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