As I sit here, on Christmas Eve, I find myself struggling to find something to say about The Beginner’s Guide, which is an unusual problem for me. When it comes to these “walking simulators” I can always talk about the themes, narrative prospective, and drives of the creators to then discuss the message. But I can’t with this; and it’s not because I’m going to tell you that it’s something “you need to experience for yourself” because while the cliche is true, it doesn’t mean that you may want to.
The Problem with Introspection
There is always a level of introspection for me in this line of work as I’m very conscious of the fact that when I’m discussing games that there are people behind it. They are human beings, who put time and energy into creating something that facilitates me to comment and critique their work. It doesn’t inhibit or tamper my ability to criticize the piece of work, but I tend to make a point of remembering the scope and ambition of a project and what level of criticism you can give while remaining constructive. It’s the kind criticism of I wish to be afforded as a creator of content.
When it comes to The Beginner’s Guide, this makes that relationship complex for me as the narrative is about someone else’s work, someone’s work that isn’t the narrator’s. It tells a story of the narrator’s relationship with a game designer/creator named Coda. It starts with an analytical progression through Coda’s work, how it begins to change, and how these changes had a profound effect upon the narrator.
So, as a gaming journalist and as a player, I’m not looking at this through the eyes of the original creator or as they intended, but through the eyes of the person who has compiled the work. This can have various different intentions attached to it. It’s noted throughout that Coda didn’t want these works to be shared, but due to reasons which are explained by the narrator, it’s something that needed to be done. You’ll need to explore the game itself to understand the true motivations behind it, but it’s worth sticking with the journey for this fact alone.
Invasion of Space
I’m struck with an overwhelming sense when I’m playing The Beginner’s Guide that I don’t really belong there. That sounds like an odd statement doesn’t it? Particularly coming from a gaming journalist. The thing is, I don’t have a problem with construction of the narrative or the design. In fact, I find myself with the opposite problem; maybe it’s too good at all those things. So much so that I feel like I’m intruding on someone’s personal space.
This ties into something that I mentioned previously about Coda’s work, the levels we explore don’t look like they want to be explored. As the curtain is rolled back for us on various elements of these levels, it feels like we are looking into the inner sanctum of something that we should not have access to. There is something incredibly intimate about the experience that feels like it should be considered sacred. Something that as we are going through seems like it would be otherwise barred to us as players, it feels wrong.
It makes me uncomfortable as a gaming journalist and as someone who is going along for this ride. I’m someone who will absorb media in the form it is given to me, as presented the way that the creator wishes me to consume the media — this allows me to talk from a prospective that is somewhat informed or as informed as the creator wishes me to be. This feels like a violation of all of these things, yet, I played this multiple times to try and get a sense of what was trying to be accomplished.
A Completed Complex Render
So what does this mean to you guys? I’d recommend The Beginner’s Guide to anyone who does any sort of creative activity. I think it would provide some prospective for your work and how we appreciate and critique others. It’s certainly a complete and complex experience of relationships, not just with media and how we consume it, but how we tie ourselves to ideas about people and creators of content. However, I’m constantly reminded about the fact that this is the render that they have chosen to give us, just a singular aspect of an experience that may not have been the reality of what the original creator intended. This may serve as a powerful message for us all to consider, regardless of our outset.