Discussion: The Beginner’s Guide To What
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8 thoughts on “Discussion: The Beginner’s Guide To What”
[SHAMELESS PLUG] Funnily enough, my friend and I talked about TBG on our podcast this month. You can find it here if you’re interested: http://twentydollargaming.com/ [/SHAMELESS PLUG]
I think you’re right that it’s catnip for critics. It’s very easy to disappear in a puff of meta while talking about it.
I never did figure out what it was the Beginner’s Guide to. Maybe to fame and success? Maybe part of the reason it exists is to act as a guide to/warning about the perils of fame? Though that really does edge waaaaay too far into “let’s speculate about Davey Wreden via his art” territory.
I’m less interested in what the game “means” (this game especially is prone to navel-gazey “but what does it meeeean?” quests for One True Narrative), and more interested in what it *does* to its players. Everyone seems very very concerned with what the game seems to want to *tell* them, but nobody seems to be analyzing it in terms of *how it makes you feel so desperate to glean meaning from it in the first place*. It’s like everybody is still being manipulated by the game *as they write about it*, because it’s hard to take a step back and realise no, wait, all this stuff I’m writing is what the game *wants* me to write.
Hi James, I can always rely on you for a good response to the newsletter 🙂
Yeah, I guess I’m not trying to be hard on critics but when I was halfway through the game (I played merely days after release) I knew instinctively that there would bucketloads written about TBG. It’s an “easy” game to write about – it’s unique and very meta. With that in mind, I found I didn’t want to go chasing down articles about it. Similarly here, I thought I’d push my TBG thoughts into the newsletter than make a big thing about it.
Your question about what it does to players it interesting. My head wasn’t clear about it’s fictional status when I initially embarked on it so the ending revelations just made me feel complicit and just that little bit uncomfortable. But I really like it because even if you take at as pure story, and dump the whole “but wot does it mean” side of it, it spins an interesting yarn in an original way.
I think calling The Narrator “Davey Wreden” is a way to mess with people’s heads and wonder how much of this is autobiographical behind the elaborate fiction. (Do you think some fall for it as well? That it would be a good way to turn your audience against you.)
Oh and I’m just going to add your podcast to my smartphone…
Thanks! Counterweight was our direct inspiration so I was hoping you might. 😛
I agree that it’s “easy” to write about, in the sense that you can bang out an article and use words like “author” and “intent” and “ambiguity” and “meaning” and it just comes pouring out. This is my problem with the game, though: I found a comment thread where someone posted “Help I’m confused what does it all meeeean” and someone wrote back “It’s about how Davey Wreden struggled with his creativity after making The Stanley Parable.” And that’s it. And I feel that any critical discussion which is on the game’s own terms – which goes to places the game invites it to go – is just going to circle that drain. Which actually makes the game *harder* to write about, because you have to push yourself away from the easy stuff. I think that’s one reason so many reviews opened with “Well this game is hard to write about…” – apart from the emotional overload the game evokes in you, these critics also know that they can’t just rehash exactly what was in the game.
I think I like talking about the critical response to the game more than about the game itself. 😛
Yeah, totally agree about Davey inserting himself into the game. It’s a fairly simple but VERY CLEVER way to muddy the waters. It’s essentially the lynchpin of the game – by which I mean it’s the one thing that perfectly ties everything together. It asks us to consider “Is this Wreden?”, “Can we believe everything an artwork tells us”, “To what extent are real and narrator Wreden the same?” and a host of other questions, all while the game keeps telling us (deceiving us) by continually pushing us to believe that this is the real Wreden. But yeah, if he had gone with a fictional narrator all of that would have fallen through, and the game would feel lifeless.
Of course, this isn’t the first time fiction has inserted real-world authors for effect. Edgar Allen Poe LOVED fictional hoaxes. He would publish fake news articles about impossible journeys and fake exposes of fictional places, for example. One of the most enduring tropes of 19th century literature is “Hey look at this manuscript I’ve had printed for you! No, I didn’t WRITE it, I FOUND it in a creepy attic/message in a bottle/ancient temple/middle eastern caravan/dusty library.” We all know they’re fake now, but maybe people chose that vehicle at the time because it lent the book some of the “how much of this is real?” thrill we’re experiencing with this game.
You know, listening to your podcast, it’s an interesting idea to think Coda/Narrator as two paradoxical halves of the same developer: the ego that needs validation/praise and the creative element which is crushed by acknowledgement and examination. I’m not sure I’d go anywhere with that, but wanted to throw it out there.
I also just realised that Wreden throwing his email address out there was foreshadowing to some extent; The Narrator is happy for exposure and invites all the attention, it’s consistent with his character. But yes, for sure, putting his name in there is way a rattling the bars of the developer/player divide instead of being a generic Tom Nobody. I said back in Ethics, I get uncomfortable when people put themselves “out there” too much, like we’re being invited to judge – or reassure. And I guess TBG crosses that line suddenly and unexpectedly and you’re not sure how to feel about it. It may be fictional – but is it a confession in disguise? Oh it’s horribly clever.
(The roots of this can still be seen in “A Film by Davey Wreden”.)
Just a note on the podcast. I had this idea of mashing up two games together in an article to come up with something different. The first outing of this was the Ethan Carter Vs Verde Station article. I still have other a couple dual game mashups like this on the drawing table but I quickly realised a problem… putting two spoiler-sensitive games together means you’re potentially slashing your audience for that particular post. Only people who have played both are likely to tune in. That’s not to say don’t do it, but go in with Thine Eyes Open 🙂
Off topic (because I haven’t played the game–I should do that, shouldn’t I?) but a heads up for the Imaginary Games from Imaginary Universes jam. Am I mentioning it specifically because one of the reviews will be of the spiritual sequel to Se Busca? Maybe.
Ah I remember Se Busca. Fantastic game. Unbelievable handling of choice.
@Joel: So sorry you commented about our podcast and we rudely didn’t reply! It’s been a busy month I guess but I still should have responded.
I think the game is really interesting in how it rattles the bars, as you put it. What I find sort of weird though is that this is nothing new – Lovecraft and Poe, for example, played around with “Is this real or is it fiction” pieces (Poe especially, who loved hoaxes and literary jokes). In other media we also have pieces that deliberately blur the line between what we know to be fiction and what we know to be fact. (I think shakycam horror films and pseudo-documentaries tried to do this.) It also reminds me of a problem that poets have been grappling with for ages – if I write the word “I”, does that mean… the actual poet? The poet during that moment of writing? The “speaker” of the poem? Some nebulous, implied person who the poet is “thinking themselves into” but who doesn’t really exist, or exists only in the moment that they are speaking?
What TBG does best is it uses that whole bag of tricks (knowingly or not) and then unleashes them on a cultural space (the indie games industry) which is rife with thinkpieces, opinion pieces, editorials, blog posts, confessions, personal games, earnest games and other forms which assume a certain sort of relationship between creator and consumer – one of honesty, of declaration (“Here I am, this is me”), maybe a confessional space, or at least one where our most intimate emotions can be externalised and turned into profit/reach/fame. And it does that with a developer (Coda) who simply cannot integrate with any of that, and flips the whole thing on its head by asking whether any of this makes any sense at all.
Thanks for the tip – I think it’s a very valid point and we’ll bear it in mind. These two were worth discussing spoilers and all – I always say, you couldn’t properly discuss King Lear without ruining the ending – but it’s definitely an important thing to consider, especially when some games can be talked about without too many spoilers.
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