The Beginner’s Guide proved to be one of the most memorable gaming experiences I have ever come across. The snarky meta-humor of its predecessor The Stanley Parable has been essentially eliminated to favor a more disconnected experience: the game features the creator himself, Davey Wreden, narrating a series of half-finished video games by a fellow game developer named Coda. Coda’s works, initially presented as abstract musings and free-form experiments, become significantly more dark, fragmented, and introspective as the Beginner’s Guide progresses.
The “house game”” resonated with me immediately. Wreden accurately describes it as Coda’s interpretation of a human connection other than himself. Through menial, cyclical tasks Coda finds a sense of solace and comfort; knowing that there is another person even willing to share a single moment, no matter how mundane it seems, is the one thing he desperately yearns for. An analogous scenario is seen before in the “phone booth game”, where Coda attempts to imitate a phone conversation when instead he is actually portraying an internal dialogue with himself. Dialogue options like “all you have to do is be sincere”, “you need to tell me how you feel right now”, and “just talk with me for a bit” convey a man longing for an escape, an escape from the entrapment of his conflicted, doubt-ridden world. The gut-wrenching ending of The Beginner’s Guide contributes heavily to its emotional impact. A broken, soulless Coda essentially rejects Wreden’s efforts to publicize and share his games. Though Wreden is torn and apologetic throughout the game’s finale, I actually found it difficult to have full sympathy for him due to what seemed to be a narcissistic objective: making himself feel better and “whole”by sharing Coda’s fragmented work. The game’s willingness to explore fundamentally human concepts of introspection, alienation, and personal human connection make The Beginner’s Guide one of my all time favorites.
Her Story on the other hand seemed to be a promising concept on paper, but fell flat in its execution as an engaging video game. Being restricted as an investigator working on a computer scouring databases to obtain video files with clunky software reminiscent of Windows 95/98 isn’t exactly enticing. The game possesses an uncanny realism however, from the glare on the monitor to the clacking of keys when editing video tags to the humming drone of the background. I personally was not able to finish the game due to time constraints and a sheer lack of interest, but I definitely plan on revisiting it in the future.
Both The Beginner’s Guide and Her Story establish mood and convey narrative in newfound yet contrasting ways; their audacity to tread new ground will be remembered as video games are growing to become a serious, viable medium. The Beginner’s Guide however felt significantly more compelling and profound, combining gameplay elements of a traditional FPS with a complex, introspective, and emotional narrative unlike any other in the medium.
Nine individuals circling a giant bonfire. Dancing. Hula-hooping. Unicycling.
Tucked discretely in the top-right corner of the north wall of Manuel’s Tavern, this mysterious image serves as a sharp contrast to the rest of the hanging objects.
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A desolate island off the coast of Scotland. It is barren, bleak, and rugged, with the only forms of life remnants of houses and spilled paint cans. Lush vegetation envelops the landscape. A shipwreck can be seen in the distance, while a cave down the mountain slope seeks to be trodden…
The ambiguity of Dear Esther is its strongest suit.
Gone Home was critically acclaimed upon its release. I remember reading the countless reviews praising its narrative and immersion factor, two particular traits in video games that I value quite highly. Often times I feel that as long as these two aspects are exceptionally executed, the actual gameplay can take on a secondary role. As a fan of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and other narrative-heavy games with minimal gameplay, I thought playing Gone Home would heighten my love for this rare genre even more.
Instead, I experienced a narrative through the eyes of a character who makes no impact on the story whatsoever in a setting that felt slightly claustrophobic. Corridors and rooms and passages initially begged to be traversed and rummaged through, yet the payoff would be stumbling upon one of Sam’s numerous mixtapes, a colorful binder from the 4th grade, or perhaps a key to another passage or room. The lack of any substantial impact on the story’s resolution and the excessive “corridor crawling” make Gone Home feel less of a video game in a traditional sense and more of a passive and exploratory “interactive short story”.
I admire the game for its willingness to explore homosexuality and its associated struggles subtly without any explicit, forceful perspective on the matter. I genuinely cared for Sam and Lonnie’s relationship as it was essentially presented from its origin. The directional audio and soft lighting did contribute greatly to immersion. Yet I feel that Gone Home could have conveyed its message as well, if not better, through other media instead of shoehorning interactivity as a draw point. As an avid player, the game simply felt a bit too restrictive despite its earnest story and thus made for a slightly underwhelming experience.
This is a portrait of the Flame Champion, a significant character in Konami’s JRPG series Suikoden. His real name is unknown, yet he is highly revered across the land for his possession of the True Fire Rune, one of the 27 true runes that act as essential pillars in the Suikoden universe. True runes are magical symbols that embody the eternal struggle between chaos and order in the world. As a result, those who wield their power are usually possessors of exceptional talent and willpower, from fierce generals to adept magicians to brilliant strategists.
This image is highly significant to me as Suikoden is the first RPG series I have ever played and thus undoubtedly introduced me to the power of compelling characters and story in video games. Recruiting every character in each game with my older brother was an essential component of my childhood.
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