The Beginner’s Guide is a story-game about how people treat stories, and by talking about the game’s story right here, I’m doing what the story says that people do with stories, thus committing the same “mistake” to this story as the story causes the person playing through the story to do to its story. Kind of. I think. It’ll make sense by the end of this post. Also, spoilers for The Beginner’s Guide.
The Death of the Author is a concept long discussed in modern works of fiction. The idea that after a work is published, the input of its author no longer matters. What the author thinks, what the author meant, their own interpretation, none of it matters. Only your interpretation matters, the interpretation of the reader. This idea of abandoning the author’s opinion is an idea that is at the center of The Beginner Guide’s narrative. So now that you understand that, onto the game itself.
The Story of Coda
The Beginner’s Guide is a game about a guy named Davey Wreden, who tells us about his game developer friend “Coda”. Davey met Coda at a game convention, and was introduced to Coda’s game creations, before Coda suddenly stopped making video games. This game is then a play through of smaller games made by Coda, and by playing these games, the premise implies we will gain an understanding of who Coda was. All of this is done while Davey Wreden narrates the experience, telling us how he himself first played the games, and what he thinks they tell us about Coda as a person. As you play The Beginner’s Guide, the collection of games accompanied by the narration make it evident that Coda was a lonely, depressed individual. And how his very different games all had some sort of grand meaning that connects them, especially with the eerie lamp post that appears at the end of every game. The game is very beautiful, each of the little games in this larger story all feel philosophical or sentimental or bleak or scary or calming. It feels like we are personally experiencing the thoughts of an individual. The Beginner’s Guide also seems real, I mean Davey Wreden is a real person, he genuinely doesn’t seem to be playing any sort of persona. Until the ending.
See, us humans tend to put meaning into places where there necessarily may not be any. It’s nice. It feels good, like we can relate to that thing. Sometimes we do it to the point of casting our own insecurities onto a game, or a book, or a movie. And that’s perfectly fine. That is our own experience. But what we discover at the end of The Beginner’s Guide, is that Davey Wreden, the now obviously character Davey Wreden (though some people still think the story is real), was assuming intention of the author where there was none. Davey describes an individual who is lonely, who feels unappreciated, who he feels lost and who is straight up depressed. Davey sees that about Coda all through playing Coda’s games. We find that when playing Coda’s games, really all Davey sees in Coda, is himself. Davey sees himself in Coda. He feels he is certain of Coda’s intentions for the games, to the level of tampering with Coda’s games, adding lamp posts to the end of each of them and showing Coda’s games to other people, trying to do for Coda what Davey wants for himself: acknowledgment.
Davey in his vulnerably depressed state, is shaping in his head the ideal caricature of Coda. He wants there to be a meaning, because hell, isn’t that what we all search for in our escapism? We just want to feel like we can relate to something, which is what Davey was trying to find in Coda.
Even more, Davey is so blinded by his faults that he believes he should be appreciated for what he’s doing for Coda. He thinks he is actualizing Coda’s true intentions for the games by “improving” them. But Coda doesn’t want that, Coda is not Davey.
And the crazy thing is, we as players do the same thing Davey (the character) did. We seem to know Coda was a depressed, lonely guy when playing through those games of his. We commit the same “mistake” that Davey does in this game. We project our own feelings onto Coda just like Davey did in the game. I know I projected my own personal feelings onto Coda, so that I could find a means to relate with another person. When I realized Davey had done the same thing, and that he was wrong, I realized what I had done and it was gut-wrenching. And in the end, Davey turns out to be, in a way, the villain of the story.
The twist doesn’t make you feel angry though, as I feel you may assume from my description of this game. Rather, it piles more onto what was already a very sentimental and emotional narrative. Be it Coda or be it Davey, the story presents us with a depressed, broken individual, one who longs for some type of validation. The story is one that feels personal and hits hard, it resonates with lots of people, because all of us have experienced that type of emotion in one form or anything. We can sympathize with Davey. I personally know I did. And looking through the steam reviews of this game, it seems a lot of other people felt the same way too.
So What Did the Author Mean to Say?
There are a lot of “theories” as you may call them, about why the real Davey Wreden made this game. Why did he make it? Is it a real story (I’m of the opinion it’s not)? Did real Davey actually meet a game developer? Is it about Davey himself? Is Coda a representation of Davey when he was younger, when he still had a passion for making games? Is this game a product of the mixed feelings Davey experienced after his first game got critical acclaim?
Source: Davey Wreden’s Blog
A lot of people claim to know that the real Davey made this because it was a true story. A lot of people claim to know Davey made this because he too himself is depressed. A lot of people claim to know what real life Davey’s intentions were when making this fictional narrative. And whoops, would you look at that, that’s what The Beginner’s Guide is literally about. About a character claiming to know what another character meant and felt when they made their games. It’s like real Davey wanted to say with this game that not only should we avoid assuming Coda’s intentions (like fake character Davey did in this game), but we should also not assume real Davey’s intentions for making this game. And not just with this game, I think Davey’s saying that we should avoid this fallacy with any artistic work. We shouldn’t try to know what the author meant by this or what the author meant by that. We shouldn’t actively try to confirm the hidden means of an abstract painting, or an open-ended book. We can only have our own interpretations, we can never know what the author truly meant. Because the author is dead.
What’s crazy about this game is that by writing this whole post, I’m doing EXACTLY what I just said Davey said you’re not supposed to do. I’m trying to claim I know what real Davey meant by making this game. That right there is me doing exactly what fake Davey did to Coda. So not only is committing this fallacy of assumption wrong, but talking about the fallacy in that manner is also wrong, and talking about talking about it is also, also wrong. Because I’m claiming to know that I fully understand the fallacy, which in itself is me committing the fallacy, because I am claiming to know. The meta layer never ends.
So, is Davey now also critiquing my choice to write this post? Even further, is Davey then critiquing my choice to asking that question I just asked? And is he critiquing my choice to ask that question? And that one? And that one?
I don’t know. I just know what I think he meant. And that should be enough. We shouldn’t have to know what an author intended with a piece of work. We can only have our own ideas of a work, and that can be ours to cherish. We can keep it to our heart, we can let it move us, and shape our personality; we can keep it forever as our own. That is the beauty of story. So, I guess the only thing I can truly claim to know about The Beginner’s Guide is what this game means to me.
Which is a lot.