The Writer's Cohort was a group creative writing graduates from Full Sail University who came together to bring the latest reports in video games, television, film, and literature. The Cohort remains a tight knit group, but the site disbanded in 2016.
The Beginner's Guide
by Grady Jane Woodfin
The first time I played the Beginner’s Guide, I literally cried myself to sleep.
It’s, honestly, one of the most powerful and moving games I’ve ever played.
Here’s the trailer:
So, if you haven’t played the Beginner’s Guide, and you are a fan of indie games, do yourself a favor and get out of here. Go buy the game on Steam here. Play the game and then come back. Because I don’t want to ruin the experience for you. Trust me. It’s worth the purchase. Now, scram.
Now, if you aren’t interested in playing the game or already have, continue on. But please don’t spoil the brilliance of the game by reading this if you intend on playing it.
Starting now it is okay to spoil things. (Now is your last chance to run.)
Okay, so, the first time I played the game, I wept. And, sure, I cry at lots of things, okay. But this was different. This story hit me deep in my gut.
Let me explain.
The narrator of this game is Davey Wreden. He is the creator of the Stanley Parable. http://www.stanleyparable.com/ The Stanley Parable has a comedic tone. It is an entertaining game with countless endings depending on what the player decides. But the Beginner’s Guide is a linear story with a much cynical tone.
The Beginner’s Guide describes a series of events that happens between the years 2008-2011. In the first level of the game, Wreden explains to the player that he/she/they are walking through different games that his friend “Coda” created. So, essentially the player is witnessing the evolution of Coda’s games over the years. Up until 2011, and then Coda just stopped making games. And we don’t know why… yet.
Within the first couple of “levels,” Wreden makes the educated assumption that Coda’s games are all related, and by connecting the dots, we could use the games to get to know the maker.
Wreden believes that Coda’s games are a plea for help.
The more I played, the more scared I was for Coda. The closer to 2011, the worse I felt. Coda’s games got darker and darker. There seemed to be a real theme of worthlessness in the games. A sense of depression looming in every step.
The games made me feel lonely. And if I felt lonely, I could only imagine that Coda must have felt lonely, too.
I related to Coda a lot. A lot of his games were unfinished. His style was to say what he needed to say, and then move on. He didn’t spend a lot of time making something perfect. He’d do it once, satisfy that hunger inside himself, and move on to the next project. For me, that hit really close to home.
But something happened to Coda’s spark. The machine inside him stopped working. He ran out of ideas. He was obsessing over the same type of themes. This feeling of being trapped within yourself. This feeling of no longer being able to create something new. It was horrifying to watch because I think as creators this all directly correlates to us. Wreden felt this way, too.
As the end of the game crept closer and closer, the sinking feeling in my stomach grew more and more.
In stories, I’m constantly craving an element of realness. Whether it’s my own work or other’s, I just crave that real life connection. It means something to me to be able to relate to something or someone on such a personal level.
The Beginner’s Guide felt so personal.
That’s what really got me. Close to the end of the game, the player realizes that the reason Coda stopped making games was because Coda felt Wreden had read too much into his games. Coda felt Wreden had projected himself into Coda’s work and twisted it into something dark and ugly that it wasn’t. Wreden poisoned game making for Coda even though he was genuinely just concerned for Coda’s well being.
The audience then has another realization. These games that we’ve been playing are an invasion of Coda’s privacy. Things that he probably never wanted anyone to see. This is where I began to feel sick.
The Beginner’s Guide is Wreden’s desperate attempt to apologize to Coda. To try and get him to start making games again.
This revelation hit me so hard I felt ill.
Wreden is desperate and pleading and pathetic. A place that is all too familiar.
Once the player reaches the climax in the story, there is still a little ways to go to the end. Wreden finishes his narration by saying, “I think I’m just gonna go…”
And the player is left to finish the final level of the game in silence.
I wept all the way up until the credits.
The game is beautiful, and I’ve played it twice now. I cried hard both times, and I think of the game often in admiration. It has done something that I’ve never seen done before. It was immersive in a way that I didn’t know was possible. The player, in a way, feels like they played a role in this relationship between Wreden and Coda.
I would recommend the game to anyone who is looking for a short, thought-provoking piece of art. It is brilliant and elusive. But I really enjoyed it, and I believe most other gamers will.
Happy Friday, guys. Don’t forget to buy the Beginner’s Guide, and when you do, come to me so we can discuss.