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The Beginner's Guide is an Environmental Narrative Game published in 2015 by David Wreden, creator of The Stanley Parable. The game involves Davey guiding the player, via voiced narration, through a collection of short games created by his friend, 'Coda', between 2008 and 2011. Throughout the game, Davey explains his friendship with Coda and analyzes what the various things in each game mean. His hope is to use the games to show the player what kind of person Coda is- and hopefully figure out why Coda suddenly stopped making games and vanished.

Warning: As with Wreden's other work, and given the short length and nature of the game, it is difficult to discuss without spoiling the experience. Expect spoilers below.


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The Beginner's Guide contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Short Level: Chapters 3 and 6, Entering and Exiting respectively, are both a short walk lasting about fifteen seconds each, with only a sign saying “you are now entering/exiting” on the small road.
  • Aerith and Bob: A minor case. The names Davey and Coda would be unusual in the real world, but Coda is hardly an unusual moniker on the internet.
  • Alien Geometries: This occurs throughout, due to the fact that in constructing a 3D game, you have to separately create an interior and an exterior around it for a building to read as "normal" to a player. There are times that Coda didn't program that in in a normal fashion. In one example, descending large spiral staircases inside of a giant, multi-level prison will lead you outdoors through what appears on the outside to be a one-story house.
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  • An Aesop: You cannot assume what a person is like just through their creations/works of art. Davey spends the entire story trying to piece together what kind of person Coda is through their games, only to ultimately find that he does not know Coda at all, and most of his interpretations are wildly wrong. In fact, his insistence on reading Coda as a tortured soul who needs help leads him to invade their privacy by showing their games to others against their will, which ultimately severs their friendship.
  • Apology Gift: The entire game, supposedly. If the narrative is to be taken completely straight, then Davey Wreden made The Beginner's Guide as an apology to Coda, demonstrating his mistake, explaining his regret and then publishing it all on the internet hoping it'll reach him somehow. Possibly inverted, as what Davey is doing is the exact opposite of what Coda would have wanted, and it's strongly implied that Davey is fully aware of this fact as he even goes so far as to alter Coda's games to invent nonexistent themes and symbolism, making it seem as though this 'gift' is more about himself than his friend.
  • Arc Symbol:
    • The lampposts at the end of the later games, which Coda did to symbolize a goal or the completion of a project, according to Davey. Subverted as Coda's message to Davey at the end reveals that Davey added most of the lampposts himself.
    • A more subtle one is a cluster of three black dots arranged in a triangle in several of the games. Not even Davey can come up with a theory for them and he begs Coda in the final game to tell him what they mean.
  • Ascended Glitch: According to Davey's narration, the ending of the Whisper chapter. When walking into an energy beam as a Heroic Sacrifice, the player is supposed to die but instead they float through the ceiling and above until they can see the whole game world. Coda liked the result and so kept it in. The same thing happens at the end of the epilogue, but it seems to be intentional this time.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Even though the game doesn't actually have an ESRB rating as a PC-exclusive, Davey says "shitty" near the end of the game, and one of the alleged online comments in one of the games begins with "holy shit".
  • Big Bad: In-Universe, The Machine gradually becomes the main threat in Coda's games, as it is warping the game worlds in destructive ways. However, it is implied to merely be The Scapegoat for the protagonist. Out of universe, Davey Wreden himself turns out to have been responsible for Coda's disappearance, as his tampering with Coda's games drove him away.
  • Bookends:
    • Davey notes that Coda ends almost all his games with a lamppost, viewing it as his own way to mark the end of the project. Later we find that not all those lampposts were Coda's.
    • The epilogue game ends with the floating glitch from the Whisper game (the first one after the prologue), having the player float over an enormous maze world.
  • Brick Joke: One game involves simply walking past a sign on a dark gravel road which reads, "YOU ARE NOW ENTERING." Three games later, it repeats, but with "YOU ARE NOW EXITING." Davey interprets this as a brick joke, but considering Davey is an Unreliable Narrator, it is ambiguous.
  • Creator Breakdown:invoked Davey talks about his interpretations of how Coda's games reflect his descent into isolation, discouragement, and eventually depression, leading him to stop making games. Except it turns out Davey altered the games to make it look like this was the case in order to get attention. The real reason Coda stopped making games is Davey.
  • Creator Thumbprint:invoked Coda has quite a few in his games, like the two-doors puzzle, the three dots symbol, and the lampposts at the ends of his later games. It turns out Davey added most if not all of the lampposts, and the puzzle is ambiguous, but the three-dots symbol is definitely Coda's own.
  • Darker and Edgier: While The Stanley Parable was an often cruel satire of the artificiality of Multiple Endings in video games with plenty of horrifying and heartbreaking moments, it was still an ultimately lighthearted experience with a fondness for quirky humour. By contrast, The Beginner's Guide is a macabre and deeply personal story about a friendship gone awry, with only the occasional foray into very Black Comedy.
  • Death of the Author: What happens in-universe when Davey not just overrides Coda's work with his own desperate need to see symbolism where there probably was never intended to actually be any, but straight up tampers with the games to make them fit his own narratives. Coda proceeds to cut off all ties with Davey, quits making games and then vanishes off the Internet altogether because of this.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Davey claims to merely have compiled all these games by Coda into a single collection to convince him to create games again. However, messages by Coda near the end beg Davey to stop publishing his work. One could imagine that the release of The Beginner's Guide would not be helpful if the story was true. Also according to one message, Davey lied about the lampposts being a recurring element in Coda's work, having them put in there himself.
  • Downer Ending: Davey caused Coda to stop enjoying making games, and by releasing the game the player has just played, Davey has gone against his wishes one last time, and is left in a miserable state, desperate for validation he'll probably never receive. One way to interpret the ending is that Davey commits suicide (the character, not the real life person).
  • Dramatically Missing the Point:
    • Davey does this to Coda's games, for example interpreting the prison games as Coda being depressed as opposed to him just liking making prison games. By the end you find out that Coda wants Davey out of his life for sharing his games with the public, at which point Davey tells you he released the entire compilation just so somebody could help him find Coda again.
    • Additionally, after seeing the ending, it becomes pretty clear that the Mobius, Islands, and Machine game were attacking Davey. Someone forcing you to lie to get what they want, destroying your work for their own selfish ends- even without any changes, it's fairly obvious what these are about. Which makes it all the more heart-wrenching that Davey doesn't get it until the very end.
  • Eldritch Location: Several of the games take place in spaces that will warp and change.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The game is ostensibly an autobiographical tale about Davey Wreden, creator of The Stanley Parable, wanting to show off some old short games made by an old friend of his, Coda, who inspired him to become a games creator. Davey invites the player to play them in chronological order while he narrates his thoughts on them, eventually seeing Coda go through depression and a Creator Breakdowninvoked. The later games begin straining against this premise until the last game in the collection reveals that the story is fictional- the 'Davey Wreden' who's been narrating is not the Real Life Davey Wreden, but a character, and he is an Unreliable Narrator whose motivations are very different from what the premise made them out to be. Davey released The Beginner's Guide because Coda refuses to speak to him, and he hopes it'll get his attention- but Coda dissapeared in the first place because Davey tampered with a lot of Coda's games to fit the narrative of him as a depressive artist trying to deal with his issues by making games. This changes not only the entire purpose of the story, but likely the way the player viewed Coda and his games as well, and makes it ambiguous just how much of the games were Coda and how much was stuff Davey added in.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Invoked and Deconstructed In-Universe; as he played through Coda’s games, Davey ends up projecting so much of his own ideas and needs onto his friend's work that he inadvertently alienates Coda entirely.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Davey mentions how he thinks that some of the games are Coda working through his inner thoughts and emotions, getting them down on 'paper' in an attempt to work through them. At the end, it turns out that it is actually Davey working through his problems by backtracking through his relationship with Coda and his games.
    • Early in the game, when reminiscing about how he and Coda first met, Davey admits he may have been too pushy and interfering when he first saw Coda at work. Davey's overbearing interference is what ultimately severs their friendship.
    • The ease with which Davey is able to modify Coda's maps to bypass some of the unwinnable parts doesn't just come from an intimate knowledge of the Source engine. As we later learn, he's been adding other things, like the lampposts he said were Coda's.
    • You're told early on that Coda made games from 2008 until 2011, bringing up the question of what happened that he stopped making them four years before this game's release.
    • One of the player notes quotes Spec Ops: The Line, which would be odd, as that game hadn't come out at the time. Davey almost certainly tampered with those when compiling the games into The Beginner's Guide, though whether he just added more or added all of them is left up in the air.
    • The Housekeeping game stops suddenly in the middle of a character speaking. We later find out that the game was meant to go in an infinite loop, but Davey changed it to give it a sort of narrative ending.
    • Davey says early on that Coda often told him that Coda wasn't actually as withdrawn as everyone thought and that he was actually a warm person, but it took a lot to get to know him. "It's a long tower to climb." The final game, in which we REALLY get to know about Coda, is called The Tower.
    • In the play/theatre chapter, the lamppost appears before the actual end. That's because it's the only place Davey could put it.
  • Gainax Ending: After the emotional reveal in Coda's final game, you play one more level, presumably created by Davey. Davey can't bring himself to narrate any longer and excuses himself, leaving the player to wander through a strange collection of increasingly surreal landscapes. Finally, you see a beam like that of the Whisper Machine, and step into it, floating up above a maze that stretches out as far as the eye can see.
  • Game Mod: In-universe.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: As the plot continues, Coda's games become more involved and sophisticated, to the point where the amount of work required to produce them would be unrealistically high for something reflecting a transient mood, or just to be sent to a friend as an insulting message. Word of God is that the more familiar the real-life player is with game development, the more likely they will lose sympathy with the story, likely for this reason.
  • Irony: The game is a deconstruction of Death of the Author and Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatoryinvoked, and yet is a treasure trove of interpretations itself.
  • Jump Scare: When the lights on the theatre stage turn on.
  • Lampshade Hanging: A literal example. Alternative terms for the technique ("hanging a lantern," "spotlighting") evoke the idea of using light to draw attention to something the audience might otherwise question to show it's deliberate. The enigmatic motif at the end of Coda's games to connect them, which Davey draws players' attention to and invites them to interpret (likely because he's the one putting it there)? A lamppost.
  • Madness Mantra: Speak!
  • No Antagonist: In-universe, as Coda's games are short experimental ones, they typically lack a villainous character. For example, Escape From Whisper has the malfunctioning Whisper Machine as the threat, but it isn't sentient or actively trying to harm the player, while House is a game about housecleaning and bonding with the inhabitant of the house. This becomes subverted as The Machine gradually begins to threaten the game world. Out of universe, it is subverted- Davey Wreden is revealed as the Big Bad in the last chapter.
  • No Fourth Wall: All of Davey's narration is directly to the player, with no suggestion that the collection is anything but a game the player has purchased.
  • Non-Human Head: There are numerous NPCs who, given the abstract and prototypical nature of many of the game's segments, have their heads replaced with brightly-colored squares. The squares have words on them, and they rotate them when they have to switch between multiple modes, like listening and speaking.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: At the end of Chapter 16: The Tower, Coda leaves a message for Davey, explaining how he feels about their relationship and why he disappeared:
    Coda: Dear Davey, Thank you for your interest in my games. I need to ask you not to speak to me anymore. I wonder at times whether you think I am making these games for you. You've so infected my personal space that it's possible I did begin to plant 'solutions' in my work somewhere, hidden between games. If there was an answer, a meaning, would it make you any happier? Would you stop taking my games and showing them to people against my wishes? Giving them something that is not yours to give? Violating the one boundary that keeps me safe? Would you stop changing my games? Stop adding lampposts to them? Would you simply let them be what they are?
    When I am around you, I feel physically ill. You desperately need something and I cannot give it to you. I literally do not have it. Struggling to come up with new ideas is not making me depressed, low points are just a part of the process. The fact that you think I am frustrated or broken says more about you than about me. I realize this doesn't make sense to you just yet. Which is fine, you're not my problem to solve. 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'm talking about: don't say anything.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At the end of one of the early games, there's a glitch which causes the player to float through the ceiling which Davey says Coda liked so much he kept it in the game. Something similar happened in Thirty Flights of Loving when a glitch caused a crowd of people to float away and the creator Brendon Chung decided to keep it in because he liked it so much.
    • One of the player notes is "This is where I get off". Another note asks "Do you feel like a hero yet?"
    • The main conceit of a narrator commenting on and (possibly incorrectly) interpreting the work of an absent creator (including projecting their own obsessions onto the interpretation) is very similar to Pale Fire, among other books.
    • The books on the bookshelf in the housecleaning game all seem to be real, but are very low-textured; If on a winter’s night a traveler is distinctly easier to recognize.
  • Stable Time Loop: In the last prison game, the player phones their past self to tell them that they got out of the prison. Your past self thinks it over and wonders if you got a call from your future self. Should you choose, you can tell him you did and that's how you were told how to escape.
  • Stop Helping Me!: In-Universe Deconstructed Trope. Coda knows that Davey was trying to help, but all he was doing was making things worse and making him not want to see Davey again.
  • Teasing Creator:
    • Exploring one of the games, the player can get stuck inside a small jail cell. Davey explains that in the original programming, the cell door wouldn't open for an hour. Luckily, Davey lets you out well before then.
    • The game with the staircase gradually slows your movement to a crawl until it would take hours to climb to the top. Luckily, once again Davey is there to speed up your movement.
  • The Tower: The last of Coda's games, in which the player must traverse a giant tower. The game consisted of impossible challenges that ended with Coda telling Davey to leave him alone.
  • Trash the Set: In "The Machine". Coda's Game Worlds are destroyed by the player.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: In one of the prison games, Davey talks about an argument he had with Coda about game design. Davey argued that games should be playable, whereas Coda is not afraid to add hour-long waits or difficult-to-impossible mazes in his games for the sake of artistic experience.invoked
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Didactic: In-universe. Davey keeps coming up with symbolism and interpretations thereof in Coda's work, such as explaining the reason for Coda making so many prison room type games as a metaphor for Coda feeling trapped by his work and depressed that he can't come up with new game ideas. Subverted in that Coda calls Davey out for assuming this and coming up with interpretations to fit a narrative he thought it should represent. As Davey sadly points out near the end "Maybe he just liked making prison games".
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: It took years for the real-life Davey to fully clarify if this game was non-fiction or not. On the Tone Patrol podcast, he said it's entirely fiction, and that "Coda" never actually existed in real-life, but it was inspired by the experience of going through friendships breaking down due to mistakes on Davey's part. On the same podcast, he discusses some of the game's themes and where he and his fictional self diverge - the real Davey, in particular, has a much better understanding of how he screwed up with the people he did actually drive away and how making a game to express an apology isn't the best idea, nor is it even remotely effective compared to just approaching people in good faith and sincerely apologizing.
  • Wham Episode: Chapters 12 and 13, Theatre and Mobius respectively. Up until that point, Coda's games have been lighthearted affairs with some eeriness, philosophy, and weird situations, but these two games have a much darker atmosphere and mark the point where Coda starts undergoing his Creator Breakdowninvoked, with Theatre hinting at this and Mobius making it explicit. Said breakdown lasts the rest of the games, which are much more depressing in nature than the early ones.
  • Wham Line: Thrice in The Tower, pertaining to Davey being an Unreliable Narrator.
    • Chapter 10 has you play a housecleaning game that goes on for a while before abruptly coming to a stop. Davey says that Coda programmed this into the game to symbolize how you must always move on eventually. Come Chapter 16, the Tower, and he completely contradicts this:
      Davey: "And to be fair, it's not like this is the first game that's needed some modification to be playable. Like the housecleaning game, you know that one used to actually loop the cleaning chores and you just cleaned a house forever, I had to cut it off so that you could exit the house and the game would actually end."
    • The plot of the game concerns Coda's decision to quit game development and Davey's struggle to understand why. At the end of the Tower is a series of messages to Coda that reveal the reason, and when Davey sees it:
      Davey: I'm the reason you stopped making games, aren't I? It's because of what I did. I poisoned it for you.
    • Throughout the game, the lamppost was used as an Arc Symbol, being in every one of Coda's games from Descent onward. Davey says Coda fixates on the lamppost for some reason and surmises it represents some kind of end point. One of Coda's final messages contradicts this in a manner that completely destroys Davey's credibility:
      Coda: Would you stop changing my games? Stop adding lampposts to them?
  • Wham Shot: When the recurring two doors and a lever puzzle appears for the final time, and there's no second lever on the inside of the first door like there was in the other versions of this puzzle, essentially trapping you inside.
  • You Bastard!: A rare In-Universe example, though one that also applies out-of-universe. Beginning from Mobius (and possibly Theatre), Coda's games become increasingly unsubtle jabs at Davey for being a Poisonous Friend and trying to force Coda to make games so he can interpret them and ”help” Coda.
    • In Theatre, you are an actor trying to be social and speak to your idol while a voice verbally abuses you for getting it wrong no matter what you say. It ends with you retreating into darkness as cage walls fall down. It is possible that this represents Davey trying to force Coda to be social.
    • In Mobius, the way to win- to stop the giant door from destroying the SS Whisper- is for the protagonist to admit that they don't like making games anymore, saying so repeatedly and detailing how draining it is.
    • In Island, the protagonist must repeatedly say that they love making games despite this being a painful lie to get to the end, with sad music and crying in the background.
    • In The Machine, the protagonist (likely meant to represent Davey) is a Villain Protagonist who taunts Coda (represented as The Machine) and destroys all of Coda's games and the Machine itself, saying that the Machine hates the light and being seen (a reference to how Davey showed Coda's games to other people without his permission).
    • Finally, The Tower forces Davey to hack the game to beat it- mirroring his tampering with Coda's other games- before abandoning all pretenses and giving him a very blatant "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Out-of-universe, the story is in part a cautionary tale against reading too much into things and assuming things about the creator from their work, something the player likely did along with Davey.

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