Considering creativity through games
What makes a game playable? Who owns a creative work? Who decides the meaning of said work? Where is the line drawn being a caring friend, and invading someone’s personal space?
These are just a few of the questions that “The Beginner’s Guide,” a video game created by Davey Wreden, under the studio Everything Unlimited Ltd., raises. As a writer, and someone who enjoys the creative process in general, “The Beginner’s Guide” shows me what it means to create something but also the legalities involved in creation itself.
“The Beginner’s Guide” is an interactive walking simulator, where the game itself is more like a story than a traditional game. The player is led through a series of different minigames, 17 in total, occasionally solving puzzles. The games are designed by Coda, a fellow game developer that Wreden (who also acts as the narrator) met at a game jam in 2009.
Wreden uses the framework of Coda’s various incompleted games to narrate their relationship, from 2008 to 2011, when Coda stopped making games altogether. He uses the series of games that Coda had made, and shared only with Wreden, to give the player an idea of who Coda is.
Wreden leaves little room for the audience to make their own interpretation of what the games mean. Instead, he chooses to explain his interpretation and make the player feel as though that must be the correct understanding.
The exploration of complex topics throughout its narratives is one of the major selling points of “The Beginner’s Guide.” For example, during one of the games, you play as a house cleaner interacting with a non-player character (NPC), which is a character that is portrayed by the game’s artificial intelligence but who only gives preselected responses programmed in by the developer.
At one point, the NPC suggests how one can consider cleaning one’s house is similar to self-care and caring for one’s soul. “You take care of it, and it takes care of you,” the NPC explains.
At the root of it all, “The Beginner’s Guide” is a story of a man trying to come to terms with understanding someone, but doing so in all the wrong ways. Wreden, against Coda’s wishes, sent Coda’s games to a few of his trusted friends. They all gave raving reviews of Coda’s games, but this action represented a huge breach of creative trust.
It raises the question: how much can someone truly know another person solely through their work?
Take these articles you are currently reading in The Falcon as an example.
You are currently forming your own opinions about the topics being written about, as well as about the writers themselves. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, deciding that you know a person and attempting to understand them only through their work is not a healthy way to get to know someone.
Instead of respecting what Coda had made, and getting to know him as a person, Wreden decided to assign his own meaning to the games in an effort to create an understanding of who Coda was.
In the game, Wreden reflects his own issues on Coda, such as saying that Coda was depressed when it was Wreden who was struggling.
Coda became someone who Wreden needed to help, someone who Wreden could place what were his own issues on instead of dealing with them himself. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the game, though, is the still-unanswered question of its authenticity.
Wreden has not commented on whether the events set forth in “The Beginner’s Guide” are based in reality or are simply fiction, and no one knows who Coda is, or if they even exist.
That is what makes “The Beginner’s Guide” an excellent game. It is the poignant questions this game raises, it is the beautifully developed narrative and the reaction this game can raise in its players.
After finishing it, I felt as though I had invaded someone’s personal diary, ravaging through their deepest, darkest thoughts.
This game desires to be played as much as it desires to put forth questions that simply do not have easy answers, but it also desires the player to feel a visceral, unexplainable wrongness in attempting to answer these questions and playing this game.
It is the unanswered origin of this game that makes it perfect, that gives the player an uneasy desire to finish the game, consider everything that has been put before them and demand that they come up with their own interpretation.
Or, if you align yourself with Coda’s views, then you will put the game away having invaded both Coda’s and Wreden’s mind and refuse to make your own interpretation.
You will have to leave those decisions to the creator themselves.