Column: Game within game within game…


Photo credit: Paulina DePaulo

This image is a screenshot of my own workspace in Unity, a common game engine used by professional developers. I’ve made the game world to resemble a typical Coda game, along with a picture of a lamppost — one of the game’s most prominent symbols.

By Paulina DePaulo, Columnist

The best way to get to know an artist is through their work. Whether it’s stunning oil paintings, heartbreaking prose or melodious ballads, one’s craft is an insight into their humanity. 

Video games, on the other hand, are only designed for the purpose of the player’s enjoyment, right? Developer Davey Wreden would argue otherwise.

“The Beginner’s Guide,  released in October 2015, is Wreden’s second major project and introduces a whole new metafictional paradox to the genre of story games. Wreden himself acts as the narrator of the story, taking the player through the abandoned computer drive of his old friend and fellow game developer, Coda, who mysteriously disappeared from Wreden’s life a few years earlier. In just over an hour and a half, we’re introduced to dozens of Coda’s unfinished projects and quirky masterpieces to play for ourselves.

One minute, you might find yourself in an abandoned field with no controls other than moving forward and backward. In the next game, you might be stuck inside a prison on a cliffside filled with nothing but modern furniture. Then, suddenly, you’re teleported into a void full of random geometric shapes for you to jump across and scale. 

My favorite of these mini-games is an endless cleaning simulator that takes place in an eerie winter cottage. A block-headed NPC (non-player character) gives you patient directions while making endearing comments and using pet names. As you complete the tasks given to you, they continually reset, making it possible to clean for infinity. I’ll admit, I stayed in that snowy house washing dishes and folding clothes for longer than I expected. It’s mildly unsettling, but there’s an underlying sense of comfort in the NPC’s kind words and the haunting lullaby playing in your ear.

To the naked eye, these ridiculous concepts are nearly laughable, many of which don’t have any clear objective or a set of rules like a typical video game would. According to Wreden, this collection of half-baked ideas is something more than just a bunch of frivolous code; he sees it as a portal into Coda’s mind that paints an intricate picture of who he was and his rocky connection to the creative process. As you dive further into Coda’s career, Wreden’s narration gets increasingly frantic and desperate, and, suddenly, Coda’s “emotionally-charged” video games start to reflect Wreden’s inner turmoil more and more.

“The Beginner’s Guide” pushes the boundaries of what a video game should look like, both in Coda’s work itself and Wreden’s assertive narration throughout it. It reshapes both the role of a narrator and the position of a video game designer as a creative outlet and an everyday job, questioning the nature of game creation as a whole. Coda’s fictional persona serves as a painful reflection of Wreden’s real struggles as a rising force in his field, and the clever narrative structure is the cherry on top of this deeply emotional story. 

When we see Coda’s world through Wreden’s eyes, everything and nothing is as it seems.