I am a fan of indie games and for this following 3 minute, I’d like to share my so far favorite game with you. The whole gaming experience would take approximately one and a half hour, and it has no traditional mechanics, no goals or objectives. Instead, it tells the story of a person struggling to deal with something they do not understand.
No matter if you are a game person or not, you might have asked: What are games? “A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” Stated by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen. However, The Beginner’s Guide is trying to deconstruct the traditional system of gameplay rules.
After The Stanley Parable was released, many people criticized the lack of the fundamental mechanism with only “making choices” as the gameplay rule, but The Beginner’s Guide further stripped this basic mechanism to present each level as a unique game prototype (e.g. the basement in which we can only walk backwards, the stairway that becomes harder to climb as it gets higher, the endless cycle of house cleanup chores etc.) Level designs in this game are smashing the players’ inherent expectations for the puzzles, using “unfinished” as an excuse and means of to challenging our basic acknowledgment of games. Actually, the gameplay we usually talk about is just like designers deceiving players, since however obscure or covert a puzzle design, a game with basic business logic will always give players the key to unlock the puzzle. The relationship between the designer and the player is not like the dungeon lord and the fighter, but a pair of a sober and unconscious conspirator in a game that is predefined.
However, The Beginner’s Guide revolts against the deceptive essence of “game” itself. For example, when walking towards the beam that differs from the conventional setting for the ending, Coda devises a rapid rise of the player’s perspective. Penetrating through the walls, from the top the player can overlook the entire level, which breaks through the shield layer between the game designers and players and let players own the ultimate perspective that far exceeded the main view, the third-person view or even God’ s eye view: the designer’s view. This game endeavors to challenge players’ cognition of the definition of games through elaborate level constructions. In chapter 13 “Mobius”, the only way to prevent the occurrence of the disaster and the arrival of reincarnation is to select the sentence: ”I can’t keep making these.” While the blind in this level are marching on normal conversations corresponding to this scenario, the key to the exclusive answer rests with the player jumping out of the delineated context and standing in Coda’s point of view to reveal his voice. The identity as a player coincides with it as the game designer again. Coda assimilated his emotion into game design and what he did is not depriving the player of his rights but allowing him to express himself through the games he created.
Describing a game designer’s mental experience by level designs, what Coda confronts is exactly what every human must face: the conflict between the initial value of creations and the individual social value, as well as communication plights among people, in which were never dabbled by other games. So who does a game belong to? This game shows the delicate relationships between the designer, the critics, and the audience. Coda’s creations originate from the resistance against gamers’ authority and he designs several tricks to prevent players from moving on. His creativity remains silent under siege by the press and players and refuses to incarnate the individual social value, just like the old but tough, bulletproof machine. Meanwhile, by hiding the existence of the original designer, Wreden falls into the struggle that he intends to inspire himself for the creation and not be interrupted by the critics and wanton conjectures outside. On the other hand, he inevitably wants to share whatever he explores in game design to more people and find validation through feedback from the outside. Furthermore, what roles do the audience play in this game? It worths pondering whether the personality of Coda we perceived is a true portrayal of the designer or only the imagination scraped together from the game itself.
Roland Barthes claimed in his essay “The Death of the Author” that the author’s intentions or the contents themselves are meaningless unless the articles are endowed with various interpretations through the behavior of “being read”. While Roland gives full power to the reader, he erases the existence of the author and the text itself. If it were not the success of The Stanley Parable, we would not even see how much agony Coda feels when losing all drive for creation right in the spotlight. It is true that a piece of work may lose infinite possibilities without interpretations of any audience, but it does not mean that these contexts never exist. Even in the absence of a player, the level design and narrative modes have broken many banal habits in the game industry.
Going back to the question, what are games? Perhaps they are just like what is indicated in the last scene of The Beginner’s Guide − numerous eccentric and unique pieces that construct the immense universe of games. And the reasons why this universe is so captivating are the nonstop explorations outside the boundaries and the continuous voices of sincere hearts.