The Beginner’s Guide Review – The Hardest Word

Warning: for the majority of this review, I’m going to be writing about myself. Very personally.

01

Developer: Davey Wreden
Publisher: Davey Wreden
Format: PC
Released: October 1, 2015
Copy supplied by Steam

It’s considered gauche for reviewers to focus primarily on themselves when criticizing games. After all, readers want to know what the game is like, not the life history of the stranger behind a soon-to-be-forgotten assortment of words. For The Beginner’s Guide, however, such an introspective look is thematically on point.

This won’t be the first time I’ve attempted a review of a game that was not, technically, a review by traditional standards. In fact, it’s not the first time I’ve done it with a game created by Davey Wreden. For his last game, The Stanley Parable, I didn’t review it at all. My Destructoid critique was instead a short piece detailing the impossibility of reviewing such a game, before I gave it the score I felt it deserved.

If you read the comments, you’ll see that not everybody was on board with my decision. In fact, even long after I left the site to pursue other career paths, there are still comments calling me a terrible reviewer, a lazy writer, someone who shouldn’t be on the site. There are a lot more comments talking about the game itself or even praising my review style, but I’m sure you can tell what comments jumped out at me.

Videogame reviews increasingly find themselves in an interesting predicament. An audience demands to know the details about a game, but they don’t want spoilers. As story-driven experiences continue to expand and experiment with their medium, this balance between information and discretion becomes exponentially difficult to manage. It’s an almost impossible task.

“Tell us about this game, but don’t tell us about this game.”

With The Beginner’s Guide, I’m going to attempt this impossible job, and I’ll do it by writing about myself.

02

If you were unsure earlier, it was the negative comments that jumped out at me. Years after I wrote the review, and with the last comment itself being over twelve months old, the accusations of laziness and shoddy work still sting a little. Not hugely, but significant enough that I’m talking about it here.

I have a reputation for not caring what people think, but it’s an undeserved reputation. Back in my Destructoid days, my reputation was even less deserved – there I was considered someone who reveled in hatred, loved the controversy, and wanted to infuriate as many people as possible. I think some of my earlier work would qualify as infantile trolling, to be sure, but for the most part I’ve never enjoyed negative attention. It’s not what I want.

Even when I was, on some level, knowingly provoking that anger, deep down I didn’t want it. It’s weird to me that I’d do this, but that’s what I did.

Fact of the matter is, I do care what people think. At heart, I’m an entertainer, and I think every entertainer wants positive attention. Hell, doesn’t almost everyone want positive attention? Validation? Confirmation they’re as funny, smart, attractive, or correct as they think they are? For some of us, that desire for attention can become an addiction.

03

My upbringing was not especially pleasant. I grew up on the poverty line, at one point surviving by sleeping on the floors of family friends. I’ve been damn hungry in my life, dragged around the United Kingdom by my mother and her then-lover, a Hell’s Angels Outcast who went by the name of The Preacher. He had very few teeth, allegedly spent time in jail for armed robbery, and was an alcoholic abuser.

As children, my brother and I were spared the physical abuse, but he more than made up for it on the emotional side. By the time I was about to hit my teens, I was a nervous wreck, incapable of socializing properly, terrified to speak out of turn. The Preacher had done an impeccable job of breaking down my sense of identity.

If you spoke during the airing of the National Lottery, it would be your fault he lost that week. You were “jinxing” him by producing a slightest audible noise. It is because of The Preacher that I didn’t know about my food allergy until I was a lot older, when it was potentially more fatal. The first time I had an allergic reaction, he angrily told me it was because I was dirty and needed to wash myself.

Being a kid at the time, I had no idea what had happened to my body as it produced welts, and wouldn’t connect the dots until I was in casualty at a Sidcup hospital years later.

My sense of agency was all but gone. I became a very isolated individual. After years of self-therapy and help from the friends I have made along the way, I am a lot better now, but I still have my social anxiety. I was finally convinced to seek medical attention for it after I attended a party I really wanted to attend, but spent the night terrified, trapped inside my own mind, unable to speak to anybody and convinced they all hated me. Blaming anybody I did know for not introducing me better when, ultimately, it was my job. That night was hell for me, and it should not have been.

I’ve not spoken to my mother since 2008. The worst part of that is, I don’t feel bad about it. I can’t say I feel anything there. Her own role in my upbringing is something I won’t detail, but certainly had its own horrible impact on my life.

04

Anyway, if I at times seem overly focused on negative comments – and I know I do – perhaps that could be part of the reason why. Some of this is human nature – we tend to scrutinize our criticisms and discard the adulation, which does a disservice to those who really care. I know I do this, and it can annoy my most positive audience members who get no thanks for their kind words while I’m busy dunking on some random asshole to make myself feel better.

I’m sorry about doing that.

It’s ridiculous, really. You dunk on the randos to showboat for the crowd, and get some validation as other commenters “prove” you’re in the right and witty with their upvotes and cries of “REKT,” yet this is an island of verbal battery in a sea of people giving me praise unprompted. It’s stupid. It’s very, very stupid.

I’m sorry about that, too.

It’s something I try and work on, and I’m a lot better about it these days than I used to be. That said, my podcast work has become a bit too steeped in complaining about negative comments, and I still can’t resist the urge to share shitty YouTube comments when they’re especially egregious. At least I’ve managed to ignore the other content creators out there who have tried to build careers solely off hating me. Well, I say “ignore” – I know they exist, I’ve seen some of their work, but I’ve never talked about them explicitly, and never will.

This is all very self-indulgent, isn’t it?

Even amidst the apologies and laying bare of my feelings, I’m thinking about the nice comments I might receive and bracing myself for negative ones. Thinking about, and waiting for, the reactions. The validation. The confirmation that I’m liked, and clever, and good at what I do. It’s all so self serving.

I write and record to entertain you all. To spread messages I feel are important, or just make you laugh. But there’s a hugely selfish streak running through the work. A big part of what I do, I do just for me. Because I want it. Because I need it. Because it gives me the agency, and identity, the ability to feel proud of myself when once I was incapable of it.

And every now and then, I manage to convince myself I don’t deserve a damn bit of it.

Very self serving.

05

However, if any of this resonated with you, you might want to play The Beginner’s Guide. It’s a game I may only ever play once, but I’m thoroughly glad I did. For those who hate “walking simulators” and the “pretentious” side of independent games, you should probably steer clear. The rest of you? There’s more to this game than it’s 90 minute runtime. The fact I’m still thinking about it, deeply, hours after I played it is all part of the value too.

The fact it prompted me to write much of what I wrote here is something… special.

Or maybe I’m just a pretentious prattler myself, and I’m merely looking for attention. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I’m sorry if that’s the case.

Oh, I suppose we’ll need a score. Kind of feels arbitrary, more than ever.

But why not, eh?

9.5/10
Superb

 

Craig
Guest
Craig "The Racoon"

Thanks for the review, wow… Jim’s work will make you laugh , think , and smile.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

……… Fuck, man. I’m… I’m gonna go sit down for a while.

MarkusObrist
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MarkusObrist

Jim, this was amazing! Thank you for sharing.

VeryImportantQuestion
Guest
VeryImportantQuestion

It’s human nature to focus on the negatives – typically it’s the negatives that require the most immediate attention. It’s hard-wired into all of us, and you’re honestly doing enough just by being aware of it.

Besides which, some things just have to be opposed sometimes. You don’t have to be particularly proud of it, but it’s more necessary than many of us want to admit.

Game seems interesting. Don’t have a PC that’s worth a damn, but I’ll try and find a way to play this.

MiddleIndex
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MiddleIndex

Keep up the good work jim. Nice to read something that was hard for you to write and share

clim
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clim

Great write-up, Jim. Thanks for the bold choice on getting a bit personal. This game certainly calls for it. Very troubled after finishing it last night.

On the game itself…

If it’s not what it purports to be, Wreden wins, as does everyone who experiences it. If it is what it purports to be, and without consent, I’m horrified to have played it and find the project condemnable.

Anon Amiss
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Anon Amiss

Is this whole thing about being sorry you mock certain negative comments just bait for digital homicide to somehow make negative comments about you (because they do seem to obsessively follow your work) in an effort to then mock their negative comments?

Mad_Madigan
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Mad_Madigan

I played this last night after I saw Laura talking about it and the review on RPS. The weird thing is that although Jim’s review outwardly says very little about the game, his personal story is actually pretty much exactly what the game is about. Well, at least part of it. VV SPOILERS VV I thought about it over night and there’s quite a lot to uncompress from the experience of playing The Beginner’s Guide. On the one hand the game is clearly a mostly autobiographical account about the creator, Davey, but it also seems that story about Coda is… Read more »

Will Sanders
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Will Sanders

Best review I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing.

BAH!
Guest
BAH!

This reminds me of Mike Krahulik’s talk some time back about how he had changed over the years, but not as much as he’s like; and how he understood that his own personality could easily get in the way of good things like PAX and Child’s Play. It was all very sincere, and I really appreciated his honesty.

And I appreciate your honesty here, Jim. You are a cool dude, no question. And despite your occasional misfires, I’m proud to support you.

errormaker
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errormaker

This review had a greater impact on me than the actual game.

Dragonzeanse
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Dragonzeanse

I have played The Stanley Parable, and I think TotalBiscuit said it best when he describes it as a game that messes with the player’s expectations (I don’t remember exactly where he said it; I believe it was a Steam Salebox video). So if you described the ways in which the game interacts with the player, that spoils the experience. That’s not quite the case with other “walking simulator” games, but The Stanley Parable does it so well and that’s what makes it such a beloved video game.

SpazldRust
Guest

9.5/10! You pretentious oaf! The guy in the game literally starts cry, he’s a baby.. makes the game at least 10/10 for the balls he has. *all above is a jokes*
I think that’s reviewed just about as well as you can. Giving the idea of the game, but using your own experience. So as not to say what they game is saying, but give an idea of what the game wants to say, or is about. Well done Jim. I’m probably just going to blabber into a mic about this game for a bit.

TimRobbins
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TimRobbins

Good read. I’m one of those who eyeroll at the excessive focus on negative anonymously written comments and skip those bits of the podcast. Even if that doesn’t stop, at least we kind of get where you’re coming from now. Maybe you could still receive that catharsis on a regular basis but make it a content feature for your viewers who do enjoy it via something like VideoGamerTV’s “Right To Reply” series.

Dave Dogge
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Dave Dogge

My dad’s a toxic narcassit, didn’t talk to him for 5 years from my mid teens, I reconnected with my grandfather at the end of this run and somehow my dad (use the term loosely) wedged his way back into my life. Recently he started doing tricks on me for money (he hasn’t worked in 35 years) and got verbally abusive when I didn’t yield or defended myself. Suffice to say I cut him off for good this time, its for the best, you cannot begin to understand what a psychological abuser and trickster he was band a physical one… Read more »

Banjo Colucius Smythe
Guest
Banjo Colucius Smythe

Jim, you’re awesome. Your work, and the work of others I only know about because of you, has (however slightly) improved the quality of my life, and I’m damn glad for it.

Spiderman Three
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Spiderman Three

We get it Jim, you don’t like beginners.

Seraph6496
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Seraph6496

Just played this game a few hours ago after seeing Laura talk about it on twitter. I was very impressed and it really got me thinking. My final thoughts, without giving anything away were ” well that was… certainly something.”

Thomas Kolev
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Thomas Kolev

If the game really brought out those feeling and made you capable of speaking about those feelings as sincerly as you did here then that is probably the greatest praise you could give to the game.

NeilS52
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NeilS52

Well done Jim. Honestly the only way I think you can review this is to write about yourself or do what Laura did and do a few paragraphs that can be summed up with “just play it”. I’m interested to see some spoiler filled reviews in the coming weeks and months, specifically from Laura and Super Bunnyhop.

Jonas Håkansson
Guest
Jonas Håkansson

Nice writing there, Jim! Well done!

Fixit
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Fixit

Jim’s spot on with this one. I played through it myself last night and it deserves to be played unspoiled. It also deserves to be played by pretty much anyone with a creative streak.

J!
Guest
J!

I find it amazing that it’s the reviews that seem to try their damnest to never mention what the game is truly about is the ones that draw me in the most. It’s the sign of a game I need to play, if even a critic is desperately pleading with you to go into it unspoilered

woopywoo
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woopywoo

Well then. I think I’ll be givin’ this game a shot.

Jpkurihara
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Jpkurihara

Jim’s reviews keep getting weirder and weirder.

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