Friday 2 October 2015

Who is the Beginner’s Guide?

If you’re curious about the toll of labour to create games, if you're a fan who likes to take ownership of what they consume, if you're a creator who struggles with balancing the aspects of your art, if you once explored with Build or Worldcraft: play this game.

You probably want to read Cara Ellison's take and Austin Walker's review (as I'm going to quote a comment he made below that review)

One of the thoughts I was wondering while playing this, especially as the revelations start to avalanche towards the end, was if this was an autobiographical game. Reading the reaction, this has been a common response.

But, as I started to muse on what is possibly unknowable (without a statement by the author or the coming forward of the game’s Coda), I came to realise I didn’t care. One interpretation of the game (as Cara discusses) is that there is only one character in the game. Wreden is Coda, Coda is the creative inside Wreden and the narrator is the weight of expectations, the desire to publish, the perception of the audience. I realised that was the only way I really read the game. That was my internal canon for what this game was about. So it becomes a different question about the autobiographical nature of the game, because on some level it seems impossible not to be.

My one issue so far with the discussion is that I’m not sure everyone is asking the question in the same way, even if they’re asking it about the reading that the narrator and Coda are based on two different people:

Austin Walker:
If it's real, then it's not an apology at all, it's an incredibly gross exploitation of someone's work that isn't Wreden's. And the game seems to understand that, which is what makes me think it is in fact Not Real.
I don't think anyone would suggest it is literally real (that this game is a set of levels by someone other than the Wreden, which Wreden had edited in the ways described by the narrative) - it'd be taken down from Steam (eventually) as a copyright violation and ruin Wreden's career. The metafiction is fiction, but that doesn't mean this can't be about real events. This could be autobiographical. Just because an author writes about a plagiarist entirely in his own words, it doesn't mean it's not a story about his previous plagiarism or what it felt like to be plagiarised in the past. That's not my interpretation but I don't think it's easy to dismiss and self-contradictory to the game's theme and revelations.

What I think is possible is this is an autobiographical game (either with Wreden thinking back to him as the narrator/fan/editor or as Coda) in which the actual transgressions of the past have been replaced by entirely new content (so we never see what actually made the real Coda's work special but see work far more loosely inspired by it than map edits) in order to explore the previous exploitation that occurred without repeating the actual breech of trust. The alternative being a work of complete fiction that is only riffing on Wreden's thought experiments or far more loose experiences of fandom, creation, etc. that don't closely align with events described in the game.

I'm not sure that I think this being autobiographical (if Coda isn’t Wreden) is problematic. As long as these aren't literal recreations of the actual levels from a real Coda but rather totally new levels that may riff on some themes (or even specific glitches) that really were in some original works that inspired this (or maybe Coda is completely changed in this retelling to avoid further exploitation) then it seems ok. It would, ultimately, be a sort of apology as there is a clear admittance of wrongdoing (even if qualified by focussing on the narrator's intent so much) by the close. It is only exactly as exploitative as anyone who recounts their own history, tying in unnamed others who are core to the story without naming them.

As I interpret the game as narrating an internal struggle (with creation, with modifying your own work beyond where it may be "finished" in the eyes of your internal creativity, with the fear of publication, with the weight of indie PR) for a single person then I'm not so invested in wondering if this is an autobiography. In a sense I think it is likely to be so, as an exploration of this headspace that seems incredibly relatable to so many indies; but if Wreden is Coda then obviously none of this is a literal retelling of external events but rather the internal narrative of someone torn between silent creation and distribution of more user-palatable variants that lose that original message and substitute in more commercial design.