I am breaking my own tradition and writing this blog post… while things are still fresh in my head instead of waiting until tomorrow morning… or today if you are reading this. Every now and then there is an immediate buzz about a game title, and this has lead me to be leery of this factor. Sometimes the games are absolutely amazing, and other times they are pure hype. So when a brand new “art as game” title pops on the radar I get a little suspicious. This is not normally the type of fare I go into, because I like things that explode and things to whack with big heavy swords. That said when the word of The Beginner’s Guide started to circulate I got a bit curious. When my friend finished playing it yesterday and wrote a lengthy blog post called pretentious I thought it might be worth checking out. Especially knowing that it is a word he especially dislikes. Granted when I sat down to watch a Let’s Play of the game, I had not read that blog post… or pretty much any other “review” of the game, other than the fact that there was simply a lot of buzz about it all of the sudden. So I went to YouTube and ultimately found a video by someone I have never seen before playing the game.
What I am left after watching the hour and a half long video… is some stuff I am not even sure if I can adequately put into words. Hell to be truthful I am not really sure some of the emotions I am feeling actually even have proper names. There are going to be spoilers involved with this post, so if you intend to play the game I highly suggest you stop reading. I came into this play through like a blank slate, not really knowing what to expect other than the fact that this game came from the creator of The Stanley Parable which we had talked about a few times on AggroChat but I have never actually played myself. After watching what is essentially an act of interactive fiction, I think you get out of it what you take into it. Much like “The Box” from Dune, and the cave on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back… it ultimately becomes a reflection of your own mental state. Seeing the events unfold in front of me, I guess makes me realize how potentially broken I am inside. I am sure someone could see the experience and immediately think “wtf is this crap”, but I guess I was in the right mindset for it to seep into my core.
The narrator of the game is none other than the author, one Davey Wreden. He tells a tale of a fellow game creator that he met at a Game Jam, and the unusual series of games that unfolded between the years of 2008 and 2011. I have no idea who this Coda is or even at this point if it is a person that exists. There are moments during the game play that you follow Davey down this course, descending into the deep interpreted meanings of these games. Each game has a supposed point, and tells us a little bit about the Author. As we reach the halfway point, there is a slow growing dread because I am scared that I know where this tale ends. Each game seems progressively more alienating and more isolating… like someone retreating into the dark cocoon of depression. My terror at times was that we would find out at the end of this tale, that Coda had killed himself… and all that we were left with were this series of games that Davey was trying desperately to unravel. That however is not at all what happens… but instead in 2011 after Davey attempted to show the games to other people… he simply broke off contact completely. The final game is a series of frustrating puzzles that are either unwinnable or at the very least antagonistically set against the player. After cheating your way through them with the help of the narrator you see a series of messages essentially telling Davey to never contact Coda again.
This game we are playing is supposedly a last ditch effort to get back on Codas good graces, to apologize publicly. The thing is… I don’t think there is a Coda. I think this game is the tale of how one Davey Wreden reacted and internalized his struggle with his own fame brought on through the quirky success of Stanley Parable. I think the game as a whole is essentially him working through is own issues, like he supposedly thought Coda was. The problem there is… am I essentially doing the same thing he supposedly was by projecting myself and my own thought processes into the whole experience? The truth is… we cannot help but do this. There is no clinical distance that can keep us from doing this. We imprint on the things we experience and we have to decode them through the only language we know… which is that of our own experiences. So if you have never felt any of this alienation or crippling self doubt… then I feel like you could probably just let a game like this wash over you and not effect you in any way. Unfortunately that is not the case for me.
Part of the reason why I am writing this while the experience is fresh, is that I hope to maybe be more honest about the experience. I am by nature a creative person, and everything I do at least contains a part of me in it. While I don’t blog in my own name, and have chosen to adopt a pen name of Belghast… every post I write contains certain nuggets of myself that are more honest than I really mean them to be. I am constantly beset with this desire to be liked and loved, and to find validation in the favor of others. I find myself craving attention, but the problem is when I actually get it… I don’t have a clue what to do with it. This blog and the constant forward momentum, comes from a place that I don’t really understand. Before blogging I was one of those people that would post all too long posts on forums. Before that I was a devout IRC junkie and even managed to meet my wife that way. I have this need to connect to people, even though I don’t really know how to.
I think in part this is why I find myself constantly trying to start new things, like segments on my blog, or lets plays… only to abandon them when I get bored with them a few weeks to months later. I am always dissatisfied with nearly everything I do, and nothing ever quite works the way I envision it working. I’d love to say I don’t care about statistics and readership… but there are days I think to myself… why am I doing any of this if no one is actually reading? Then the very next day I sit down and the keyboard and keep writing. I guess I do this because I have to, and I am not sure exactly how NOT to do it. My world is arranged in a series of circles within circles, and the closer you get in the more I let people see of me. However deep down at the center there is this place that no one gets to go, where I keep the parts of me that I think no one would like if they knew existed. So there were levels in this game that maybe struck a deeper cord with me than others. There was a level that as the player backed away from a stage, these walls kept slamming down in front of them… until at some point you simply couldn’t see the light of the stage any more. This felt almost scarily familiar, and like all of those times that I needed to get away because I simply could not stand any more human stimuli in my life. There have been so many times I have eaten my lunch in the silence of my car, just because I needed not to exist around others for the thirty minutes to an hour that it afforded me.
This post is ending to be far more personal than I intended it to be, but in truth the experience brought on by the game is more personal than I had expected it to be. On AggroChat we have talked a lot about how games are generally bad at emotions, but this game… has so many. For some this experience might be liberating, but for me… it was something else. It has left me wallowing in my own faults and short comings. Ultimately I saw myself in both Davey and Coda during this tale, because I think we are all a little bit of both of them. Since finishing the Lets Play I have gone out to steam and purchased the game, and it will likely sit in my library unplayed. I am not sure if I can really handle going through this experience a second time. More than anything I wanted to purchase the game as a thank you for the experience, because even though I am a little off balance right now… it is a rare experience that a game can cause that effect on anyone so when it does… it is well worth supporting. Now I am going to spend the rest of my evening trying to get the thoughts out of my head that the game so firmly implanted there.