I just finished playing The Beginner’s Guide. I loved it. I absolutely adored the way it played out and the different interpretations you can take away from it. That’s it. That’s the shortest summary I can give about how I felt emotionally.
If you’re willing to stick around another thousand or so words, I’d like to share what things really resonated with me after having played it.
First, I should explain what the game is. After the release of The Stanley Parable, one of the creators, Davey Wreden, decided to go on and make his own game.
The game is simple in controls and the plot can be seen as pretty straightforward at face value. You are playing a game comprised of (fake) Wreden’s friend’s games. Let’s make this simple: the friend’s name is Coda. Wreden (But not really Wreden; fictional Wreden) claims to be out to show how wonderful Coda’s games were and makes the argument that Coda should have released these games to the public. The plot suggests that Wreden was not satisfied with an overall lack of meaning that can be derived from Coda’s games and instead decides to insert some of his own.
Okay… Actually, I guess I was wrong, this game is complex for an hour-long experience. Wow. Throughout the game, Wreden (still the fake version) lies to you. It isn’t revealed until the end that he’d been placing meaningful artifacts throughout the game and that Coda actually resents Wreden him for meddling and pushing.
Anyhow, I can’t summarize it all, and I’m certainly not going to make some bold, idealistic assumption about what the game’s purpose was all along. Instead, I’m going to share what two things really just stuck out to me during this game.
First, there was the part of the game where you’re playing the role of a house cleaner. Coda (who I can say is not a real person idly sitting by while real-life Wreden is capitalizing off of his game), made a game where all you do is clean a beautiful, modern house with warm lighting and big windows.
You get your orders from a person with a box for a head that says “CLEAN” on all four visible sides. All the while you have a text-based “conversation” in which they reveal to you a deeply philosophical metaphor for the house. Frankly, I don’t remember it exactly but I know it had something to do with how the house is a soul or something like that.
Anyway, the fascinating part about this brief little level was how enjoyable cleaning a house was. And it wasn’t even always different tasks. The cleaning tasks you had done before would reset themselves: the bathtub would get dirty again, the books on the bookshelf would rearrange into a mess, the rug would move out of place. You would just take what the other cleaner would say and do it. And the house would continue looking beautiful.
It doesn’t hurt that this whole experience happens along with a serene soundtrack created by Ryan Roth. However, I still thought it strange to find myself enjoying cleaning in a video game so much. It provoked, within me, deeper thoughts about how it is that I constantly go through life looking at things from a viewpoint of misery when even the most simple of things can bring us peace.
I believe that was the word that the strange little box-headed person used: peace.
Then, as the narrator explains, you can’t stay there forever. The glass around the house and your partner disappear. You are once again alone with the voice that is constantly pushing you forward the way he had the last nine chapters. Now this, I could not help seeing as a metaphor. Every time we find ourselves in a place of contentment, we are pushed out by the voice of ambition. There is, admittedly, extreme discomfort in that.
However, it is only when pushed by your ambition to carry forward that you discover the truth. That isn’t just metaphorical, that really does happen in the game. You continue onward to have more lessons taught to you in each game. Still, I think that statement is important: stagnation is the opposing force of ambition.
The second thing that I found meaningful was the level that succeeded that one. In this level, you are in what looks to be a college lecture room. At the front of the room is another box-headed person with the word “TALK” on the four face sides.
Through text, it talks about wanting to be a person that you perceive to be superior to yourself, about how being in the presence of such a person can make us feel sick in our inadequacy. It talks about how it (the professor) will make you into that person.
Then, as the speaker continues to lecture, we change seats. Then again, and perhaps one more time before, whoa, we are the lecturer. We get to see what the lecturer is actually thinking. You can choose to stick to the designated curriculum, or you can tell extremely awkward and brutally honest things. I won’t really go into the black hole that the lecturer sees at the back of the room because I think any attempt I have to try and explain that will just be presumptuous.
I want to talk about what the speaker says about perceiving someone else as superior to yourself and then working, going through college to become like them. By “like them” I mean elite. It is funny how this can probably relate to many if not all college students’ experiences in summary. After all, we’re trying to advance ourselves and are willing to spend tens — if not hundreds– of thousands of dollars to do it. Why? Because we want to be that superior person… right?
This is probably just a moment of self-reflection (which seems to be in tune with what the game is about), but I can’t shake the feeling that these are often times my intention to get through college and to be as ambitious as possible. Who doesn’t want to educate themselves? Why wouldn’t you want to grow as a person to what is essentially upgrade yourself?
I don’t argue that these questions require answers, I merely want to acknowledge their existence. I think it’s crucial for us to recognize that ambition, as long as it is not misguided, is a very positive thing and we should not aim to quell that. At the same time we shouldn’t feel sick with ourselves for not being that professor lecturing away at us from the front of the classroom because, at the end of each day, that professor thinks human thoughts and returns to their bed with their own insecurities.
These two moments made me pause (not literally in-game) and think about how my ambitions leave me constantly dissatisfied with my place in life and the world, just as the professor behind that podium wants those students to feel. I will not find myself content with a cleaning job or something similar because of my ambitions; I accept that. But I also must accept that there certainly is something beautiful about being able to be comfortable with where you’re at. Even if it’s just for the time being.