I very rarely write about my experience with games but have been unable to get The Beginner’s Guide out of my head. Recently I have found it helpful to write down things which I can’t seem to let go of and leave them on the page rather than dwelling on my mind.
The Beginner’s Guide is made by Davey Wreden best known for the Stanley Parable and I see a lot of similarities between the 2 games. Although I left the Beginner’s Guide feeling almost the exact opposite way I did when I was done with the Stanley Parable.
Both games are about being trapped In the Parable every choice you make will inevitably put you back in the office like prison with even death not being an option for escape. As bleak as that sounds I smiled the entire time I played the game the longer the narrator spoke for the happier I felt and when the game messed with me I found it a joy. The guide was almost the exact opposite experience.
In the guide you are taken on a curated tour of a developer named Coda’s work. Starting with their first Counter Strike Mod and then through to simple small levels which get gradually longer and deeper.
The further I went down into the Beginner’s Guide the more I felt a sense of dread. If I believed the Narrator then I was slowly watching someone become isolated from society by building digital prisons and trapping himself in his work. A series of work that was made for the creator alone.
During the course of the tour the Narrator makes small changes to Coda’s work to allow you to see areas hidden from the player or just difficult to reach. These changes from the narrator’s perspective they were necessary to the experience and at first seemed helpful to me as the player.
Then things start to change.
The further we into Coda’s games the more the narration changes. At first our narrator is filled with joy, so happy to be showing you this treasure trove of a one of their favourite developers work. Gradually this changes from a celebration of work to concern for a friends mental state and finally to guilt.
Through the narration the deeper we go into the games the deeper we go into Coda’s mind and we are given increasing cause for concern.
This is where I almost stopped playing. Watching Coda become increasingly trapped in their own work to the point that they make it the goal of a game to destroy everything they built felt all too familiar to me. When that particular game ends with the goal of destroying Coda I walked away from the game. I needed time to collect myself and force myself to play through, as much as I felt the game dredge up memories from my past I had to make it to the end. No matter how much it hurt.
The narrator expresses his deep concern for Coda and tries to help by sharing Coda’s games. The belief being if Coda gets the recognition they deserve then maybe they will feel better. At least this is what the Narrator believes to be true.
When we get to the final level of the game everything changes we no longer go down deeper into Coda’s private worlds we now climb up through a formidable tower, all hope has left the narrator’s voice as he edits the game repeatedly to help you progress fearing what is about to come. Each edit declared necessary, with it being near impossible or sometimes completely impossible to progress without the narrators help.
Then we come to the part the Narrator has feared this is the first game that isn’t for Coda. This game is for our Narrator. This game is the message to leave Coda alone, to stop sharing and editing games that were not his to stop projecting his own fears and narrative onto Coda’s work.
At this point the narrator is no longer the helpful guide helping us through the games and worried about a friend. He is a an unreliable narrator his motives have been selfish, these games are being shown to us through his eyes to hopefully correct his great mistake instead he is just making it again and he’s forced me to make it as well.
Once the game was finished I sat in silence for some time.
It took me some time to come to terms with what I had experienced and what it dragged out of me.
It forced me to remember a time in my life where I wasn’t healthy. A time when I wrote a lot and the reason why I stopped writing.
Remembering it now as I type is causing me to pause but I want to get this all out.
I have spells of severe depression and an anxiety disorder which occasionally in the past worked together to ruin my life.
The worst time for this was when I was 21 I didn’t know what was wrong with me my condition was undiagnosed, my doctors treating symptoms instead of the cause.
As a result I became increasing isolated for 2 years with months where I wouldn’t leave my flat.
In this time I wrote a lot. I never shared it with anyone. I would write the same story 10 different ways deleting everything I wasn’t happy with and showing no-one my work. I wrote a full book that took months of my life and destroyed it in seconds. I refused to share any of my work in a time when sharing anything with another person would have been helpful. The Beginner’s Guide and its unreliable narrator forced me to remember this period in my life and while it hurt I’m glad it did.
I’m not that person anymore my health issues no longer control me and by remembering how I was at my worst I realise how far I have come.
Coda however may not have had these issues everything I know about Coda is projected through the view of the narrator who by the end of the game is no longer trustworthy.
Many people have different views on the game each reflecting their own experience some doubt whether Coda is real and if the narrator is a character or if this is actually Davey Wreden repeating a mistake on a grander scale.
To me it Coda is Davey Wreden and the narrator is someone who was once part of his life. To me it doesn’t matter if there is a Coda or if Wreden is repeating the same mistake he is trying to atone for.
What matters is this experience forced me to remember what I have overcome.
While the narrator may not have helped Coda at that time in my life they probably would have helped me even if it was for selfish reasons.
So I am sharing this piece I have written in all its unedited messy glory because I am not Coda. Hiding what I have done forces me to replay it in my head but sharing it frees me from it. Even if no-one ever reads it the fact that I have put it out there will allow me to move on.
Writing was very unhealthy for me. Now it’s a form of therapy.