By now, there’s plenty of analysis about how The Beginner’s Guide is commentary on how players project too much of themselves into finding the intent of the developers’ work or similar veins of thought. If you don’t know about it, The Beginner’s Guide is a game by Davey Wreden wherein Wreden sells his friend Coda’s games on Steam without their permission in an attempt to ‘reach out’ to them, but in actuality, these games are altered from their original states by Wreden to confirm his own analyses of how these games provide a picture of who Coda is.
Normally, you would make a distinction here between Wreden (developer) and Wreden (character). Wreden (developer), like Coda, is staying completely silent about the game, so to try to associate Wreden (character) with Wreden (developer) would be to make the same mistake Wreden (character) is making in trying to examine the developer through their game, right? But if I’m being honest, I don’t think the narrator would be as interesting or compelling if it weren’t Wreden, or at least, believably Wreden at some point in time. Wreden’s performance in The Beginner’s Guide wouldn’t be as villainous if he weren’t a somewhat well-known game developer with a decent amount of influence taking advantage of his position.
But what I really want to ask is, why do we desire to make a distinction? Because it’s factually correct? Wreden himself hasn’t bothered, leaving the possibility that it is at least partially true open. Why not… consider the lack of a distinction part of the experience?
Well, probably because that experience would be bad. To even think about the possibility that Wreden committed such a gross breach of privacy, a possibility that we would also be complicit in, is frankly kind of disgusting. It’s an experience that amounts to a somewhat respectable or influential person whispering in your ear of abuses they may or may not have committed, just to make a point about how the critic can’t know the author. And so we brush it off, as a game, as a joke, maybe as a pretentious work of art, but always something very unlikely to be real.
Now, I don’t know if it’s real. I sure don’t think it’s real. But if by assuming that it isn’t real we are, in effect, constructing a 4th wall when we have no idea where it should be, this calls into question what exactly dictates the boundaries of a text. As long as the boundaries of the text remain nebulous, it is possible that we could read any of Wreden’s actions as performances that are part of a larger text that includes not only The Beginner’s Guide as a game, but the way the author (character) presents it to the audience (may or may not be a character). And all of this additional examination of where the game ends and reality begins is achieved by Wreden’s performance of The Beginner’s Guide as possible, a performance which treats the possibility of overlooked abuse… as a game.