So I’ve come to a decision to not write about The Beginner’s Guide, and I think this decision requires some explanation. Obviously, yes, by stating that I’m not writing about it, and then by explaining that statement, I am writing about it, albeit from one degree of remove.
In order to understand what I’m not writing about, I should tell you some things about it. I will preface by saying: You should play The Beginner’s Guide. I would prefer you to do so before reading much further. The Beginner’s Guide is a game by Davey Wreden, creator of The Stanley Parable: It is framed as a collection of games by an enigmatic creator, ‘Coda’, which are narrated by Davey as you play through them. While you explore the spaces that Coda has created, Davey explains why he finds them so special
, and we learn by playing about Davey’s connection to these games, and to Coda, and furthermore the connections that were never made.
I had so much to say about this game:
About how what is an accident for a creator can take on an unexpected meaning for the audience, about how trying to push that back on the creator can become a deeply personal violation. About the little moments, the little inconsistencies that hint at deeper lies, like how comfortable Davey is at making little modifications to the games he’s supposed to be showcasing for us, and how uncomfortable that made me even before it was revealed. But saying all that I want to say is, what? Self-serving? A work of art is open to so many interpretations, and trying to give one primacy, to bake it onto the surface, is greedy. Saying, definitively, what a work of art is, reduces it to no more than propaganda: It prizes one writer’s interpretation over the work itself. Even stating one’s own interpretation is, when it seeks to shape the interpretation of others, a kind of theft from the artist – or, perhaps, from the audience.
Any work of art is a multitude of experiences overlaid within each other, only collapsed into a specific experience by each audience, at each time, with each viewing. Sometimes it can be helpful or enlightening to read someone’s thoughts on their experience, to build those thoughts onto your own and expand outward from there, embracing that multifaceted and impossible to unify experience, enjoying the contradiction of manifold interpretation. If that’s why it’s rewarding to read someone else’s interpretation, though, why is it rewarding to write one’s own? What is it that I would hope to glean by writing my emotional experience and interpretation of a game like this? Adulation? Education?
My work is satirized before I even write a word.
– but that’s making it about me, and this was never about me, or anyone else in the audience.
So I write this work which isn’t about The Beginner’s Guide, because if I wrote it about that it would just be about me anyway, and be a tyranny of interpretation. Instead I’ll just write about myself directly. About why, if I’m writing this piece about The Beginner’s Guide that isn’t about The Beginner’s Guide, I am bothering to write anything at all.
Listen: Playing that game last night filled me with anxiety, kept me from focusing, made it difficult to sleep. That experience instilled something in me, a fear or an excitement, either of which felt undermining, either of which made carrying on as if nothing had changed impossible. I’m writing this to create. I’m just putting words on paper, and thereby exorcising them from my mind.
I’m making worlds, making prisons, making doors, making beams of light that lead to heaven or to freedom, I’m just making shit up as I go.
And maybe that will make me feel better, eventually.