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?