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The Beginner's Guide is an Environmental Narrative Game published in 2015 by Davey Wreden.

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.

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.
  • An Aesop:
    • You cannot assume what a person is like just through their creations/works of art, and your interpretations of a work are just that — don't project it onto the creator. 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.
    • On a lesser note, altering someone else's artwork without their permission, even if you think it improves the end product, is just plain wrong. So is showing off someone's private work to others without their knowledge, especially if you only do it to make yourself feel good by taking in the praise from others.
  • 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. The mere existence of The Beginner’s Guide shows that Davey has not learned how not to post altered versions of Coda’s games.
  • Bookends:
    • Davey notes that Coda ends almost all their games with a lamppost, viewing it as their 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.
  • Breather Episode: House and Lecture are this. After a series of bizarre and somewhat haunting levels, House is a calm, lighthearted game about cleaning a house and chatting with a Nice Guy, while Lecture is a humorous game about a Know-Nothing Know-It-All professor who tries and fails to explain how to be perfect in a pretentious tone. The subsequent two games serve as a Wham Episode, and the games become much darker from there.
  • Creator Breakdown:invoked Davey talks about his interpretations of how Coda's games reflect their descent into isolation, discouragement, and eventually depression, leading them 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 their games, like the two-doors puzzle, the three dots symbol, and the lampposts at the ends of their 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 (seemingly) deeply personal story about a friendship gone awry that is being used (potentially) as a metaphor for how his audience treated him and The Stanley Parable, 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.
  • Developer's Foresight: If you somehow make it through the invisible maze in The Tower without the bridge, either through brute force or a map, you get rewarded with a simple "Damn!" from Davey, expressing his surprise that you actually made it through.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Davey claims to merely have compiled all these games by Coda into a single collection to convince them to create games again. However, messages by Coda near the end beg Davey to stop publishing their 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 their 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 (the character, not the real-life person) commits suicide.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Davey continuously does this to Coda and to their games. Instead of realizing that Coda is making little experiments in the Source engine for fun, Davey insists that these a) are capital-G Games, and b) won't have any value as Games unless they meet Davey's criteria for what video games are. Instead of seeing Coda's fixation on prisons as trying to get an idea out or experimenting with the game engine, Davey sees it as tunneling into depression. Davey misses the point of "Lecture", in which a know-it-all character is revealed to be insecure and extremely passive-aggressive, noting that he thinks it's neat how Coda has exposed everyone to be this way instead of realizing that Coda's message was intended solely for Davey. There's another game in which the protagonist passes by reporters to interrogate "The Machine", holds a press conference on how The Machine has failed him, and then destroys all of Coda's games FPS-style. Instead of realizing that the protagonist in this game is supposed to be Davey and that he is harassing Coda (The Machine) for not giving him what he wants (more games that he can hyperfixate on), then telling his friends online (the press) about all of what's going on between Coda and him, all the while defacing their work to get more attention directed at himself, Davey interprets the game as Coda becoming nihilistic and hating all that they have accomplished, which compels Davey to share Coda's games publicly — the incident which led to the creation of The Beginner's Guide in the first place. By the end, the player finds out that Coda wants Davey out of their life for sharing their games with the public, at which point Davey tells the player that he released The Beginner's Guide explicitly so that somebody could help him find Coda again, not just to apologize to them but to beg them to continue making games just for him so that he can feel better about himself.
  • Eldritch Location: Several of the games take place in spaces that warp and change. This is mainly because in video games, the level designer has to physically map every single indoor and outdoor space like they are rooms in a mansion; not doing so will make it look like the inside of a building is impossibly larger than its outside, or vice versa.
  • 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 The Danza and that 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 their attention — but Coda disappeared in the first place because Davey tampered with a lot of their games to fit the narrative of them as a depressive artist trying to deal with their issues by making games. This changes not only the entire purpose of the story, but likely the way the player viewed Coda and their games as well, and makes it ambiguous just how much of the games’ contents was Coda’s 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 and their work that he inadvertently alienates Coda entirely.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Davey mentions how he thinks that some of the games are Coda working through their inner thoughts and emotions, getting them down “on paper" in an attempt to work through them. At the end, it turns out that it’s actually Davey working through his problems by backtracking through his relationship with Coda and their 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. And since Coda knew Davey wouldn't be able to resist editing their work for his own satisfaction by the end of their relationship, they designed the final game, The Tower, so that Davey had zero choice but to hack it in order to receive Coda's farewell message.
    • You're told early on that Coda made games from 2008 until 2011, bringing up the question of what happened that they 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.
    • In the Theatre chapter, the lamppost appears before the actual end. That's because it's the only place Davey could put it.
    • Davey says early on that Coda often told him that they’re actually not as withdrawn as everyone thought and that they’re quite a warm person, but it took a lot to get to know them. "It's a long tower to climb." The final game, in which we REALLY get to know about Coda, is called The Tower.
  • Forgotten Framing Device: The last two levels both make it impossible to take the game's premise of Wreden uploading these games and his commentary to the internet at face value. The Tower ends with Wreden reacting to the level as if he's never seen it before and then going on to have a mental breakdown which he would obviously not upload to the internet. And the epilogue consists of surreal landscapes that are never given any in-universe explanation.
  • 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. It is potentially symbolic of how lost Davey is, and his belief that if he just has someone else help him out, he can solve the problem. Instead, this help (floating above the maze) just reveals that the maze goes on forever — that the solution isn't using someone else as a crutch or to feed an addiction, but to work through it by oneself. Since Davey excuses himself minutes before the player reaches this point, it's likely that Davey is saying that he doesn't want to make this realization for himself.
  • 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 Godinvoked 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.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Coda knew full well that Davey was going to edit any game they sent Davey before spreading it around the internet, so they made sure that The Tower was designed in a way that it had to be edited to progress, in order to make sure Davey saw the message waiting for him at the end.
  • Irony: The game is a deconstruction of Death of the Author and Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatoryinvoked, and yet has become 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: At the end of Notes, a mysterious voice commands the player to "Speak!" repeatedly.
  • 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 main antagonistic force in the last chapter, and The Machine was Coda's metaphor for Davey.
  • 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 cubes. The sides of the cubes have words on them, and they rotate them when they have to switch between multiple modes, like listening and speaking.
  • Post-Final Level: The game has an Epilogue chapter right after Chapter 16, which is a long, grueling climb up an ominous tower ending with the big reveals of the story. In contrast, the epilogue level is relatively simple- just walk to the end- has no obstacles, and is more of a place to ruminate on the reveal and wrap up the story.
  • Psychological Projection: Everything that Davey reads from Coda's games is an insight into Davey himself, not Coda. He sees them as a depressed, withdrawn person who needs external validation to feel better- which the ending reveals all fit Davey.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: At the end of Chapter 16: The Tower, Coda leaves a message for Davey, explaining how they feel about their relationship and why they 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.
  • Revenge via Storytelling: Played for Drama. Coda's games, starting from Lecture, start being less about Coda's artistic vision and more about attacking Davey Wreden for being a backseat driver to Coda's creative process, tampering with their games, showing them to others without their permission, and ruining their friendship.
    • Lecture stars a Know-Nothing Know-It-All professor who insists he has the key to achieving perfection but just comes off as a pretentious snob who is revealed to have an Inferiority Superiority Complex, much like Davey himself.
    • Theatre has you perform a play about how to be social for an unpleasable Prima Donna Director who berates you no matter what you do, like how Davey tried to force Coda to be social in an attempt to "help" him.
    • Mobius and Island have the protagonist admit that they no longer like making games and consider it painful and draining as a thinly-veiled message to Davey.
    • The Machine represents Davey Wreden through the protagonist, who is heavily implied to be a Villain Protagonist that forces the titular Machine, Coda, to make games, exhausting them to the point of breakdown, and then shows them to the light that it hates, like how Davey shows Coda's games to others without permission.
    • Finally, The Tower drops all pretenses because Davey cannot take the hint and flat-out tells him he ruined their friendship, to fix his own problems, and to never contact them again.
  • 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 they 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.
  • 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 (but hackable) challenges that ended with Coda telling Davey to leave them alone.
  • Trash the Set: In "The Machine", Coda's Game Worlds are destroyed by the player.
  • True Art Is Angsty: Davey certainly interprets Coda's games as conveying the author's angst... regardless of whether or not there's actually any truth to that.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Davey redistributes Coda’s games to others without permission, all the while editing them to make Coda look more like a tortured genius. While Davey originally says that he did this in an attempt to help what he sees as a lonely person who needs more friends, he later reveals that having this power over another person made him feel complete and that he's desperate to reconnect with Coda to re-kindle this addiction. Coda cuts off all contact from Davey once they realize they can't get him to stop.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The Tower, the last of Coda's games, is an Evil Tower of Ominousness and the darkest of the games. You have to climb a giant tower with nigh-impossible challenges that basically force you to hack the game to win. It also leads to The Reveal of why Coda stopped making games and vanished. There is an epilogue level, but it doesn't quite have the same tense atmosphere and is more of a closing of the story, with no real obstacles to speak of.
  • 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.
  • What Do You Mean, It's 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-type games as a metaphor for Coda feeling trapped by their work and depressed that they 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".
  • 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 their 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.
    • Chapter 16, The Tower, which reveals why Coda stopped making games. Chapters 11 through 15 hint at The Reveal with increasing directness beforehand.
  • 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 from 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, trapping the player (and by extension, Davey) inside.
  • You Bastard!:
    • A rare In-Universe example, though one that also applies out-of-universe. Beginning from Lecture, Coda's games become increasingly unsubtle jabs at Davey for being a Toxic Friend Influence that wants to control their creative outlet for his own personal satisfaction, under the guise of "helping" Coda find friends.
    • In Lecture, a boastful professor is revealed to be cowardly and insecure when the perspective switches and his speech becomes a dialogue tree for the player. It's meant to show what Coda thinks of Davey's hot-headed invasiveness.
    • In Theatre, you play an actor trying to be social and speak to your idol while the director verbally abuses you for getting the interaction wrong no matter what you say. It ends with the actor retreating into the darkness behind the back wall of the stage as cage walls fall down. It is possible that this represents Davey's attempts to force Coda into making what Davey wants, not what Coda does.
    • 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 player character (meant to represent Davey) is a Villain Protagonist who interrogates Coda (represented as The Machine) and then holds a press conference to the press about it (a very thinly veiled metaphor for Davey harrassing Coda to make what he wants, and then Coda correctly guessing that Davey was telling his friends every detail of their’s and Davey's private relationship), then destroys all of their games and the Machine itself, saying that the Machine hates the light and being seen (referring to Davey editing the games and showing them without permission to do either).
    • 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 in-game Davey, and potentially occurred to the real Davey when met with certain fans of The Stanley Parable.