happened the last time somebody told me to play blind? Yes, the Helen Keller simulator! Also Bojack Horseman, which I didn't really like (pimpy pimpy review pimpy), and Undertale, which is my "Ulysses" so to speak, because I enjoy taking the piss out of it whenever relevant.
So both times that I went into a series blind, I didn't like them, but that isn't to say that I didn't like them because I went into them blind. I didn't know shit about Bioshock's plot, and I found it awful. Alright, this isn't helping my case, but look at LISA, which I went into blind, and I thought it was one of the most brilliant things I've ever played (which I'd be happy to finish if I could play the thing). So either blindness affects a -6 to all enjoyment-based attack rolls, or there's no correlation.
I said before that the critic has no obligation to put up "spoiler warnings" in their work, because to do so means that it prevents discourse of the topic in question, causing arbitrary warnings to be placed in the vain assumption that somebody is going simply view the work without knowing a damn thing about it. There might be legitimate reasons for putting up a spoiler, like a plot being so bad that you want to put up a "you have to see this shit!" disclaimer, but when it comes to goading the audience to avoid learning more about a subject, it strikes me as misguided.
I'm going to spitball some points here, because I'm a little rough around the edges on this subject. Disregarding that spoilers actually enhance your enjoyment of a work (archive) by giving you a glimpse into the future, allowing you to enjoy the journey by not having to worry about what contrived thing will come up next, we have to wonder what a spoiler's purpose is. It's to shield information. The purpose is, obtensely, to allow somebody to experience a book for themself without outside influence. But this seems to me as a misguided proposition in a few different ways.
If a person wants to enjoy a story for themself, then it implies that they have already made up their mind that they are going to read it, and so it is their fault for absorbing information if they do not wish to. If they have not made up their mind, then they are gathering information to learn whether they should read something, and so the removal of information of a work does them a disservice by not allowing them a full picture to base an opinion around - which is why I always read reviews of shows I'm interested before and after I finish it, to see what I missed on the first review viewing. And, of course, spoiler warnings are useless to somebody who have already read the series.
We have to understand, too, that stories, books, shows, and so on, aren't these microcosms, these little universes, that belong entirely to you and you alone. A lot of people have read the same things you have, and this is the reason that "spoiling" is even a concept, as other people can't stop talking about what they read. While your individual experiences and how your worldview applies to the book will dramatically change how you appreciate it, it does not belong to you. To imply that it does by allowing the reader to selectively choose what they want to view is continuing the false notion that they are entitled to the book's universe.
And when you are reading a book, what do you expect to get out of it? If it's cheap entertainment, then you can get that anywhere! Turn on the television, and you have all the explosions and tits you could ever want. Maybe you can regress a little and be entertained by some jiggly car keys, instead of jiggly asses. It sure would save you the six hours spent reading a novel. So then the other reason, the more life-enhancing and therefore nobler reason, to read a book, is to digest the opinions within it, to understand what the author is talking about, and to understand how its world was constructed so that you may imitate such worlds for your own work.
And I realise I am taking an idealised stand here that everybody in the world wants to be an artist, as if everybody who reads a book wants to be a writer, or an art appreciator wants to be an artist, or a music fan wants to be a musician. But to this I say - why not? If you enjoy these works, if you really care about them to the point where you fill up so much of your life with them, then why don't you start to create these works? Let me show you my own proof; oh wait! You're looking at it! I enjoyed bloggers like Yahtzee and Seth Godin, and so I used their influences to make my own work, and a few hundred thousand words later you're looking at the result. There is no excuse but your willingness to create.
In the case that you do want to read to appreciate the arts, and not just as an excuse to drag out your life even further until it comes to its inevitable close, then you get nothing but benefit from taking in as much information about said books as possible. If you're reading an article, it's because you want to learn as much as you can about the book in question, yes? Then why remove content that harms your learning process? If you spoiler something in an article, and the person reading it chooses not to read any further, then you have only given them the opportunity to damage themselves, and they have taken it.
So about blindness. I don't have a particular opinion about blindness, as typically everything I read, I read with the bare minimum amount of knowledge necessary to develop an interest in a work. If I read the first few paragraphs and I like them, then I'll keep reading further. If I get a recommendation for a work from somebody I trust (like Yahtzee, Digibro, Mr. Enter, and the rest of the tacky beard gang), then I'll read it - not to say that they are always correct, but that they are correct enough of the time to justify me taking something they recommend at face value. And, of course, I read the review - spoilers and all - because I need to know what to focus on as I'm trying to understand the book or the show in question.
If I pick up a book at the library and check it out on its reputation, or the way it's written, then I don't know a thing about it. If I check out a show based on an online review, I'll know a little bit more about it. So which is more desirable? Well, here's the interesting thing: in the second case, I already have some ideas put into me that I can use to enhance my understanding of the work in a "compare and contrast" sense, and in the first case I have to develop those ideas, and then compare and contrast them. In either case, I'm still comparing what I think of the book compared to my experiences with both my taste and the tastes of others, but I have to develop the ideas myself when I don't know about a book.
Blindness, to me, seems like ignorance. I said before that I read reviews twice - once before I start a work, and once (or a few times after) I finish a work. I read a review beforehand to see what I will get out of the work if I decide to delve into it and spend a few hours of my life thinking about it, or if I should skip it because it's "not for me". I read a review after a work in order to see how my opinions of the work differed from the opinions of the reviewer, to see what points I agree with and disagree with, and I do this in order to enhance my reviewing skills by giving me more perspective on things I could talk about, whether or not I'm being unreasonable, or if I should lower my trust in a reviewer based on certain things they recommend (like Digibros fetish for format screws).
So all of this said, why, in all the world, would I choose to go into something blind, knowing that it damages my understanding of a work? Well, it's simple: I haven't talked about it, and I haven't really gone through a work completely blind. This is the closest opportunity that I have, being completely ignorant, and so it will be interesting to see how my perception of a work changes based on how little I know about it. So as to whether I continue doing these cute little "blind" runs, or keep reading up on things beforehand, will depend on the quality of the coming review.
Why I played it:
If there was one factor above all that made me say, "alrighty then, let's check this bitch out", it would have to be the Mr. Enter series of reviews. No, I didn't read them, but the idea that they're there - that somebody made thirty-five minutes worth of content for a thing - shows that it really got to them, in some small way. Now, this was before I watched Bojack Horseman and thought that he overestimated the quality of plots for shows, but given that he recommended some shows that I liked (Gregory Horror Show is an absolute standout), I'm not holding anything against him - even Yahtzee is entitled to some duds (even if they were his Games of the Years).
Given the universally positive press surrounding this environmental sim, I was drawn to it like a porn producer is drawn to high school graduates. A game that everybody liked and thought was really swell, to the point where a bunch of people did a lot of thinking about their lives and ended up writing deep, personal blog posts about their experiences, all of which recommending them on the basis of "you have to see this shit"? Sounds like the perfect opportunity to bring out the shotgun and do some target practice. Here comes Froge - ready and willing to take the piss out of everything that everybody else likes, because he's so introverted and anti-social that he can't believe that somebody else could possibly enjoy the same things as him.
Rarely if ever do I go into a work based on what everybody else thinks. It's true that I checked out Undertale because everybody and their fucking mother was talking about it, but you must understand, that game blew up harder than Hiroshima - and it didn't even have 100,000 sales by then! I would go so far as to say Mr.
Hussie Whedon Holkins Green Levine Creatively Dead Interchangeable White Dude Fox had hired a marketing firm to astroturf the heck out of his game, maintaining a persona out of the vain hope that they will continue to be popular as the stimulus-addicted bands of teenagers who flocked to his one somewhat acceptable game will support him even in the face of the next somewhat acceptable property that panders to their age group. Is it true? What does it matter? You may be more popular than Linux, but you're still a bad developer!
It's hard to imagine that for every person who still sneaks in a game of Doom or Quake once in a while, or for everybody who dedicates a good portion of their time to speedrunning, TASing, or otherwise learning as much as they can about a game, there are one hundred thousand disinterested retards who will flock to work that does nothing to fulfill them creatively or intellectual, has done nothing for the history of games beyond being a footnote in a dying cultural trend, and which does nothing to inspire them to create better and better work living on the prayer that they will get noticed enough in order to make work that will get them appreciated by the industry that they so dearly enjoy, and they will be so smug as to suggest that we are somehow out-of-the-loop for not enjoying the same pigs feed that they do.
But the thing about The Beginner's Guide is that I didn't hear a damn thing about it. There was no raving bands of retards flooding the streets, looking to harass people like Trump supporters harass minorities. Nor were there the usual suspects of the Chans and Rebbit sucking its dick, praising it like the best damn thing ever, even though their opinion means as much to me as my dad's opinion on my lifestyle. There was little discourse about it, but whatever discourse that did exist was universally positive, much like LISA. And you know that I've given LISA the thumbs-up succ, so perhaps games with a small audience, but with an audience who enjoys it very much, are a sign of one that is of exceptionally high quality.
I had nothing to lose except for perhaps two hours of my time, and I too often spend that time going on Google and typing in the names of misspelled memes in order to see what type of burbles is erupting out the shittiest depths of the Internet. If something can enhance my life, then so be it. But if not, then I will be all to happy to tear it to shreds and call everybody a fucking idiot. Do I enjoy it? Well, think of it this way: if it's good and nobody knows its good, there's ample room to explain why it's good, and why it gets so overlooked. If it's bad and nobody knows its bad, then there is a great deal to talk about why it's bad, why everybody overlooked those aspects (it's always marketing's fault), and why you're a fucking idiot for liking bad work. It's juice and jizz time, everypony.
What I felt:
I'm changing the format up a bit, because in essence, this little program caused me to do a lot of thinking. At the end of it all, I was thinking incredibly hard as to what art was, the amount of meaning inherent in art, the audience's obligation in interpreting it, the morality in taking interpretations too far, and whether or not the artist has any obligation to the audience they create. The program asks a lot of questions, but it doesn't answer them, because it never directly asks them so much as they are implied. The program tells a story as opposed to an opinion, and it is very smart of it to never give an answer, because that would ruin a lot of what makes it so effective.
I was originally going to be coy and do two versions of the review: one where I hide the "BIG TWIST" (as there is a BIG TWIST), and then give one interpretation of the work based on our ignorance of that twist under the assumption that it would be better for the user to witness it themself, and then give another interpretation of it based on our knowledge of the twist, and then hide it somewhere in the review page or the source code or what have you. I thought it would be a little secret, a way to get things off my chest.
I realised then, first and foremost, that really isn't my style. The instant you start including spooky hidden pages, or mysteries, or what have you, it brings a great level of uncertainty to the blog, where you have no idea whether or not to trust that a page will deliver you the content that you expect it to. Because every webpage is going into something blind, there is a position of trust that the webmaster is expected to uphold, and not deliver anything unexpected or out of the ordinary. To do so would treat webpages like they are something to toy the user with, when webpages are supposed to serve the user, consistently, without fail.
And secondly, lowering the public discourse of art by hiding information like that, is just dishonest. If somebody is looking for information about a work, but you decide to hide certain aspects of information for no good reason other to satisfy your own self-fuckery, then it means you don't care enough about the audience to trust them with said information. I've said before: nobody is entitled to spoiler alerts, because art does not exist in a microcosm, and to pretend it does lowers the value of artistic criticism. Being blind to a work is a privilege, not a right, and to pretend that it's your right to ignore what goes on in a work just because you want to be uncertain that it exists, means that you're either experimenting with the idea of blindedness to see if it enhances your enjoyment of a work, or you think that it will somehow ruin your impression of a work, when it will enhance it by giving you more to think about (see above).
So if you are toying with blindness, and you've read this far, then I suggest you give it a shot. Will it hurt? Well, think of it this way: after getting my head fucked by this little program, thinking about things in a way that was circular, and made my brain hurt without coming to any definite conclusions, nor particular points I can use, but did make me think about the subjects of interpretation and the meaning of art in the first place, I would say that I would have very much liked to have read a review before going into the work, to avoid the bugnuttery and the struggle of my mind twisting itself into pretzels, as all I needed was some outside input. It was an experience that I don't think I've ever felt before, honestly, and I wouldn't have felt it if I knew some things about the program in the first place.
But then again, that's just me. While I've read stories about people thinking really hard about their lives, these stories are always them thinking about themselves, as opposed to what art means, as I have. I must be unique in being one of the only people totally confident in themselves when being an artist, having enough information to go through with most subjects without fear, though still self-reflecting on areas I need improvement on (such as ensuring that what I say actually has value and isn't just prattle, and making sure I say it in an engaging and easy-to-read way), and still being appropriately worried about my health and wellness, to avoid any danger down the line.
I can't speak for those who do not have enough confidence in themselves that they need to have an environmental sim come along and cause them to change their worldview, as I am a confident man, though I may be wrong in saying that they have a lack of self-confidence, though they are heavily implying that they still have personal issues that they have yet to resolve or move past. I suppose I have to link the Jim Sterling review here, which was my first bloody encounter with the thing. I don't agree with his conclusion, as I had a far different interpretation of the work than what he did, with me focusing more on one part of the story than another part, with one part clearly getting to him despite me feeling like it was out of place and not congruent with the rest of the otherwise solid story, and another part where I was focused on the overarching themes of the meta story that was never directly stated, but was layered on thick.
You know what, I'm tired of making vague sentences for the sake of protecting the innocent. If you want to go through this work blind like I did, you fucking nutter, then go ahead. You'll get the opportunity to experience the thing for yourself and think about it from purely your own viewpoint, as there is a lot of themes in the work, a lot of themes that is very easy for somebody to attach themself to, and which I will go over. But if you don't, then keep reading, as you may find a lot of benefit in how to craft themes which make people think about themselves. I'm honestly tired of talking about spoilers every damn review, so hear me on this: I'm not doing any spoiler-free singular reviews again. I'll do it for multi-part reviews, because the point of those is being entertained by me looking like a fucking idiot at every turn, and me going back and seeing what I missed on the first playthrough. For singular reviews where the purpose is pure information, it's damaging to my audience by shielding their brains.
So yeah, no spoilers from now on.
Spoiler alerts I am never doing this again:
The Beginner's Guide works like this: you're talked to by a man called Davey, which is separate from the real-life Davey because this is a work of fiction. If you've never played this sim, it's set-up like everything within it happened like a real story, like everything within it actually occurred. Davey talks about somebody called Coda, who makes a bunch of maps, or short "games", mostly the experimental indy art-house bullshit you'd see on Gamebanana or Itch.io or some other modding / self-publishing website. What happens is that he goes through all of the maps that Coda makes (male or female - more on the disparity later), and just bloody talks about them, telling about the intentions and the development about each one. Remember though, that it's all fiction, and that Davey and Coda are just characters, and that all the maps were made specifically for this game. I find comfort in knowing that it's all made-up, because it shouldn't matter if a story is true, so long as it means something to you.
There's one map about a traumatic life experience that Coda had, where you always walk backwards, because walking forward is too damn hard for him. There's a map that's actually two maps, two incredibly small maps that you can walk through in ten seconds, which shows that Coda thinks all of his maps are interconnected. There's a map full of all of Coda's ideas, but you can only get up to it after ten minutes of walking up a long flight of stairs very slowly, which shows off Coda's reserved personality. I'm talking a lot about the maps and what they mean to Coda, because these are the two most important elements of the game: Coda and the maps. Whatever Coda makes is a reflection of himself, in all his oddities, depression, and anxiety. It's hard to understate how critical this character development is to the story, how much we learn about them, and how the maps act as therapy for the developer.
There's a map where Coda types up a bunch of voices, hundreds of them all alone, in a huge map, even in places where you cannot physically reach, which shows that he is uncertain about the comments he gets on the work. There's a map where you're in a prison, and you're supposed to sit in a cell for one hour before you are released (about ten seconds in-game though), which is confusing, because it further shows that these are games that Coda doesn't want you to play. When Davey asks about why the games are so obtuse, he sends Davey a package of two hundred "playable games", which is just an empty, white, square box in each one, with no easter eggs or anything. Like I say, Coda is an eccentric, but not always for the best.
The maps are released in a time span of months across each release, almost never being publicly distributed, but instead being sent to Davey in confidence. Like I said, they're therapy for Coda, as he becomes much more reclusive, and his maps being much more restrained, over the course of his life. There's a series of maps where, all it is, is just prisons, a series of successive prisons, over and over again, with just different set dressing. And they all zoom by fast, but there is still cause for concern that the bloke just made so many damn prisons, which shows something wrong with them as a person. Truly, he would do well to talk with somebody about their work, but he barely talks to anybody.
My favourite map out of the bunch would be one where, all you do, is go to a snow-capped house, in twilight, and perform chores for a lady as she talks about her life. It's a reflection of Coda's desire to fit into something that they feel like they can do and to belong to, the chores never ending, just going on in a loop, and having something to occupy their time with and feel satisfaction in that. It's incredibly symbolic of the way that Coda has made his games so far - and Davey agrees, saying he likes it to. Of course, for the sake of the story, we still have to continue on, and so he cuts it short to keep up the pace.
It just gets worse from here. There's even more prisons, more desperation, some maps where Coda keeps talking to himself, and Davey gets really worried, because during this time, Coda goes into hiding, into recluse, cutting off contact with those closest to him. Davey gets worried - heck, I'd get worried. If my best friend was suddenly gone for three days, I'd be worried. What about three months? So he takes the best course of action he can, and with the understanding that Coda is so proud of his work, he uploads the maps online, because they deserve to be shared, and Coda deserves to have their work understood. It works out great, and the press is excellent. But, he never really recovers.
Things go south from here, and the newfound fame that Coda gets, really gets to him. He makes a bunch of maps saying that, above all else, he never asked for this. He never wanted to feel like he was meant to please anybody, never felt like his work was meant to be understood by anybody, because it's only of any meaningful sense to him. He doesn't want strangers coming along and trying to make sense of him, because the last thing he needs is somebody coming into his life and telling him what they think of his work. When he makes the next maps, they never get released - they're all about the fame, and what a monster he turned into, creating work that the public expects to admire, creating things out of a desire to fulfill an audience and solve their problems and not his own.
So, the final map comes, about three years after Davey releases Coda's work, and at this point, he's really worried. It's a grey castle. It's a horrible map. It's dingy, with ambience that isn't fun, unintuitive map design, sections that are only meant to waste time. There's an invisible maze where, if you touch a wall, a bright flashing light appears and a metallic drone plays (so cover your eyes if you're prone to seizures). When Davey builds a bridge above that, the next puzzle is just a seven-digit code, where you have to blindly guess the solution, and you get the solution to that, too. It's a map that was never meant to be played, and Davey is rightly worried, talking about everything that Coda did to get to this point.
Was Coda always disposed to being a recluse, like when he published his work online and never expected it to get any notice, until Davey came along? Was Davey wrong for having published the maps that he worked so hard on, and shared with the expectation that it would help him out? Did he have a negative effect on Coda by just trying to be a good friend, giving him the attention he needs, solving his personal problems, but failing to do so because he was misguided as to the type of therapy he needed? If you knew somebody, and the last thing they ever made was the worst, most unpleasant, least playable thing you've ever had to experience, a game which was never designed to get through at all... then what combination of confused, worried, afraid, and sad would you be feeling?
And then Davey gets to the final room of the final map of the sim, and, well...
As it turns out, Davey is a liar. To put it bluntly, he's an unreliable narrator. We can't trust a bloody thing he says, we can't trust how much he altered the maps to fit his perspective, we can't trust if he actually knew Coda in any real capacity, we can't trust if even he's certain in whatever he's saying, and we can't trust his opinions about art because he put so much of himself into the art that it's impossible to remove him from it. Davey is, simply, a pathetic, pathetic man, looking for some self-assurance in the world, trying to find something that he's good at, something that fits his niche, allows him to be certain that what he's doing is correct. So he turns to the arts, where he can interpret things to be correct, even alter them to be correct, because nobody can tell him wrong.
Nobody can tell him wrong, except for Coda. And this is where THE BIG TWIST comes in: it turns out that Coda didn't have anything wrong with him at all. That final level? Coda berates Davey for thinking that anything was wrong with her, that he applied so much of what he thought about her work to the point where she became meaningless to him. She knows that he edited the maps to suit his particular point of view, to make a narrative that was convenient to him - one where he knew exactly what to do with his "best friend", the only person he ever really talked to. And Coda tells him to never talk to her again, because when it gets to the point where he alters her maps, uploads them without permission, says that it's all a part of a person who needs help and attention, and makes opinions out of them with no basis or evidence whatsoever... then it shows a serious problem with Davey, and not with her.
Davey is pathetic - and we see this at the ending, where he talks about how Coda always had everything figured out, was always a whole person, where she had something that he didn't, where she could create work that nobody had to understand, and she was okay with that. Davey isn't, and he was looking for some meaning in her work so that he didn't have to face himself, day after day, and wonder whether or not he was actually doing something good in his life. Coda was something that he could aspire to be. And it's pathetic that, when all of Coda's maps feature exclusively female voices, and the one model that's meant to be Coda has a female body, Davey didn't even bother to ask Coda's gender.
Everything that Davey shows us up to this point is completely discounted by the end, because everything that he interprets, everything that he thought about Coda, was wrong, because Coda explicitly denies anything is wrong with her or her work. Davey wondered if all she liked to do was to make prisons, and if she had just told him that she didn't need any help, he could have avoided all this trouble. And now, all he has left, is his thoughts, with everything that he thought he knew about somebody that took up his life for so long, ending up being a completely wrong diety with which to base his thoughts of himself around. He projected himself in the worst possible way. And in doing so, he damaged everything he touched.
Even by the end, he is still reliant on Coda to give him some sort of validation, some sort of "I'm a good person" feeling, even if it's just falsely interpreting her works. That's why he's releasing all of her games - to encourage her to make more. Does it work? I don't think it matters one bit. It's less about what happens with the characters and more about the ideas that they encourage. Perhaps Davey kills himself at the end. Maybe it's just a satire, saying that all his good ideas were stolen from the one person that made him feel some confidence in himself. Does it matter? Either way, there is a lot of effort put into a small thing.
What I felt again:
I will admit that I only picked up on all this during the Mr. Enter review - and the reason I never linked it is because it's only appropriate to here. The same with the Jim Sterling review, he focused intensely on the "Davey" portion of the sim, and not the "Coda" portion - the Davey portion being the fault of self for interpreting work, and interpreting your friends, in an incorrect and ultimately disastrous way, leading to your relationship to the arts being estranged as you aren't certain about what you can do in your life, and the desire to have some part of you made whole by the work that you do. The Coda portion deals with the obligation to an audience, how much an artist is supposed to communicate their work, the obligation that an artist has to create, how best to explain the means of production to somebody who just doesn't get it, and how to deal with somebody who is so pathetic, a burden on your life, that you just can't get rid of them.
Originally I thought this was going to be a Coda-focused game, being a detailed and fun description of the types of happy accidents that occur during game development - like a developer's diary made in three dimensions. At this point, we don't know much about Davey, and he has enough certainty in his voice that we believe that actually knows what he's talking about. He may be a liar at worse and misguided at best, but he's a convincing one, which goes to show that any art interpretation can be made up of bullshit and somebody, even rational people like me, will buy it. I suppose he had the advantage by misrepresenting Coda, as we had no idea who Coda was, and couldn't refute anything he said about her.
When it started to not be fun, when Davey started talking about the arts, and his opinions about Coda, then it stopped being about the maps, and more about the character drama, the maps just being a way to represent the drama. Now, they do it very well, and they're the most enjoyable part of the experience, despite them being really, bloody, horrifying.
Imagine, if you will, some caveman scrubs running around prehistoric Earth. You got your jungles, your desert, your mountains, what have you, and your job, day after day, is to just keep walking. You can't stop, simply - if you stop, you run out of resources, and you die. And here's the resources you might have: some clothes, if you're lucky, a weapon, if you're lucky, a pouch full of food, if you're lucky, and a family, if you're lucky. You have nothing. Absolutely nothing. You're shit out of luck, because being prehistoric man, you aren't much more than a malformed ape.
Now, this was way back when - and we're talking tens of thousands of years ago, when human civilisation in a formal sense has only existed for six thousand or so. No streetlamps, no roads, no remnants of anything as we know it. It's just dirt. It's rocks. It's trees and the fucking jungle and the fucking desert and some fucking hills to climb around. There's nothing. You cannot imagine the sheer amount of nothing involved, because even humans, even the basics of the basics of the human form, was not developed here. It is impossible to overstate just how much nothing there was here.
Now imagine all of this at night. Once again, no streetlamps, no roads, no remnants of anything. Every single night is an unfamiliar trek, in complete darkness - maybe some moonlight if you're lucky - baring against the wind and the rain and the stillness of it all, listening to nothing more than the animals screeching, prattling, as you shuffle across the terrain. Anything could be out there. Anything is out there - exploration as a science didn't exist, and you didn't know what lied a kilometre away from you, let alone a thousand! And what did you have to defend yourself, to prepare for the unknown? The clothes on your back. If that.
Now imagine, in the black of night, being in this situation. All you can do is run or hide or maybe, maybe fight back with your gangly limbs, and hope that whatever is out there is intimidated enough to run away. Because humans can't fight alone - they still can't. They were built to run up to animals in groups and throw things at them until they died. If you were caught out there with something more powerful than you - heck, if you're caught out there today - you're dead meat. Literally. Dead meat.
But at least you could run. At least you had some mental stimuli, some experience with the outdoors, to steel your senses and understand what was going on. You have the capacity and the maturity to make decisions that could, potentially, keep you alive. You have a fit body and long limbs and you can run pretty fast for a very long time - and that's not mentioning just how tough, how resilient, and how adaptable the human body is, in all its perfections, in all it's symmetry, in all its ability to keep you alive. You're pretty much helpless, yeah. But you're not totally so.
But... imagine if you were a child. And you had none of that. You're retarded and you're weak and you have no experience whatsoever, being totally dependent on who you're with, if anybody. And if you're caught out there alone, as a child, you're helpless. You're stuck. You're dead. And there's nothing you could have done.
This is what being in an environmental sim is like - a helpless child with nothing to defend themselves against the mercy of the elements. Whatever the sim wants to do with you, it can. Jumpscares? Yeah. How about completely random, arbitrary scenarios? Of course. And what rules do you have to protect you, with your last little pieces of sanity to cling to, with the expectation that in some, small, constant way, that the sim will behave as you want it to? There is none. Because a simulator is not a game, and does not expect you to play it. It expects you to experience whatever it wants you to. And that makes me feel helpless.
Given these circumstances, what is one supposed to do but feel intimidated? It works in the favour of the sim, by putting you on edge, making you think deeply about what the narrator is saying, constantly putting you in unfamiliar environments so you aren't ever settled into the program, meaning that you're constantly thinking about what is being said, and what the story entails. The first time I played through this, I was certainly more receptive to whatever Davey was saying, because it was the first time I was experiencing it. The second time, it was only a shadow of what I felt the first time, because I wasn't constantly in fear of the unknown. I alleviated it by looking down a lot, using the walls to guide me, though I was still on edge.
A lot of the maps are designed to be cold and foreign, being something that nobody would want to willingly subject themselves to, except out of novelty or some other desire for the strange. It's a deliberate artistic choice, contrasting the more friendly maps with warm lighting and a variety of colours than the ones which feature harsh lighting, dark spaces, and intimidating use of space - either too large or too small to be familiar. The contrast, with nothing more than a black screen between maps, is effective, because you cannot keep the same tone through the entirety of a work, otherwise it becomes static and boring. Variety is the spice of life, and the developer made excellent use of that variety, because a cold and desolate space becomes too familiar when you see it too often.
As well as the maps deliberately keeping their distance, so too are the themes of the work distant from what you expect from anything out of your life. This is a story where a lonely man with nothing going for him in his life latches on to somebody he barely knows, takes her work and uploads it online, calls her a depressed, anxious, and lonely person in need of some guidance, altering the work to fit his viewpoint, and ending up being completely wrong about everything. It's a very mature story, one that only starts to hit you when you become old enough to understand the consequences of your actions, and how you have to be certain in yourself before you can make judgements on other people - otherwise you end up a person in need of something that nobody else can give to you.
There's something special about a work that understands the most foreign of emotions, the ones that we can't explain in single words, or ones that we learn in primary school. We live in a world where there's so much media, that we can feel anything we want at any time. If you want angry, look at the news. For sadness, check out tearjerkers. If you want some simple joy, there's a tonne of cartoons that will give you simple joy. It's for those more foreign emotions, the ones that evoke a sense of beauty, uncertainty, and melancholy, that are rare in our society, and the ones which people value so highly because of it. It's a lot easier to make somebody feel bad than it is to inspire them to be great.
What does this work inspire? It teaches some hard lessons about personal relationships, and some soft lessons about the arts. The hard lessons are to have enough confidence to not project yourself onto other people, to not go into a relationship that isn't mutually beneficial, to have enough wisdom to deal with your problems without causing harm to those who you care about, and to understand when they don't care about you back. And I get the feeling that a lot of people are attached to these hard lessons, like Jim Sterling was, and why they think so fondly of the work. Without projecting anything, I think that people who haven't already learned these lessons by the time they turn into adulthood, those without the maturity and experience to understand these basic tenants of being a stand-up person, are those who most need to learn the lessons, fast and hard, like what this sim offers. And I appreciate it very much for using what is a very simple facade - a silly game about developmental stories - and indulging in something very profound in what it ends up doing. I appreciate it for having the courage to teach these lessons in a way that makes people actually listen.
Like I say, I'm not the type of person to have a lack of confidence. Does it happen? Naturally - courage is not the absence of fear, but the discipline to move past it and carry on. When you're afraid of something, like when you're afraid of writing a blog post, or making a header, or talking to somebody you're interested in, it's not about purging all the negative feelings from your mind. What you do is understand that you're feeling this way, that you're feeling anxious about talking to somebody, and choose to lean into it. When you can identify emotions, when you can say that "I've felt this way before and I turned out fine", and have the discipline to follow through on your desires that are only being held back by a primal fear of failure, then you become a better person that most people you will ever meet in your life.
I understand why people with less discipline, with less confidence in themselves, would so readily attach to these messages, because they are very complicated ones, and so many "artists", let's call them, don't trust their audience enough to deal with these themes, because they might alienate potential buyers and end up losing profits than if they settled for perfectly average work. And it's this average work which damages society, the type of work that society needs the least, because it doesn't benefit us in any way. When people say not to take work seriously because of something like "it's just a video game", or a cartoon or a movie or whatever, it damages the integrity of the arts to teach important lessons, to allow people to get familiar with uncomfortable thoughts, and to give them the discipline and the support they need in order to develop into stand-up individuals. When you have the potential to improve somebody's life, and make them a man of honour and integrity, it improves the standard of living for everybody involved. It is impossible to overstate the potential the arts have to change the world.
If somebody attaches to the interpersonal messages, the horrible relationship between Davey and Coda, then I don't blame them for attaching to what I find a simple message. It's a necessary one. It's one that people most deserve to learn. But there is the softer messages, too, that I found much more interested, because they presented conundrums that I still haven't resolved. These are the soft messages about the arts, what the arts mean to an audience, what the artist means to impart to somebody, and whether or not works of art all need a message in order to be valuable, or if art deserves to have a message at all. I went over all these points, and I still have no idea about them, so I will not waste our time by talking idly.
Whenever I have a confusion about a thing, I write something up in private, perhaps with the expectation that I will one day public the work, but with the primary goal of getting my thoughts back together. I do these in particularly trying times of emotions, though never with problems of morality or logic or what have you, ideas I can just revert back to what I previously learned in my life and not have to think about too hard in order to come to positive conclusions. All these works deal with my feelings and me personally, because it's very hard to do good work when you're caught up in a state of mind that your body is telling you to be lazy in.
I wrote the following as one of these articles, and this was the thing I was going to write up as an easter egg. I'm glad I ended up not doing that, as I feel it wouldn't have been something that would be beneficial to my audience, except for those privileged few with a crank in their head who looks for such things, making it a luck-based endeavour that is no fun at all for most readers.
The Coy Secret Article:
I wonder what you get out of pretending you have something special.
Which country do you live in? Turkey? Russia? The United States? Tens of millions, hundreds of millions, of people in those countries.
And I wonder what the purpose is of talking at any great length about things when the vast majority, the unwashed masses, the degenerates, the proles, the uneducated, will never, ever, understand who you are.
I wonder what you get out of pretending that you have something special, when there are thousands of people out there, just like you, who feel the same things you do, consume the same media you do, and then talk about it.
And they talk and talk and talk and talk and so on.
And here I am talking, too.
To talk about The Beginner's Guide is a complete fucking folly - it goes against the core of the experience. It is not a game that is meant to be played, or rather understood. These words are contradictory, and yet I type them up a half-hour after playing it, and thinking about it makes me sick.
Oh, is it a game now? It calls itself one. Does that make it so? Perhaps not. Then why call it a game? Because it works within its own little universe, and I suppose I should meet it halfway.
It's a messy, messy, confusing, messy, thing, and to try to dissect it goes against all the ideas that it develops. Talking about it means that you disrespect its message. Talking about it means that you try to understand it - and it doesn't want to be understood.
We can talk about it technical terms. Okay, but why? So we can learn how to create something like it? It can be said that art has a message, and art without a message is not art, and art with all messages has no messages, and therefore art with all messages is not art. Do we wish to create art, be inspired by something that is not art? Why bother? Why understand what cannot be understood because it has no message?
Bad assumption - perhaps it has a message. But then, to understand what that is, goes against its message of trying not to understand it. So it has a message, then? But to understand that it has a message is to go against its message of not understanding it. Now do you see, why this is a messy, messy, confusing, messy, thing?
Is it meant to confuse? Why does it confuse? Are we supposed to understand this? Is it begging the question that it is meant to be understood? Is its message really that it doesn't want to be understood? Would finding evidence go against this message which may or may not exist? If we cannot ascertain its existence, does it exist? If it doesn't exist, why obey its message of not understanding it? If the message does not exist, why understand it? If the message does exist, then why understand it?
Am I contradicting myself by suggesting that it, which should not exist because it does not say anything, does not have a message, and if it does, cannot be talked about, and so that going into it blind is the only option, because to learn more about it means that you cannot play it, and so, would be a worthless experience?
This, too, is folly, because it was never about the endgoal. It was about the journey.
Okay, say it has a message that it doesn't want to be understood. Here we are at the end - it turns out, there was no message to the games. There wasn't anything about depression, or reclusiveness, or the metaphors, or anything else. When the narrator applies the messages to the games in The Beginner's Guide, the games made in the future deliberately insert those messages, confounding the narrator even further. Games that became meaningless were given meaning because the meaningless games were trying to be understood.
The narrator wasn't trying to be pretentious. He was trying to be validated. He was trying to do something in his life, where, he could be certain in what he was doing - to be an expert on something that nobody else could be, to create something where he was needed, to give him a goal to work towards. To understand something that nobody else would. To be special. To be a part of something special.
There wasn't anything to understand with the games. Maybe he just liked making prisons. Maybe there wasn't any meaning to the three dots. Maybe the doors were worthless. Would it make you feel better if there was some meaning? Sometimes it's necessary to understand that, just because of the way the world works, that the difference between art and labour is what the artist meant to put into the work, and not what the audience gets out of it.
So then, is there anything to understand with The Beginner's Guide as a whole? Is the game saying that, because the games inside were meaningless, that the work of The Beginner's Guide is also meaningless? Does it have a reason to exist? Are we, too, turning into the narrator by trying to apply our own special interpretation of things to the game? Is talking about it damaging the work, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where we emulate the narrator, trying to understand The Beginner's Guide, giving us the same feeling of turmoil the narrator has, at the very end, where we learn he made it all up himself?
Well, here's the deal. Let's suppose that The Beginner's Guide has that stance that "you're supposed to become the Narrator and try to find meaning where none exists". What does it say after this? Will it say, "This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, showing that trying to find meaning where none exists causes you to only apply your interpretation of the work, as opposed to what the artist meant", or, "there is no meaning, and talking about it only damages you as a person".
And I like that second statement a lot.
The quickest way to solve a mystery is to destroy that mystery.
But I feel sick, you know, after playing The Beginner's Guide. I feel uncertain. I feel like all my reviewing skills are completely out of sorts, and that I'm playing some cosmic game where I'm not supposed to understand it, but my failure to understand the thing causes me to not want to understand it, trapping me in a loop. But if I understand it, then does that mean I'm going against its message, meaning I do understand it? Do I, or do I not, understand it? Is it necessary to understand it? Why?
We either have a game that is so deeply entrenched in audience-fulfilled symbolism that we are removing the work so far from the audience that the audience is creating the work on its own, or a game that has no symbolism, and as such, any attempts to understand it futile. But, like I say, to fail to understand if the game doesn't want us to understand, means that you still don't understand. You are either completely ignorant of the game, in which case, you understand it completely, or you are aware of the game, in which case, you don't understand it at all.
Which is it? How do I understand that I must not understand?
I've always prided myself on understanding. I've prided myself on learning things. I've prided myself on knowing everything within my skillset. I've prided myself on having the answers. I still do - and this thing hasn't caused me to rethink the way I think things, but has caused me to think about things which may not need thinking.
When something like this comes along and makes me feel completely and utterly lost... I don't feel proud. I feel fucking sick. Every time I think of scenes from the game, it's vivid. It's more vivid that I've ever seen my imagination be. And it makes me sick, like I came back from a horrible, nauseating experience. Make no mistake - this game isn't your regular walking sim. It's psychological horror. And, coming from somebody who is almost entirely certain in his mentality, this is a big thing for me to say.
Now I know what psychological horror is - it's the infestation of your mind to the point where you don't even know what to think anymore. It's so easy to give up writing this and say "I have no fucking clue", and perhaps I would understand the game better, but simply, I have no fucking clue, and so I'm trying to understand it better, which goes against the moral of "don't understand the game, because you'll just get heartache".
So, here I am. Trying to understand the game. And I have heartache.
So should I stop understanding it?
Should I stop trying to learn if I should learn about it? And if I choose not to learn about it, then is that all I need to learn?
I think that, above all else the game tries to say, is that... you can understand things if you want to. But you will never understand how much you really do. You can learn as much as you want to, but you don't know if it's right. You don't know if it's meant to be right. And that's the same feeling The Beginner's Guide gives, the same feeling of confusion, the same feeling of "was I meant to play these games at all? was I meant to try to interpret them?".
This is the first game that I have ever played, the first novel, the first anything, that really and truly made me think about the themes of art, to think about how to describe the feeling of having a thousand thoughts come into your head at once, and how to write down that feeling when I have never felt it before.
I actually have no idea what I'm saying, and I'm only saying it in the hope that somebody understands why I can't understand why the game isn't meant to be understood but you can only understand that after understanding the game.
This section is pure, unadulterated, prattle, and writing it is a complete fucking folly, because there are so many layers of complexity to the game that it doesn't want you to understand, which is a complete fucking paradox.
I guess the only way to proceed is to say "fuck it", and learn as much as you can about it, in order to, hopefully, break out of the paradox.
And it ends:
I wrote this about ten minutes after I finished this sim, and you can see why I chose to stop going into works blind. It would have saved me a lot of time and effort spend detailing this thing if I had simply learned a little bit about the circumstances of the game, like the unreliable narration bit, about the capabilities of Davey to edit the work, and how the overall theme of the work is to not interpret things that you can't be certain is there. It's a deconstruction, essentially. I'm glad to resolve one point, though: "Should I learn about a thing, even if it doesn't want me to ?". I have decided, through my experience, that it is necessary to learn about a work in all its glory, in all its interpretations, because once an author releases a work into the wild, then they lose all control over what it is saying. I bloody wish that "Death of the Author" essay wasn't so dense - I'm sure it would have said some interesting things.
I suppose that all I have learned were the obvious things: to be a good person, we cannot make judgements about them without understanding who they are. To try to understand things that were so far beyond the original meaning, that it becomes worthless, does a disservice to the arts by applying wild interpretations to absolutely everything. Somethings a thing isn't made to be artistic, or even to have a meaning, but for more boring reasons. The quickest way to solve a mystery is to destroy it - and to look for problems where none exist is a problem with yourself, and not the world. To look too deeply into things, no matter what you feel about it, must be done with prudence.
I could go on about how art deserves to be transformed to created new works, about how relationships are complicated and should always be dealt with empathetically, about how the best works are those which offer straight dick without dancing around what they wish to state, and all those other good topics. But that would just distract from the crux of this review, which is, simply, that The Beginner's Guide is food for thought, and it is a lot of food that causes you a lot of thought. To think deeply into it would cause you a great deal of stress, but it is positive stress, and not the negative stress which lends your life to feeling miserable. If you wish to think a lot, install this little sim, and you will end up thinking a lot.
It is emotional and horrifying and by the end of it you will likely feel things you haven't ever felt before. It is a small little miracle in a mediocre world, and to have such a thing exist shows some of the beauty in it. I won't praise it as the best thing you will ever see in your entire life, as it does not come across anything revolutionary outside of what it's really good at saying, and the story is short and simple to the point of seeming redundant to those who have seen similar stories before. The twist isn't manipulative, but it does mean that any replay value is severely limited, as it is a "one trick pony" and is only good for one run-through before it ends up losing all the impact of its message. I suppose, if you haven't played it, this review is a disservice to you. But then, not learning about a thing is a bigger disservice.
Try it out, please. You could spend the hour on memes, or spend it on something that will cause you to think a lot about yourself - and if not yourself, then what you are doing in life. It has a lot to talk about, but it is short, and it does not waste time. I give it a recommendation to anybody who needs more emotional maturity, or to those who are not confident enough in their works as an artist, because it is a broad work, and it has horizons as broad. I suppose I cannot make you do a thing because I request it of you, but all I can offer is opportunity, based on what those others make. So thank you, as well, for the opportunity to be read, and I will not disappoint you with that which does not deserve to be seen. From me, and from others.
Pedantic, though important: Froghand.
Today's page was updated on 2016-11-23 and created on 2016-11-18!
Hey, you remember when games were supposed to be fun?