It’s hard to write a review about The Beginner’s Guide. Not because it’s some life changing experience. Not because it’s hard to understand or describe. Not because I feel in any way emotional about it, despite quite a lot of it’s themes hitting close to my own experiences. Simply because I don’t know how to feel about it myself. About it as a game, or at least an interactive story on creation and creators and the public perception of it, that is being sold for real money. About it being… well, a product that’s being sold. And it’s not even a question of the “are games art” or whatever (especially since I’ve always felt that games are a form of art/entertainment). Rather just a feeling that it’s a nice little experience, that maybe should’ve been free instead? I don’t know… So let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
The Beginner’s Guide is an interactive storytelling game. It’s kind of an interactive fake documentary that breaks the forth wall, really. Something that wouldn’t work outside the videogame format. Similar to what I usually call “ambiance exploration games”, but most call “walking simulators”, but is very different in that key “exploration” part. You don’t really explore things on your own to have a narration go with it, rather the narration is the key with the exploration being secondary most of the time. More like watching a livestream of someone playing a collection of strange indie titles, with that someone being more in control to what you see and experience than you.
And it talks about the creative process, about creative people of all sorts, about the relationship between the audience and the author, about the presumptions that both sides can make. About self-realization via someone else. And it sounds like something you’d probably see in a teenage diary, doesn’t it? “Oh it’s probably just a pretentious game that talks about stuff I already know in a cringy way”. That’s what I actually expected, to be completely honest. What I presumed. I mean, I love The Stanley Parable, I gladly suggested Davey to translate the mod and later the full game because I loved that. But when this title popped up, I checked some of it and felt that I just will hate this. That it’s going to be a very awkward experience that I won’t enjoy. But then Davey contacted me again for some bonus translations for the box release of Stanley and as a thanks sent me the key to Beginner’s Guide. I couldn’t just ignore the game after that, now could I?
And again, I’m actually glad I tried it. Yes, I can’t say that I personally found any of the topics new, anything mind opening or anything like that, but… Mostly, everything was explored in a very entertaining way. Most parts were short, to the point, just relaying some idea or concept. Painting a picture, giving you answers than asking you questions. Some parts were a bit of a miss. And the ending part felt too long. But… It’s a half an hour experience that felt time well spent. Not something I’d go for again, I think. Not something that would keep me awake at night at any point in my life. But something that I’m okay with experiencing. Something that I’m okay with keeping within my memory. And I tend to be very particular about that.
But that’s what makes it hard to say anything as a “conclusion”. Can I recommend people playing it? Yeah. If you get a chance, go for it. Should you definitely be all excited about this game? No. Don’t really expect anything. Just, find a point when you can spend half an hour on a game, when you’re calm, relaxed and want to think about something for a bit. And play The Beginner’s Guide. It’s nice that it’s there. Yeah, I guess that’s what the conclusion would be. It’s nice that this game exists.