The Beginner’s Guide: An Overview

Before I get started let’s go over a few disclaimers: First, this article isn’t actually a guide for anything – it’s discussing the game titled “The Beginner’s Guide”. Second, this game is 100% story driven, so while I’m going to do my best not to reveal anything too critical, it’s pretty much impossible for me to completely avoid spoilers. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Many gamers are familiar with “The Stanley Parable”, the small yet compelling meta-game created by indie developer Davey Wreden. Its dry humor and unique way of turning gameplay and storytelling tropes in on themselves captured people’s hearts in a fun way that made us all think about the games we play and the stories we consume. What some people may not realize is that several years later Mr. Wreden released another title to the masses – “The Beginner’s Guide”.

The Beginner’s Guide isn’t truly a “game” in the classic sense of the word – it’s what has come to be known as an “environmental narrative” or (more perjoratively) a “walking simulator.” If you’re not familiar with either of those terms all it means is that instead of a “normal” gameplay objective like solving puzzles or defeating enemies, you are instead immersed in an environment and invited to experience a story first hand from the protagonist’s eyes. Other examples might be Firewatch or “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture” – they blur the line between a video game and a more static form of media such as a movie.

But let’s not quibble over terminology, let’s talk about the game itself: In the Beginner’s Guide, a possibly-fictionalized version of Davey narrates for you as he presents you with small “games” that his possibly-fictional friend Coda had created. Early on Davey informs us that Coda really only makes these games for himself – he has little interest in creating something fit to be released to the public. The game maps that we’re shown at the beginning appear to fit this narrative: they’re full of bugs sloppily placed assets, and some of them aren’t even playable without Davey “fixing” them for you in the background. Davey invites us to view each of the games and attempt to try to understand Coda through them. If that all sounds very high-concept and artsy then you’re right – it is. But it does have a purpose: as we continue on the games appear to take on a darker and darker tone, and Davey reveals to us that there may be more going on than just Coda being introverted.

Unfortunately, I can’t really say more about the plot without spoiling the entire thing for you, and I REALLY want to encourage you all to play it for yourself, or at the very least watch one of the countless Let’s Plays that youtubers have done. It is one of the most raw and emotional experiences I’ve had with a video game, and it’s the ONLY game that’s ever compelled me to spend hours after the fact reading up on art theory and discussing with others the various ways the story might be interpreted. Even if you’re not the artsy type and even if you prefer your games not be so dense, you still owe it to yourself to experience The Beginner’s Guide at least once. Seriously – it’s only an hour and a half long, what do you have to lose?

Musings of an old gamer

Gamers… where did I get lost? The other day I bought myself a magazine, a gaming magazine. Being slightly more mature now I have not perused the pages of this particular magazine for some time. Nor have I spent any meaningful time behind any type of console either.

In the last few years I have missed out, I have gotten so lost in the fray of new development that I feel like a newbie, rather than alumni. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining at all. I am marveling at the amazing advancements and graphic and the content!

My last complete emersion in this world was with Metal Gear Solid on PS2… yes, I know it’s been awhile since then! I thought it was DA BOMB!! However, when I saw the clarity and vastness of the new games I was blown away! But what got to me the most was the complexity and intelligence of the intricate strategies and techniques that you needed to be in any way a good player, let alone a master.

I can remember telling myself “just shoot whatever is in front of you John” but now it’s more than just a game… it’s a new universe of complicated intertwined strategies and threats that you must manage on in your head!! No wonder my 10 year-old son can whoop my backside without breaking a sweat!

Gaming theory or strategy has come a loooong long way in a very short time. A good thing I think. As the world gets more connected and races along the technology highway, it’s easy to become brain lazy, more and more things are being done automatically for us by technology. What struck me the most is that being a gadget fanatic, I have just about every little thing that the mind can conjure and money can buy, and its cool yeah? But I realised that I have become brain-lazy because when I played a game with my boy, I had to push my brain to work harder… which made me go out an buy the latest Metal Gear game (PS4) and it was with a sad heart that I had to admit defeat to a 10-year-old considering that he had also not ever played it before.

So, what is the moral of the story, you might ask? Well firstly, I am amazed at the level of lateral cognitive thinking that is required to play these games successfully. If only my little monster could be that cognitive in school work?? Secondly, I am keen to see the VR developments in a format that is more accessible to my humble wallet. Because I think the full emersion is going blow minds more than people are expecting.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly. Is there a gaming company out there that is brave enough to develop a game that will not only develop the fighting, warring modality, but will push that superior cognitive strategic thinking in new directions for the players? Maybe towards societal interaction or better cohesion amongst more than just the gaming fraternity? Not to sound like an old fart but the world needs these brilliant minds working on the complicated problems of the world.

So… any takers?

This was more of a writing muse than anything else. I’ll start blogging more about gaming in the coming months (I hope). Been playing too much Overwatch lately. Maybe I’ll write about that.