The Beginner’s Guide is a piece of interactive fiction that explores the relationship of two game developers and their experiences with the creative process. Completed by part of the team who made The Stanley Parable, Davey Wreden recounts a collection of experimental narrative games created by his friend Coda. As the player progresses through the account, Wreden challenges the viewer to try and understand Coda and his choices. The piece is left open to interpretation, presenting the adversity of relationships within the games industry. This involves the strain in connections between the player and developers, as well as among the game developers themselves.
The Beginner’s Guide is available for purchase on PC through Valve’s gaming distribution platform Steam. The player has the ability to use the four basic directional arrow key movements as well as the left mouse button to interact with the environment. The Beginner’s Guide offers no user interface on the main gameplay screen. Sometimes number options will be used to choose a variety of dialogue prompts. The goal is to keep the interaction simple and showcase the games as Coda’s beginning works throughout the years of 2008 – 2011.
As the player traverses the game they have the capacity to solves basic puzzles and trigger narrative cues. The player’s objective is to move the story along by reaching the end of the level. During this process Wreden guides them to contemplate the purpose of Coda’s gameplay and understand Coda’s development process. The narrator stresses that the player is moving through the environment because Coda had abandoned these games and wants him to see that they still hold merit. The narrative is broken up into seventeen chapters and is set so that the player may enjoy the experience at their own leisurely pace.
As the player walks through different environments, the sounds and sights are all still of Coda’s original gameplay. Sometimes the narrator will help the player through these unfinished games by “editing” the original source code. Wreden expresses that we should see these half-finished works for what they are, instead of what they are not. The story will often take the player through the same interaction multiple times. Each time, the player is given more information and a new perspective in which to view the interactivity. It returns to certain tropes as Coda gets attached to ideas and revisits them from new angles of creative experimentation.
The multitude of gameplay levels showcased within the work is a mixture of various narrative game genres. The player views each of these experiences through the first-person perspective. Light music and sound effects from the original work persist softly through the game’s narration. During important parts of the interaction, outside noises are quieted altogether to keep the player immersed within the moment.
The Beginner’s Guide is an unconventional literary experience that poses questions often overlooked. Literary merit not only exists throughout the game as a whole, but through Coda’s individual gameplay experiments. Each one takes a different look into the diverse hardships of creation and artistic burnout.