The road to banality is painted with good intentions
~ Philosophy Forums
Everybody has a secret world inside of them
~ Probably-Scientologist Neil Gaiman
An argument against so much of what feels smugly disingenuous about this Walking Sim:
If you had to guess, why would you say anyone would even want to guess what kind of person makes such over-hyped treadmills
The developer probably thanks you very much for playing The Beginner’s Guide – that is, rating it so highly. We’ve written about The Stanley Parable, and while that game largely seems a pretty absurd story of Cultural praise and wilful over-analysis, today we’re going to tell you about a series of events that happened between us and a semi-imaginary developer called Dave Coda.
We’re going to look at The Game Dave Made. Now these games mean a lot – but only to Dave (and even then, who knows.) We heard of Coda early last week when really struggling with personal stuff to do with modern Games Industry based pseudo-criticism, and his work pointed in a powerful direction- a reference point for the kinds of largely only-semi-creative, semi-interesting works that many do not want to make – and yet will probably end up doing so (because they seem to sell like hotcakes and they need the money.)
So just to start you off, this is the second game he’s ever made – it’s basically one big level for Counterstrike you can slowly crawl around, and mostly it’s just Coda learning the basics of building an environment. But what seems dislikeable is that, even though he starts from the simple aesthetic of a desert town, he’s scattered these colourful abstract blobs and floating crates around the level – and of course it does absolutely nothing to destroy the illusion that this isn’t a desert town, and so this level becomes a kind of cruel calling card from its creator, a reminder that this video game was constructed by an equally unreal / unreliable narrator.
And it kind of makes you wonder: “What was going through his invisible head as he was building this – that is, why should players have to listen to him talk about it – and how does he constantly imagine what he says is automatically interesting, accurate or even honest?”
This is what seems troubling about games like Coda’s. Not that they’re particularly fascinating as games, but that Dave likes to imagine they’re all going to give us access to their holy Creator™. Some want to see past the pretence to the real game, however – they don’t want to know who this human Space Monkey being thinks they ‘really’ are, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.
So it’s like, Coda starts making these games, and he releases them. He wilfully puts them onto / as the Internets, he just makes them and then immediately abandons us in them and they sit on our computer forever, soon forgotten. And it’s possible he really misunderstands this image of himself as a genius / recluse, at one point ‘jokingly’ renaming his computer’s recycling bin to “Important Games folder.” One wonders what would have happened if only they’d stayed there.
So you know, this is just how he works – he tends to crank them out without really pausing to try to little but deliberately misunderstand what conceptually bland game he’s just made – unless one day we suddenly decide to stop giving them quite so much attention. In The Beginner’s Guide the truly critical backlash has begun, and hopefully this is Dave’s last Walking Sim and he can another, actual / good game.
And that’s why this seems an opportunity to gather all of his in-game spoken text together – because players who find his games powerful and fascinating seem slightly terrifying, and it might be good for this critique to reach them / Dave – to maybe encourage them to start creating more genuinely, rather than just jerking around in oh-so-clever wink-wink land, semi-unconsciously fishing for (what does appear to be) slightly too easily earned Cultural Complements.
And if the people who play through this critique also happen to find this research playstyle interesting, then it might send that much stronger of a message of truer encouragement to Coda. So thanks for joining us on this, if you have a particular interpretation not mentioned here or if you just need to get in touch for a chat about it, you can leave a comment below.
In this garme you can only move backwards (in terms of modern game development). Yes, backwards is the only way you can move. But thankfully it’s also a short failed experiment in and relative minimalism combining slow motion and heavy contrived expositionary narrative. The game afoot here is that T.B.G literally tells you the meaning of itself. Now isn’t that handy. What isn’t a shame is that its Narrator/Developer-God can’t be trusted, even / especially when it’s stated he can’t be trusted.
It’s possibly less advanced than his previous game, but it wants to seem to be more focused, more complete. Dave Coda tries to give it a unique voice, as well as simply basing it on the pre-existing “Apparently 4th wall breaking meta-game that subverts player expectations” trope. It’s a little short, and doesn’t even really say what it doesn’t even know what it wants to say – and then it ends. And quite understandably, some players need anything more than that. Which is precisely why it works in the world of Videogame Industry reviews, because it gets out quick. “Okay, Important Deep New Art / Game coming along,” they say – then “Next!”
On video game development: too often such a minor storm of tasteless, low boiling Industry canned soup. Every video game runs on a social engine of Cultural verification, which determines what games can and cannot do, what they do and do not mean. In other words the engine is a set of tools for game development. To make all of these games, Coda uses an engine called The Infinitely Applauding Friends of Davey Wreden. Like all engines, Davey’s Friends feature certain things that he do well and things they do poorly. One of the core things that they do very well is loving boxy, linear corridors and deliberately slow walk speeds.
That is why so many of his (Coda’s) games are set in these large flat empty rooms – it’s just because he’s working with what he can only do, and what the Friend Engine loves. Yet the tools available to ‘the creator’ (whatever they like to imagine they are) not only shape what kinds of creative work they’re going to end up making, but define it from the very outset. Not only that, they are not merely tools, but modes of (/Cultural mis)perception.
You might consider paying attention to the architecture in the games of “Dave ‘the’ Coda” (coder – get it) to notice now they seem to stem from a Cultural Verification Engine that’s very good at hyping wildly and gushingly-positively about games with linear, boxy corridors and lead heavy exposition. In this handshake prison unfunny enough, in Dave Coda’s original design, the game stays shut for just over an hour before letting you go. If nobody minds though, we’re gonna skip all that.
This is something argued about a lot – whether a game ought to be playable, whether it means anything if nobody can get through it without being slapped around the head with The Artist’s Great (Obscure) Meaning. There seems a need to avoid either defending or attacking that – all this heavy Cultural work that goes into defining and defending Walking Sims. Why not make it playable and accessible in any other way, other than having a bunch of vacuous Ludonauts talk all-to-culturally-qualified / verified jive about its apparently infinitely positive, endlessly meaningful qualities?
They all just get into heated arguments over it, and after such long winded and largely fruitless conversations they all go home and a day or two later send each other zip files entitled “Playable Games,” that are full of hundreds of individual Art Game reviews, each of which was just an empty box that you walk around in and nothing else. These poor saps play every single one of these garmez just to be seen by others to ironically find out if there’s a gag hidden somewhere – precisely because everyone knows there isn’t. And that itself seems the very (shared, private) gag. No wonder Real Players despise pseudo critics.
The Beginner’s Guide is exactly the same non-puzzle again as The Stanley Parable. With the exact same solution as the last time – you don’t play it, rather it’s more that the game plays you – for a gullible putz. There’s still no clear indication of what makes this puzzle so special that Dave Coda is going to return to it over and over. Dave will no doubt share with you his (deliberately obscurantist) interpretation very shortly – in the form of another Walking Simulator.
In T.B.G, Dave Coda begins using a kind of dialogue system that he fashioned out of the engine’s chat capabilities. Use the buttons on your gamepad to simulate response. Here Coda begins using a kind of dialogue system that he fashioned out of the engine’s limited chat capabilities. Use buttons on your keyboard to pretend to respond – in the similar way that Dave pretends to make games people can play.
And so you make one last descent, down to the final floor of the level. It’s a lamppost. For some reason Dave Coda fixates on this lamppost – it’s probably going to appear at the end of every single one of his games from here on out. The reason is, up to this point he’s been making really non strange and falsely abstract games with no clear purpose whatsoever, and players can only float around in that heady headspace for so long – because now he wants something to hold onto. Your cash, perhaps. He wants a Cultural reference (reverence) point, he wants The Work (whatever it is) to be leading to something. (Another AAA Indie award.) He wants a destination! Which is what this lamppost is, it’s a destination – without any journey.
We’re gonna see it in the work as well, his games are going to become a lot more cohesive, a lot more fully developed, with more of a clear idea behind them. At least that’s what he’ll directly tell us via voice over. And as we go, The Idea will get clearer and clearer and clearer. And that’s it! Okay the precise meaning of this game won’t be clear just yet, please be patient with Coda for a few more games and he promises you’ll see what makes it interesting. (Not too much sign of interest yet, though..)
Sure, okay this one is tough, it’s going to kind of just spin its own wheels for a few minutes, hang with it. See like this is it, the whole (fragmentary) event and there’s nothing that’s particularly interesting about it, you just walk to the end of a hallway. Except for some pretend reason, Coda gets really fixated on this prison that has all this modern furniture. And like Dave few don’t know why either but he decides he needs to revisit this prison, he’s going to start over, use the same assets, turn it into something else.
Okay, cool, Dave sometimes tries version N of the exact same game. And yeah, there’s a bit more to this one, but still it’s not really communicating anything, it’s really just weird for weirdness sake. Except it’s not even really weird, it just likes being seen that way. So okay, he throws it out and starts over, this time he comes at the prison idea from a seemingly different direction.
And of course, now the table is gone and you can’t begin the chain of events to escape. There’s a version where there are no bars but you can’t actually get to the meaning of the game. And then a version where the inside of the prison is the outside and the outside is the inside. Let’s just blink real quick through a few more of these long winded events; he’s really hung up on this prison idea – there’s probably a dozen of them yet to come.
It feels awful to watch stuff like this, to see a person deliberately unravelling through / as their work, and getting paid for it – and for what! At what point do players just go “Eh, maybe there are far more honest game ideas other this Walking Sim – which have very little – that I could more actually be Playing right now”?
But Coda doesn’t quite have an honest enough voice to tell you to stop if you find such games thin scams, that particular mechanism of defence against himself and other such developers. Without it however one just forever tumbles down the endless positive gushing uncritical review spiral. And so it keeps going and going and going.. he knows he’s hit on something. And he likes it, and that’s it, he’s done, he’ll never stops making cultural prison games.
It seems this is what Coda wants – to be able to talk to someone, to share what’s on his mind and to get some good advice from someone who knows. But the irony is that even in this scenario he’s still talking to himself; all of these games so far are just Coda talking to himself. One can see why he considers this fitting about his prison games. After all, the obsession and sexual frustration of The Games Industry review press is about telling other people you can trust that Things are going to be OK, and ooh isn’t this game nice and clever like we are?
This, combined with the Stanley game from earlier suggests that Dave Coda believes his games are connected somehow. It could even be that these games are literally connected. What most certainly is however is some myth of some ‘bigger picture’ that all of his games are meant to play a role in, some larger meaning that we won’t be able to grasp until we’ve seen all of them, once we have we can step back (ie. backwards) and start to understand what exactly that bigger picture is. Allegedly.
So what would it look like if Coda wanted to make a game about talking to someone other than himself? This greasy little desert environment of Culturally sanctioned, officially recognized positive game reviews represents Coda’s little non-puzzle, with two cardboard doors on either side – and a vast, dark transitional space between. Just so you’re aware, nothing will happen up here until you’ve been inside their convenient little house of free pre-review copies and boot camps and endless mutual back-slapping.
You’ll notice the quality of the art is a step up from Dave Coda’s previous games, including this new and improved chat system which he started using from this point on. From here on out he begins putting much more effort into the visual polish of his work, and this particular game probably took two months to create as a result.
Once people stop playing / being part of such prison games, their housecleaning will feels like a deep cleansing. It’s the moment after a particularly difficult or traumatic experience where you just need to let such games expel from inside of you, and eventually cohere into something meaningful you can look at in the bottom of the polished toilet called Culture.
We all know that Coda really likes this game and the attendant reviews. Of all of his work, actually this was the only one that he called people up to ask them to come over and look at it. This was probably during a period of a few months where he was grossly happy, all the time, just walked around with a constant smile on his face. Like William Chyr has.
They just made polite excuses and said they were unfortunately unavailable. (They were glad someone made this – glad he’s found some peace. But of course, it can’t last. The music stops, the voice over is gone, it’s time to leave for far more productive shores! Players andor Developers can’t stay in such unhealthy, endlessly self-absorbed Cultural spaces for too long without starting to make and sell Walking Sims.)
You just can’t, you have to keep moving, it’s how you more truly live. Which might be the whole real point of not playing such semi/non games – that sooner or later you have to pack up and move on. This might be the only existing point.
Okay that’s about it for an introduction, let’s take a look what might be D. Coda’s first proper game. This one gets a bit goofy. About halfway through, the perspective shifts and you play as the Great Authorial Teacher of What It All means. And suddenly you discover that your teacher is biased and afraid of reviews that don’t immediately gush uncritically about how deep and emotional it all is. And the way he heads off potential criticism of his game is by seeming to provide constant commentary & criticism about What (apparently) It All Means.
You can move around the classroom while being told What It All Means. It’s one of the most un-relateable experiences that you can have, however – to assume that the player is perfect and totally fulfilled in every way, and completely misses none of the little flaws that makes you little game painfully, barely human. Not many think about this game a lot these days. It quickly becomes self-destructive.
The time you first played this, shortly after he made it, here’s what you’re probably thinking: “I’m thinking that Coda’s accidentally got his head stuck up his backside and that it’s having a very negative effect on game reviewers around him, and that all he has to do is just start showing his real work to people! No more of this Walking Simulation Adulation! Get some actual feedback on actual games, instead of these embarrassingly myopic Public Psychotherapy autobiographies!” Heck, it might get indie game devs out of the isolation of having to make them – and of naive players who accidentally play them, over-expecting anything less than the very little that’s actually on offer.
It seems it would hardly ever occur to Coda to start actively soliciting actual feedback instead of Games Industry pseudo philosophizing, so what if we do it for him? If he could see the difference it would make to have more actual conversations with other human beings instead of easily impressed hi-fiving fanboys, would that bring them out of of their lonesome mental spiral? Would it give them confidence to actually critique games as they need, would it bring meaning back into such tiresome, endlessly Self regarding busywork?
So initially, Coda started showing his work to people. But he only brought them to people he knew and trusted. And of course the darkly laughable part is that – what a surprise – they really loved his games! You know the point of it all is just to give him some external reference point for making even more Walking Sims, but they genuinely love his work! In their wildly glowing reviews there’s nothing for him to think about improving. As though the first thing anyone thinks of is the best thing to do.
Because it’s the thing that Developers of such conceptually meagre game sims always feel like they need – to be told that their work is good. When someone really connects with a thing, a Cultural consumer software object, when they see themselves purely in such a bland work, there’s nothing that feels better for The Games Industry. They can hyper cynically milk player emotions till the gamer cows (Whales, more precisely) come home.
Perhaps the main problem is that Coda’s never been explicit in his work about exactly what he’s thinking. But then even weirder, perhaps his work has never quite begun to be a real outlet. It’s like he’s having real trouble with ideas – like he literally just can’t think of actual ideas. that’s what too many Walking Sims come across as; the mere idea of a vague notion, dressed up in the superficial gloss of seeming self-critical analysis.
You know how sometimes games developers will just deflect actually saying anything with or in their games to keep themselves disconnected all the time? The unceasing narrative voice over of The Beginners Guide does this precisely by never stopping speaking – like the characters in Soma. For without all the jaw flapping, there’s little except what was only there all along – a random bunch of half finished levels. Sad, really. (And saying “But that’s the point, duh” seems precisely wrong.)
Despite this, it seems Walking Simulators games are going to get even more desperate from here on out. After this Beginner’s game, it’s going to be ooh, at least two days before some other clever clogs finishes something widely seen as equally brilliant. If such developers knew that games depended on finding something driven by other than artificial (Cultural) validation, what would that even be? It’s strange, but the thought of not being driven by external, officially sanctioned (and largely pseudo-critical) Games Industry Verification is unthinkable in the current Treadmill Production Line environment.
More. More love, more praise – more people telling Game Simulators that their amazing, so all encompassing, always more more more. A disease of dim praise. Even now the disease is telling us to never stop – don’t show people what a clear thinking person you actually are. They’ll hate you for not clapping loudly as they do. If someone had told us ahead of time that Dave Coda just really semi-enjoyed making prison games, maybe we wouldn’t have thought he was so desperate for false attention?
Despite what Dave says, but this game is actually connected to the Liquid Internets, and not all of the cosy commentary you’re going to see about it is (thankfully) going to be constructed by Coda. In retrospect he seems too pushy, trying to get his attention for such over falsely enthusiastic game-product. Yes, he also seems very gracious about it and very patient with players. But this too will cool off eventually. Feel free to skip over any of those pseudo, Games Industry reviews if they’re not doing anything for you, nothing extra (interesting) will happen if you read all of them.
Either way, they convey a deep sense of loneliness and desperation. Imagine these reviewers in their tiny cube shaped offices, filled with contradictory thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and have no way to express them except as scattered and unheard voices praising a game that wasn’t meant to be played – and in too many ways can’t be.
What’s ironic, is that in playing this game and seeing how alone players with working brains in an environment of plastic praise and brainless adulation, that we get to know The Games Industry better, and actually kind of connect with others who more actually think about this stuff. Such an idea itself seems healthy.
The idea that anyone could just play someone’s (allegedly heaven sent) semi / non game and see the voices in the developer’s head and get to know them better; who among modern players really gives to shakes of a controller about that? There needs to be far less of this uselessly metaphoric by-proxy game-theory based socializing. Pardon us, but some don’t want to ‘get to know you’ through your (worst) game work.
This is why many players have always disliked such projects so much, is because it feels like they come across has somehow automatically being able to make and have that connection, when in fact they do almost nothing of the kind. Rather, one feels awkwardly alienated, as though a clever fool were inviting players into their desperately private, creepy little world of personal illusion and self aggrandisement where little but their inherent genius and their sapless little games exists, and everyone who plays them is apparently Socrates when it comes to venerating their (seemingly obvious) philosophical depth and self-explanatory brilliance.
Sure, many players would like feel less lonely too. But here’s what The Beginner’s guide means – no more or less. Each of these games merely represents a random idea that was on Dave Coda’s bored mind at the time that he was making it. And each is a way of closing the door on a previous life chapter of life before uncritically moving onto the next one. (Perhaps he’d be more happy making Real Games™ instead of these continually failing experiments in Designer Miserablism.)
If the last game featured Coda talking explicitly about his creative frustrations, this one turns it up to eleven. In each of these not-really games (“#NORGS”), after exploring a theme that he might find difficult, Coda places this pseudo puzzle that he knows has an all-too reliable solution, he understands exactly how it works – and so it gives him a simple mechanism for moving on.
But just because there’s this dark area between the doors, a space between spaces, before you move on you apparently get to pause just for a moment a few seconds to reflect on and let go of the events that lead you here (to playing this dire Walking Sim). To step back and connect the pieces together, to grasp at that ever-elusive Bigger Picture. And then you face the next thing.
Now, put yourself in Dave’s shoes playing this. Here’s someone whose work is clearly exhibiting signs of struggle, frustration, anxiety, depression. And yet still he keeps making poor games. He keeps throwing himself into the grinder even when he clearly players don’t have the energy for them any more. They ask “Why? What is it for (if not only for Coda)?” From our perspective and what we know of him from previous titles, The Beginner’s Guide is a result of how isolated modern developers seem from everyone else.
Like they ‘live’ in their own little hermetically sealed bubble of AAA Indie game development, sitting at their luxury computers all day, not really showing these games to anyone, not releasing them onto the internet as Beta versions for real critique – and so they didn’t have anyone outside of themselves and their little cliques to connect with.
They have little philosophical outlet to ground themselves on. You can’t talk yourself out of what an apparent genius you are at video games, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t be the one writing both the questions and the answers, then there’s no movement! Then there’s no free circulation of critical ideas. And so one result is The Beginner’s Guide.
If all of your anxieties about the true degree of your effortless brilliance are being channelled into your work, then as the work fails you have no backup and it’s all just going to crash. Seeing this tepid like game at the time that he made it, it looks really unhealthy.
And as players, we watch Coda do this to himself and us, and we dislike it. We dislike seeing ourselves so trapped in this boring daydream. Video games are not worth suffering for, just to collectively convince ourselves how clever and considered we think we are. Like many players with actual lives, games are someone they don’t really care about, but at least used to get some joy out of seeing others create them. So it feels bad to see ourselves suddenly become angry and frustrated like this.
After finishing this one – not that it’s even finished – let’s all hope Dave Coda takes a year off and comes up with a game. No more “You walk down a corridor, you solve a non puzzle, you get to the end. Simple enough.” Never mind simple – it’s not nearly complex enough. We’re supposed to automatically think the game’s dull exterior conceals a rich interior, when in fact a dull interior hides a fantastic outer world where laughably shill-like reviews get to exist without certain Games Industry Reviewers getting slapped around the face with a live electric eel for such pathetically uncritical software product glorifications.
Either way the point seems the same – that most of the time you don’t get to know what you’re missing, or even that you’re missing anything. That’s not your role. Your implied role here is to understand What We’re Telling You It All Means. Sure, it’s tempting to play The Beginner’s Guide, but there’s actually nothing over here to play. Sorry. You’ve just been slowed to an absolute crawl for no reason. That’s it. So why, if Coda’s not really developing these games to the level they can actually be played by anyone, why bother pretending to ‘open the door to game development’ at all?
Here’s what modern Game Development more certainly isn’t; a room that’s warm and nice, and filled with little ideas for games. Coda repeatedly informs us he doesn’t mind if people think of him as cold or distant – he’s probably a vibrant and compassionate person much like anyone else – but even so, so what? What on virtual earth has any of that got to do with having to paying £7 for some highly affected, overwrought, almost desperately narcissistic public performance of one’s first world Public Performance Anxiety neurosis?
Ok yes, maybe we need even more games like this. But don’t tell us there’s nothing psychologically suspicious / philosophically dubious about games featuring (allegedly) The Almighty Game Creator, Soul Laid Bare. Apparently honest / spontaneous public outpourings of mass simulated (potatoey) emotion are by artificial nature untrustworthy, precisely because they happen By Design.
The game ends with this entire non eerie premonition of what’s going to happen next in Dave Coda’s life. Nothing – just the same amount of events that the game presented. The solution to social anxiety, to fears of having to perform and having to chase success, the answer for Coda is to withdraw from withdrawing from critical discourse. To hide oneself away from humane, philosophically rigorous inspection.
Which is what leads to scenarios like The Beginner’s Guide that slow you down, where it actually becomes harder and harder to access anyone’s inner (/game development) landscape because it keeps retreating, keeps backing away from possible connections to anyone other than itself. It’s not entirely healthy, when players first played this game and suddenly start imagining its saying something deep about.. well, apparently Everything. It just might not be.
Indeed it just looks to me like Dave Coda’s trying to justify the idea of disconnecting yourself from the world of modern game development and the healthy, community based conversations which can happen there. And that isn’t what anyone wants for him or for games. It’s like a lot of games are inviting us to connect, to connect with people, to bring us closer. But what can you do when everyone around you is singing the praises of these kinds of Game-Developers-As-Woody-Allen Neurosis Sims?
The point where players have trouble saying anything meaningful about Coda’s work is in its very ideas – because more than anything else The Beginner’s Guide just feels as distant as an ivory Game Dev tower, it feels like it’s actively trying to distance itself from other worlds.As a result it’s just very cold – a non game with only an undead author-(auteur)-Dev-g0d, yapping uselessly in the background.
The experience is generally miserable – but not in a good, honest way either. The game goes beyond not being meant to be played, it actually seems to despise the player for trying to play it at all. In The Beginner’s Guide however, all of the walls of the maze are invisible. And then every time you touch one of the walls there’s this awful noise caused by the developer moaning andor expositioning heavily, so the experience is miserable. To be fair it’s not like this is the first game that’s needed a little extreme modification to be playable. Like The Stanley Parable or Everyone’s Gone Up My Rupture, it desperately needs zombie dinosaurs running about that shoot unicorn lasers from their eyes. Anything to undercut the fake seriousness.
It’s frustrating, because it’s the apex of everything else Coda has made – it doesn’t truly encourage thought or engagement, it doesn’t ask anything of us – except demand all of our attention. If only someone close could have reached Dave during this time then gently cuffed his head awake, maybe we could have asked him to stop, but we couldn’t – we still don’t really understand why this game is here (in fact most of it seems yet to be made). This critique exists so we all can move on. So that people who thought it was just shite no longer have to think “Was I failure for not understanding this incredibly deep virtual experience?”
So yesterday, you’re playing this for the very first time, and as you’re playing you’re thinking: “Who cares two bits to know this person. We’ve no real idea / nothing but ideas about who this person is – and feel perfectly fine with that. It isn’t some guy we know, it isn’t our friend.” You’d come to so few conclusions from looking at his work up until this point, and then suddenly none of them mattered either.
Players hadn’t been trying to either, that was the thing. For years they weren’t trying to get to know The Coda, to understand who he ‘actually’ was and ‘what he stood for’. (Just try making players able to crawl more than 0.025MPH for a start.) Players have probably asked others so many times to please, just tell them why so many think his games mean anything much at all.
Oh yeah, the three dots. Want to know what the three dots mean? Here’s what the three dots mean: The three dots you see on various levels of The Beginner’s Guide by Dave Coda symbolically stand for “The apparent impossibility of understanding the automatically deep meanings of any video game that features three random dots on a wall.” But the thing is, (largely non) games like The Beginner’s Guide are in fact eminently understandable, are in fact instantly explainable.
The meaning is that there’s no deep meaning – more just shallow emotion and scraggy, undernourished concepts thinly masquerading / parading around like their the answer to deep questions nobody’s even seen fit to ask. Just because you’ve made a Culturally Verified game, obviously doesn’t mean you get a free ride when it comes to exacting analysis of your consumer entertainment software product. It should stand level with other games. And yet we’re told this game somehow falls outside common criticism because it’s So Damn Groundbreaking. Hardly. Treating people who make our Entertrainment like they’re important (and therefore have Something Deep And Important To Say) seems a dubious, wobbly position.
Dave’s Game simply looks like Dave’s Game was abandoned mid development. For instance you have this gun which you’d think would indicate that there are supposed to be monsters or enemies somewhere, but then clearly there are no enemies anywhere. You can’t even reload the gun when you run out of bullets. These are zombie mechanics, and must not be over praised.
And ultimately – that is, from the outset – nobody really knows why either; maybe Coda thought that actually it was complete the way that it is, and he somehow imagines we should talk endlessly about his games for what they are, rather than for what they’re not. (Why not simply talk about what they aren’t, nor ever could be?) It’s cool how Dave seems to think you can see the bottom of the universe from out of his arts. (Said in voice of HAL: “Well maybe it’s not that worthwhile peering in, Dave.”)
What you experience at the end, stepping into the beam and then dying, also seems very little to do with whatever Coda thinks he initially intended while developing this level. But when he first compiles and plays it, something goes wrong, there’s a bug somewhere, and this is what happens instead. The beam causes reviewers of the game to immediately start floating off into the same private reverie of holy communion with the infinitely deep and meaningful Developer-God (Complex).
And this is an important moment – at least for Dave. Because yes, this is technically a glitch in the very ideas, but Coda wrong-headadly identifies something remotely human (and creepily intimate) about it, like how small it makes you feel in the face of this larger system of gushing plastic game reviews, or that this floating could be the game development afterlife – a peaceful place juxtaposed against all the ridiculously theatrical histrionic hysteria you’ve just been forced to traverse.
What’s clear is that, after making this something lodges itself in the brain – the blandly terrifying notion Dave Coda wants to do even more of these really non-weird and pseudo-experimental designs. So let’s hope he stops work on those and moves onto a stream of tiny little games that go in all sorts of actually interesting directions.
The Beginner’s Guide does not ‘set up loaded symbols in a specific arrangement for players to experience and come to their own conclusions, prompting us, through play, with open-ended questions’ as Killscreen imagines it does, because such descriptions could technically define any game in existence. This just sounds like making thin excuses for woeful under-development, which fall out of reviewer’s mouths in the vain hope something sticks. A hollow need for meaning in a manipulative, minor game that cynically plays with the fact it has very little. You can stick in all the artful, guileful speech bubbles you want telling players “This game means nothing” – still doesn’t automatically prove it doesn’t mean too much
So let’s go ahead and take a look at the cool game we could make ourselves after leaving these kinds of Walking Sims far behind. Because if you’d really like to ‘solve’ (and hold in laughably high regard) the largely non existent, two dimensional labyrinth of The Beginner’s guide, you’re welcome to do precisely that. Just leave players with more fully functioning critical facilities out of it – those not embedded in the cultural con game of investing shallow game products with superficial Deep Meaning.
Being ambiguous doesn’t equate to depth
With his review of The Stanley Parable, Matthewmatosis also critiques The Beginner’s Guide:
One litmus test for devs who spin out Walking Sims and their overwrought mystifications: make your pet project entirely open (source) to the gaming community; allow yourself to see how they improve on such Insular Emotional Treadmills.
Want the same flytrap-for-hipsters experience for less cost? Boot up a copy of Nipper’s Crazy Maps for Counterstrike – and stream yourself acting emotionally over them while you slowly walk around – with a cool, coy, all too knowing ironic postmodern B.S wink