The Beginner’s Guide

Screenshot: A scene from The Beginner’s Guide

First Impressions

The Beginner’s Guide is a very simple walking simulator that has the backstory of being an exploration through some games a game designer named Coda has developed, but never released. The idea is to explore the creator’s vision and what he hoped to accomplished by playing these games. As such, the game relies mostly on simple exploration mechanics; in my initial foray into the game, there aren’t many controls outside of the simple WASD and mouse control to navigate the environments.

The game immediately has a very artistic and narrative-heavy feeling to it. It’s very evident that someone would want to play this game mostly wants to be taken on a narrative experience instead of wanting to play something that is very mechanic or skill heavy, such as an FPS game. This is rather ironic, since the game starts off with the player in one of the competitive FPS environments possible – a map from CounterStrike. I think this juxtaposition definitely highlights how this game intends to be an artistic experience. The pacing of the game is very slow, and seems to emphasize investigating the environment for anything and everything, in order to get a better sense of who Coda really is as a person. My expectation for this game is that it’ll be treated as if you were in a museum dedicated to Coda – each game you explore is its own exhibit about Coda, so it would be wise to take the time to understand what is being shown in front of the player.

Going Further

The game is relatively short, with only about an hour and a half of gameplay. Nonetheless, the game itself was beautiful. It explores many themes about loneliness, isolation, the issues of creativity, and validation. Originally, I felt like this game was going to be an exploration of Coda’s subconscious mind. Often, elements of a person’s mind seeps out into their creative work, especially if they use it as an outlet for their emotions or stress. Many elements of the game reflected this – the feeling of isolation, the inability to communicate, and the symbolism presented in the game’s environment.

All of these things seemed to be that Coda was a very troubled and lonesome person who made games as their own emotional outlet, but this begins to change as the player progresses further in the game, and the narration begins to take on a more desperate, Messiah-complex driven voice. Ultimately, the game reveals that the narrator himself is actually the one who has all these problems. He’s found himself in a position where he needs external validation to feel good about himself, and does this by attempting to “save” Coda, who really just likes to makes games for the sake of it, not for any external validation. By doing this, he drives his friend away due to him invading his personal space so deeply that making games has become a laboring task for Coda.

When this revelation is had, a major conversation point is opened up on how this obsession with external validation is indicative of many other problems that aren’t easily discussed – social anxiety, depression, and loneliness. How do people cope with this, and what are the implications for not being able to handle it properly? An extremely visceral feeling is evoked when the player confronts these questions as the narrator does; it is a very powerful moment in the game, a moment that lingers in one’s mind as they credits roll on the screen.

One thing to note is that, each person’s experience with this game will definitely be different. The way the game evokes an emotional response from the player will vary from player to player. Nonetheless, the experience from playing The Beginner’s Guide is incredibly powerful and will likely bring up many emotions previously hidden to the player. This is a must-play for those looking for viscerally emotional narratives in their games.

- Kevin Hongtongsak