– Jesi Jackson
The Beginner’s Guide $9.99 on Steam, currently available with Microsoft, Linux, and OS.
The Beginner’s Guide is a narrative that leads you through the lives of two developers, one by the name of Coda, whose games you experience throughout the story, and the other by the name of Davey Wreden, also known for his game The Stanley Parable.
Throughout the narrative, you are walked through several, slightly unfinished games made by Coda, while Davey tells you the life and mind of his friend. He walks you through Coda’s mind, his insecurities, and his depression as Coda finds himself unwilling to create more despite Davey’s insistence that his games need to be made. Davey insists that Coda’s work needs to be shown to the world and that Coda is an artist that needs to be recognized.
The story ends with the last project Coda ever made and a message to Davey, asking him simply to stop. “I need to ask you not to speak to me anymore” Coda says. He elaborates, stating that he wonders if he’s making the games for Davey, rather than making them for himself. He implies that making games is what once made him happy and now that Davey had “infected his personal space” by showing people his work against his will, Coda no longer finds any resemblance of joy in it. A stunned Davey breaks down and leaves, literally. He tells the player that he needs some time to himself and you don’t hear from him throughout the rest of the game.
Abusive relationships come in many shapes and forms. More commonly, when someone says “abuse” whoever hears it immediately thinks of something physical such as a violent spouse or parent. As unforgivable as physical abuse is, there is another form that plagues many people. It leaves no physical scars or tangible mark so it is often dismissed. Psychological or emotional abuse leaves scars only felt by the abused. It can be found in any type of relationship, from lovers to colleagues to parents. It often involves aggressive manipulation, toying with the victim’s emotions like a puppet, degrading their thoughts and feelings, and controlling them through words.
“When I am around you I feel physically ill. You desperately need something and I cannot give it to you” read Coda’s words to Davey. Right from the start, Davey explains that he is showing the player these games to convince Coda into making more of them. Even at the end, when Coda asked him to stop, he reiterates his desire to see Coda make more games. Coda increasingly showed signs of feeling trapped as Davey continues guiding the player through more and more of Coda’s work. The games began to reflect Coda’s mindset in the form of physical cages or having to break down a mental wall. It’s a feeling shared by most when they are in an abusive relationship and like most abusers, Davey genuinely believed he had done nothing wrong and that everything he did was in Coda’s best interest, despite Coda never expressing that, that is what he wanted.
In several levels, the player is met with a small puzzle: two doors, two switches, and one simple solution. For a second, you are confined within a small dark space surrounded by dark grey clouds. Then you pull the switch on the inside and the door opens and you’re allowed to move forward. In the last instance you see this door, Coda is finishing up his letter to Davey. “But I do hope that one day it clicks, and that you make peace with this thing you are wrestling. And when you finally see what I am talking about: don’t say anything.”
After you open this final door and walk inside, you’re met with nothing, but darkness. There is no switch to leave and instead you are left there, the rooms compressing around you as Davey apologizes again and again, begging Coda to create again. You learn a lot about Davey here. You learn that he hates himself, that he needs to feel important. You learn that he used Coda’s work to escape from his own self-hatred.
“If I told you how genuinely sorry I was would you come back and make more games”. When learning about abusive relationships, you learn early on that often the abuser starts a habit of apologizing to the victim, to convince them to return to them, only to start the cycle of abuse over again. I mentioned before that manipulation plays a big part in emotional abuse. What Davey does here, is almost textbook. He doesn’t simply apologize to Coda for breaching his trust and sharing his work without his permission, he apologizes with the idea that if he did Coda would come back and make games again. And Davey would feel whole again.
Playing this game struck something in me. It left me speechless for hours after I had finished it. I was left with the feeling that I had breached the most intimate thoughts of two people I had never met. Whether these two were sincere or a fictitious personification, I’m still not sure. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what the topic of this article would be until half way through writing it, when a sense of clarity hit on what I believe is the true nature of Davey and Coda’s relationship.
That’s what psychological abuse does. It stays clouded in the dark, hidden in plain sight, noticed by no one. It takes effort to find it.
theSebie is an indie game review site started by Cindy back in June 2015. Her and a team of content creators discovered that gaming is a powerful medium that can reflect many of society’s deepest issues.