This game is a narrative presented in a way that slowly reveals its themes and builds to new discoveries. As such, beware of unmarked or self-fulfilling spoilers below!
Davey has a personal stake in this game.Guys, I'm gonna hazard a guess here and say that Davey put some or even a lot of his own feelings, opinions, and self into this game.
- Naturally, we need to be careful about this because a big part of The Beginner's Guide is a warning about trying to interpret too much about someone based on what they made. Still...
Parts of the games that Davey altered
The tree game didn't originally have the lamppost and prison at the end.
The machine game didn't originally have the player going on a shooting spree in all of Coda's previous games.
- Alternately, the Machine game did involve the player shooting, but for a different reason than Davey's bland interpretation. By destroying his previous work in a destructive, violent way, Coda achieves something else. When you destroy the games, the light outside shines inward. To escape them, you have to blast your way out and fall. That's not necessarily a negative thing; Coda says himself that low points are part of the creative process. The Machine might be a cathartic game to help him put aside his past work, get free of it, and start anew. Davey is just unable to see it as anything but what it would mean if he created it and what he wants it to be: a cry for help.
The "everyone is blind on a space ship" has us about to crash into a set of doors in space; the same set of doors show up in the post-Tower area. Were those doors added too, or was the part where you have to be honest about your crushing depression to someone on the upper deck added? The game loops endlessly otherwise and we know that Coda is not adverse to having games that loop endlessly for no reason.
One of the dozens of messages in the message game says "He left clues in pieces across many worlds." That sounds like Davey's interpretation; is it a note HE added? Because ludonarratively Coda couldn't have planned out all the stuff that happens in later games in advance.
The Tower is virtually unwinnable becauseCoda is upset at how Davey has been vandalizing his games. So he filled the last one full of challenges that require hacking to complete so that by beating the game Davey becomes what Coda thinks of him as: a tamperer.
Coda is Davey's creativityIt creates based on pure artistic vision. Davey's modifications include things like:- Adding a destination, a goal, something that Davey believes a game is supposed to have but that his creativity does not. So he adds it but his creativity feels like he's ruining the purity of vision by doing so. Recall that the housekeeping game was never supposed to end.
- Making the games playable. See above. This is why The Tower was so inherently frustrating, why the hour-long prison thing was a thing, and why narrator!Davey smooths out the games for you.
It gets upset that Davey "sells out" by showing his games to others and seeking their approval, desiring only to create them for the sake of creation. When it stops making games, Davey runs out of ideas to satisfy the fans he's built up and gets mad at it. He asks it why he has no ideas any more and it answers that he isn't just doing it for the art any more.
He felt like something was wrong with him when he could only come up with all the prison games and things, not realizing that he just liked doing that. The tension from showing his games off and getting praise is that it was SUPPOSED to make him feel good...and it did...sort of...but at the same time it didn't.
In summary, Coda is him, or more specifically the creativity and drive to develop games within him. It despises the concessions that he makes towards making the games playable, marketable, and understandable, and it hates him for putting it under pressure by gaining fans that it now has to please. Under that pressure it shuts down, Davey not understanding why and becoming frustrated with it as a result. Eventually he breaks down and practically begs it to give him ideas and motivation again...something that is in fact an internal struggle rather than an external one.
In the narrative, Coda is actually female
(And this is another thing Davey is lying about.) This speculation is inspired by a few things:
- First, Escape from Whisper features a female voice speaking original dialogue; where did this come from, if not from Coda?
- Second, the only character with an actual head in Coda's oeuvre is the weeping woman at the end of the whitespace game.
- Third, "Koda" is a nickname for "Dakota", a female name.
- Fourth, Davey claims that the reason he first approached Coda at the game jam was because he was impressed by how unique the game was and knew that he "had to be friends with this person". That doesn't make sense because this isn't how game jams work, unless Davey was checking out every single other person's games rather than making his own. It's much more likely he simply approached the only girl there.
- Fifth, read the final messages from Coda to Davey in the tone of a woman who is trying to politely tell a pushy guy to cut it out and leave her alone. It makes a lot more sense than whatever Davey is inferring, especially considering the fact that the point of the game is that Davey's interpretations of Coda's games tend to be downright wrong, and there's generally not a deeper meaning behind them.
- Alternatively, Coda is a trans woman, closeted or otherwise. Davey isn't lying, per se, he's just oblivious to who Coda actually is because he either misinterprets or ignores anything pointing to it.
- The block-headed person in the chores game has a male body model, but seems more stereotypically female in their speech patterns, preoccupation with cooking and cleaning, and role as a comforting parental figure. Maybe Coda's "happy place" includes a fellow trans or gender nonconforming person she can relate to? Additionally, the only block-head with a female body model is the animal photographer that Coda aspires to be like.
- Additional note: Most of Coda's games seem to have been intended for only Coda to play. In the start of The Machine, the guard calls you "Ma'am." You're a figure meant to be interrogating a Machine that calls itself Coda, but... Also, the "walking backwards into the future" game refers to a female protagonist, as do some of the game ideas hidden in the "impossible staircase" game.
- It's about the disconnect between the author/creators of a work and the fans, where the fans may find meaning in the work that the creators didn't intend and connect with and believe in that thing so strongly that it affects their perceptions of the creators; like thinking the creators must feel the same way they do about something and finding connections between themselves and the creators that aren't actually there and then if/when the creators ever contradict the fan's ideas and interpretations the fans get really upset because it affects them on a personal level.
- ...For example, thinking the creators are putting in subtext between two characters intentionally and interpenetrating that to mean the creators support the pairing when in reality the creators didn't intend for those moments to be subtext-y at all, and then when the creators try to explain that to fans they get angry that their ideas were shot down and try to keep insisting that their interpretation was correct and that the creators were lying even thought thy'd have no reason to do that. (Yes, I've been involved in a lot of slash shipping.)
- It's about people who get so attached to other people's work and ideas that they lose part of themselves, to the point where they can't function or define themselves if they don't have that thing to work off of anymore. It's about trying to make something yours when it was never yours in the first place.
- It's about two extreme points of view - one that can only find worth in themselves through what other people think of them and always tries to do what it thinks others want, and one that is so isolated it doesn't care about anything anyone else has to say or anyone else's concerns. Neither of these views/ways/methods of creation are very healthy - imagine an author that always changes their work to be what other people want without putting anything of themselves into it, and another one who only does what they want and never shares their ideas or listens to feedback. Ideally, an author would want to be a bit of both - listen to others criticisms but still stick to their personal vision even if it doesn't gel with everyone - but that's me projecting onto it.
- It's about the emotional distance between an introvert and an extrovert who don't understand each other.
- Nothing - it's just a game.
- Sacrificing part of yourself by putting your work out where people can see it (the Machine representing other people), where it will either ascend or die.
- Destroying yourself to make other people happy.
- Note: The Moebius Trip game also appears to take place on the same fictional ship (behind the bridge is the word "WHISPER")
- Nothing - it's just a game. A funny one.
- A riff on educational systems where teachers force-feed students drivel while overlooking real issues.
- A deconstruction on "fake it 'til you make it." The lecturer keeps talking about how perfection is easy and all you have to do to attain it is do whatever's easiest for you in life, effortlessly. There's a well-known phrase, "Don't compare your everyday to someone else's best," when someone else who is successful makes it look easy.
- A message from Coda to Davey. Coda is saying that they're not perfect and don't have all the answers Davey wants from them.
Coda really doesn't want you in here
- Nothing of import, it's just Coda's author signature and favorite Easter Egg.
- Coda himself. More than just his signature: The Machine has three rotors sticking out of its side to look like the three dots.
- The Steam logo (I credit someone on YouTube who proposed this theory in the comments).
- He just stopped showing Davey any that weren't messages directed at him. It's just another sign of how little Davey understood Coda that he assumes that if he never sees any new games from the guy who has cut him out of his life and never shows his work to anyone but friends he trusts not to share it that means Coda's never made another game since.