The Stanley Parable: Death of the Audience
This article will be covering in extraordinary detail The Stanley Parable, Ultra Deluxe, and The Beginners Guide. I recommend having a strong working knowledge of the items listed above or an absolute certainty you will never play these games. If you somehow have no idea what these things are, they are video games. They are video games known for being meta, immersive, and genre defining. They are some of the video games that people point to when they want to prove video games are art.
The best way to experience these games if you haven’t already is to start them later into the evening. About 8:00 PM for The Stanley Parable and about 10:00 PM for The Beginner's Guide. Wear something comfortable, dim the lights within your room if at all possible, and make sure there aren’t any expected distractions for the night. The best mindset for this experience is going to be a receptive kind of curiosity; an interest in what someone else has to say. (This also happens to be the ideal conditions to read my articles!)
The point is these aren’t games to play because you are bored or want to waste time. You are, of course, welcome to start these games at any time of day, with any lightning, wearing whatever you want, and whatever mindset you have. You are welcome to sit down and drain these games for every drop of content and move on to whatever else tickles your fancy. You’re welcome to leave the experience unsatisfied and call it boring or pretentious. What I offer is just a suggestion, not a dictation, dear reader. But if you’re in the mood to defy me so early, perhaps those games are for you regardless. They have lessons for you to learn.
The thing is you are welcome to do whatever you want because these games don’t care about the experience you want to have. And yes, they are designed to be enjoyed, but on their terms, not yours. Both The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide are fundamentally about the Death of the Audience. A narrative conceit that intentionally challenges player experience and interpretation.
And here is your out.
Here is your last opportunity to go experience something wholly unique, if you have not yet played these games. The chance to build the first memories around these games that are entirely your own. Memories that in others are so intense and beloved, people wish they could erase them just to experience them again.
And you may scoff at this.
Faye, I don’t care about spoilers. I’m an adult and information is information. I can handle it. But that isn’t what we’re talking about, dear reader. What we spoil in these games is not the reveal. It is not the identity of the villain. It is not the nature of the magical McGuffin. We spoil something much more important. Not the answer, but your desire to find it. And you can never get that back.
So, if you never played either game, dear reader, then stepping just a few words further into this article will forever alter your experience with these games. I suggest caution. And if you have already played them, I hope you found this beginning amusing. I have a lot* to say.
(*Editor’s Note: “A lot” is overused, try something like “great deal”**)
(**Writer’s Note: Oh yes, I’m sure that will really tantalize and titillate our audience. Article followed by noun, how dare I? Surely, adjective and noun is the way forward. It is the future. I see that now. Thank you!!)
The Stanley Parable 2013
The common reviews of The Stanley Parable amount to meta jokes about the nature of the game itself. Reviews that say nothing about the game, but rather talk about games and narratives as concepts. My entire preamble is the same thing. It is this caution that you need to experience this game without spoilers or much context.
James Stephanie Sterling wrote one of these reviews and I remember seeing it as though it was yesterday. The review called The Stanley Parable every game, gave it a perfect score, and told us nothing at all about the game we were expected to pay money for! Can you believe that?
So, why is it so important to protect people’s experience of this game? Or to ask another way, wouldn’t a game’s story be incredibly weak to be destroyed by just casual spoilers? Was Empire Strikes Back ruined by knowing Darth Vader was Luke’s father? Was the Soprano's ruined by knowing how the series would end? Does nobody enjoy or watch films or read books a second or third time? Spoilers can be annoying because they can ruin narrative surprises or reveals, but if a story hinged on one surprise then that’s a pretty cheap story, right?
The problem with The Stanley Parable is that there is very little to meaningfully describe within the game. It is a story where you are an office employee who finds yourself alone at your desk and discovers the whole building is empty. A narrator describes the series of events as you navigate the office, make choices, and eventually find out the horrible truth. You were being mind controlled and you can turn off that machine and live the rest of your life. That is arguably the story of the game. That arguably takes about ten minutes. Game rating: 10/10. Masterpiece.
So, one may have some questions about this. Why? Why is that a 10/10 game? What kind of fun or enjoyment should I, the very important and also sexy player get out of this? I’m paying money for this mind you. What is the game going to do to really “wow” me?
So, you’re forced to go deeper. Well, friend, you see there is a narrator who tells you what to do, but you can defy them and the funny voice gets mad. Game rating: 10/10. Masterpiece.
Your friend looks at you, confused and slightly angry. They say, no really, why did you love this game so much? How can you possibly say: 10/10? Do you even know how numbers work? DO YOU GET BASIC DIVISION PAL!? That equals 1. You’re suggesting the game is number 1. Maybe I’m too important and sexy to even be your friend, they say. And while you suspect that perhaps they are right about this, you still feel like you could convey the nature of the game slightly better.
So, what do you do, because no single element of the game means anything. This game doesn’t break down into fun particles to measure and sort. What it does is gives you the player an experience that is wholly your own. And when you start talking about this game and why the game is good, you quickly realize you need to start talking deeply and intimately about yourself and your experiences in a way you’re too nervous to communicate to that sexy important friend of yours. So, you talk about the Broom Closet.
“Well, okay. There is a broom closet in the game and you’re not supposed to go into it. But you can. And the Narrator gets really upset about it! And sarcastically insults you for being stupid!”
But this isn’t going to work is it?
The game isn’t good because you choose to defy the narrator and stand inside of a broom closet and get insulted. It isn’t good because he gets upset and boards up the closet entirely to prevent further malarkey. It is good because you connected with and desired to explore that experience. It is good because the story is composed of reactions to your curiosity in it. And while the story itself can be a flowchart of choices that you will be able to experience in a couple of hours, what people fail to realize is how many possible unique experiences happen due to personal curiosity.
The reason why you don’t want to spoil this story to your friends is because what you ruin isn’t the words you hear or the events that will happen, but rather the curiosity and choice a player has. Star Wars plays out exactly the same way every time, no matter how much you know about the story. You may know what happens in Star Wars, even before you’ve seen it, but you cannot change what happens in that movie. No matter how much you know, none of that knowledge changes the sequence of events, it just possibly changes how you feel about them as you experience them.
In some ways understanding the sequence of events helps us appreciate them more. If we know a character will betray the other characters later in the movie, we can pay attention to narrative hints that will happen. If we know two characters will fall in love, we can see the work put into making that sequence make narrative sense. Or we can see how the story didn’t hold up at all or just ham-fisted something in at the end.
There are thousands of unique ways someone may experience all of the content in The Stanley Parable. And the first ending or experience you have in the game will change the impact of the ones you have later. It is a game about curiosity, discovery, and choice. And removed of those three elements, there isn’t a particularly enjoyable experience to have.
The reason people want to not spoil this game for others is because it doesn’t just spoil the content of the game, it spoils your ability to organically make choices, be curious, and forge experiences that are your own.
There is a sequence in the game where you can trap the narrator in the Boss’s office, head back to the beginning of the game, climb up some escape stairs, and presumably escape the office. That’s all there is to it. I summed it up accurately in a single sentence. If you haven’t experienced it already, it won’t be fun to do it now. It won’t be fundamentally different than just walking through a hallway for five minutes. There is no dialogue to reward you. No indication you’ve done anything. The joy in this ending is not knowing what is going on. Not knowing if you’ve broken the game or not. Not knowing if there is even anything to explore or any reward in heading back. You can’t fundamentally talk about this experience if you want someone else to have it. That’s the problem with reviewing this game or selling it to a new audience.
I loaded up The Stanley Parable a few years ago. I even got an achievement that requires you to not play the game for five years without cheating by editing my computer clock. And it had been a long enough time that I felt like I could really enjoy the game again. It had been at least five years. And I recall how much fun I had in the broom closet that I talked about above. I recall just laughing my ass off and the very first thing I did was go back into the closet. (But, with an attractive woman and we totally made out!)
Anyways, the narrator started to scold me as I expected and even wanted. This is exactly what I was looking for, I’ve been naughty narrator-sama! Let me have it! And he did.
“OH, DID U GET THE BROOM CLOSET ENDING? THE BROOM CLOSET ENDING WAS MY FAVRITE!1 XD”…I hope your friends find this concerning.
And while that line was something that floored me with delight during my first playthrough, I saw it differently in my second. And I reflected on what I was even trying to do in the game. Because, I realized I was trying to just relive those moments I loved in rapid fire. I wasn’t exploring things, I wasn’t curious, I was going through a mental checklist of fun memories to reexperience. And guess what, it wasn’t fun. I quickly stopped playing, because I wasn’t getting anything out of the experience anymore.
And in that moment, I really understood how awful this game can be to someone who is trying to just passively experience things without the curiosity or personal investment required to enjoy them. Someone who is just jumping through the entire thing looking for more content and to be appeased and constantly rewarded.
And if you’ve gotten this far into this article, I have a warning for you. It’s extremely long, but it is intended as a journey. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get the point, you’ve lost the point of what I’m writing. If you just want the answer, you won’t find it. You’ll find experiences, ideas, stories, and more here. What could more be? It’s anyone’s guess! So, here is an out for you again, dear reader. If you need a break, take it and come back. If this is boring you, this isn’t for you, and I wish you well.*
(*Editor’s Note: Our sales department is instructing you to rewrite this passage into something more friendly and to work in a few ads here if possible. You’re expressly forbidden from telling people to stop reading or we will be forced to take this under consideration during your next evaluation meeting.)
So, let’s take a step back to look at the framework I’ll be using to understand these games. First we need to understand Death of the Author. This framework insists that a piece of work can only be judged on its own merits. Not only that, but also that an author cannot control, add, or dictate what a work means. While they can contribute their own interpretation, that information is secondary to a pure analysis of the work. Effectively, the author’s intentions do not matter, what matters is the words you’re reading and the impact they have on you.
Conversely, Authorial Intent is a number of things related to understanding a work of fiction solely through the lens of the author. It is where we treat the author as the de facto god and final arbiter of truth on the correct interpretation of a work. Suggesting Authorial Intent has any real substance is considered an “intentional fallacy”. Death of the Author is effectively a response to Authorial Intent.
However, these paradigms are only meaningful within the textual level of a work. A person writes a book, that book goes into the public, and the public talks about what the book means. Let’s say the author wrote what they thought was a funny book about a clown becoming a tax accountant: Clown Car Taxes. Let’s say the public reads the book and picked up on these undertones that shifted the conversation to treating the book as a serious reflection and critique on how art and expression are morphed under capitalisms into something inhumanly scary and the antithesis of expression.
The author will say, the book was a fucking joke, holy shit, settle down! How serious can you take five chapters dedicated to balloon dicks? The audience will say the author is wrong and didn’t understand their own work and how those balloons represented an ever growing patriarchal influence within capitalistic structures and inflation.
So, who is right?
The answer is it doesn’t matter. The intent of all work is to have impact. You don’t get to control that impact and it is the impact that defines the work. Some people are laughing at clown dick balloons, some people are discovering things deep within themselves about their sexual preferences they never knew, others are trying to pen Clown Balloon Dick Marxism as a new exciting theory. The author doesn’t control this, individual audience members don’t control this, it is the result of the impact on culture and cultures’ response to it.
It is now we must explore Death of the Audience. Tragically, it has never really gained the traction that it should have received from literary circles, and has been basically forgotten. Most famously, Jean Baudrillard explicitly brings the idea up in Simulacra and Simulation (1981) while talking about the effacement of meaning that occurs as signs become increasingly removed from reality, but he fails to ever follow the thread of Death of the Audience to any particular conclusion. I hope to not make the same mistake. So, to honor Baudrillard, I put all of his work into an artificial intelligence writing bot, who produced Simulacra And Simulations: Reproduction. In this way it’s like Baudrillard never died! And I learned so many things about what he would have likely said about all of this.
But, before we get into all of that, we first need to understand the Literary Color Wheel that is typically taught in 101 literature and writing classes in college.
Every work is divided into the story, the audience, and the author. The authors interpretation of the work is magenta, red and blue combined. These go back and forth and represent that as we write a story, it has impact on us, and in turn we have impact on it. Each relationship goes both ways, just like me in the broom closet.
This means yellow is our interpretation of the work and by us talking about the work, we change how people in culture think about and respond to it. Every work is composed of the combination of all of these elements as both individual composite and taken holistically. Works of art are not static, they change with culture and change culture. Art and life forever mimic one another.
So, when we’re thinking of frameworks like Authorial Intent, Death of the Author, or Death of the Audience we are trying to isolate the specific composite elements. Death of the Author therefore suggests that we remove blue as a color from this equation. Authorial Intent suggests we remove green as a color from this equation. Death of the Audience suggests we remove red from the equation. And while cunning readers may ask why this isn’t called Death of the Story, it is because it isn’t the story that dies. What dies is the ability for the audience to perceive the work outside of the author’s demands.
I’ll update the diagram below to reflect the focus.
So, we can understand through this diagram that Death of the Audience exists within the metatextual level in which the narrator intentionally subverts and fights for control of the reader’s interpretation of the work. It is where fighting for interpretation is not only part of the work, but intrinsically built into it. The story becomes the author having a conversation with you the reader directly.
So, instead of Clown Car Taxes being twelve chapters masterfully crafted into the funniest joke book featuring taxes and clowns for any audience to enjoy, it intentionally spends time convincing you the reader that it is all a joke and to also stop sexualizing balloon dicks.
We are not talking about a strong authorial voice for a narration, we are talking about an authorial voice who talks to you the reader about how you are supposed to feel about the story you are reading and attempts to change your feelings directly outside of the story or narrative you’re engaging in. Star Wars never stops for five minutes for their characters to turn to the screen and tell you about how it wants you to feel about Sith and Jedi. It lets the story talk for itself.
An interesting example of this is Princess Bride. A story that is narrated between a Grandpa and his grandson, where at several times the story cuts for the Grandpa to contextualize the story to the kid and to us as the audience. Telling us that we shouldn’t feel scared, when a scene was scary. Telling us about what is right or wrong in a story. Telling us how to feel about the ending of it and the spectacular kiss shared.
So, when I’m talking about Death of the Audience, I’m not suggesting that Davey Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable is killing the audience. I’m not suggesting the story has strong authorial voice or should be seen under an authorial intent framework. I’m suggesting the narrator, who represents the author of the story The Stanley Parable is. The entire game revolves around this conceit and the attempt of the Narrator to control their story, Stanley, and you. They want you to experience the story in a very very specific way. And the story therefore becomes a story built around a relationship between the narrator and the player.
I’m going to indulge in just one more example to make sure you fully get this concept, my dear reader. The rest of my article will be exploring how this works within a metafictional context, but a much more pure representation of this idea exists in any kind of self-help book. The story of a self-help book is thay people can be healthier or happy by doing certain things. But if that is all these books were, that would be extremely short and probably not sell. People engage in self-help because they want a narrator to dictate and control a person's perception to change for hopefully the better. The goal isn’t to improve your relationship to an abstract fiction, but to effectively hypnotize you into healthier habits.
And we often think about something like self-help as a non-fiction story, but is it? I mean seriously? Almost every self-help book is about convincing you to believe a certain narrative or fiction. And while some try to justify the positions with science or research, most of them are only using science and research to metanarratively make the story they are selling you more believable.
Hello, dear reader, Faye here! I know that was pretty dense and I promise two things.
The first promise is that the rest of this article is a bit less dense than that. That section was just the pesky framing we needed to build this house, but now we can decorate and put up paintings and have fun in it!
Don’t worry if you don’t fully get any of this yet, I’ll keep explaining as I go. This whole article isn’t about like my thesis on stories and writings. It isn’t some high academic work and I really hope dick balloons keyed you into that. Seriously.
So, we’ve gotten a good chunk in already, but feel free to load up on caffeine. Get Hype. HYPE!! We can do it!! I believe in you, dear reader! You got this! Woooo!*
(Editor’s Note: Articles don’t have coffee breaks. I don’t even understand what is going on here? Remove this whole section. Readers expect tight, consistent writing. You’re just confusing them. You also have not been removing the adverbs as I have marked and that needs to start. Just because language has adverbs doesn’t mean we’re allowed to use them. This is writing 101. You need to get with it. I’ve noticed you’ve been adding my notes to the story. This is strictly not allowed and you need to stop.)
The Experience of The Stanley Parable
So, what are the goals of the Narrator in The Stanley Parable? Well, it’s pretty simple. They want to tell a story about Stanley being free that takes about ten minutes, can be done in less than five, and gives you this beautiful escape. That’s the Red Story Circle from the diagram in my previous section.
Everything else that you do that doesn’t result in this ending is unintended according to the narrative. You are supposed to go left through the first set of two doors you see, then see nobody is in the meeting room, find out your boss isn’t in their office, discover the mind control facility, and turn it off. This is called the Freedom Ending in the game. Anything you do that is different than this, the narrator tries to stop you or redirect you back to the story and by extension the game itself — because you’re experiencing it wrong.
Each alternative ending is in some capacity a criticism or observation on the nature of how people interact with and dissect games or stories in general. The ending you get for defying the creator at every turn results in the game itself crashing. When you so badly wanted to go against any kind of direction or design, what were you hoping to achieve? The voice bemoans that you have ruined their game and for what? What was so special about seeing everything undone?
Another, similar pathway leads to the narrator letting you play someone else’s game if they hate his game so much.
These endings reminds me of the No Mercy Ending of Undertale. Undertale being another game which features the Death of the Audience, because the narrative literally fights you if you attempt to be monstrously evil in the game.
And obviously there is no right or wrong way to play the games you do, you can play any game however you want. The point is the narrative, gameplay, and experience of the No Mercy run all attempt to make you the player stop. They actively punish you for going forward. They guilt you the person playing at every step in an attempt to destroy your resolve to break the intent of their game. There is a clear narrative message that tries to convince you as a person to play that game differently and with compassion.
But let’s get back to The Stanley Parable and that ending I described above. Imagine if this is the first ending you got in this game. The first thing you did as a player was to throw a wrench into absolutely everything. And the game broke as the narrator cried in sadness. This ending is the only way to get the credits in the game and I think the reason is obvious. Congratulations, big guy, gal, or non-binary pal, you beat the game! Game over! You did it! By not engaging with any of the content at all, you won! You broke it! GREAT JOB! Roll credits, have a fun life!
There is another ending that you get for climbing out a window, where you’re taunted by your need to explore everything, to touch everything, or try everything possible. Because you can, the moral operative becomes you must. And when a gamer treats a game this way, they are wiping their ass on it. When they remove all context and meaning and intention from the designer, there is no respect, and none is given to the players who do this. You are insulted in this game. Not Stanley, you.
So many endings actively scold you for engaging in them and attempt to guilt you out of doing them. Some players may perceive this in a detached way and view it as just fun content, but this content is trying to change how you see, think about, and experience video games.
The first ending that I got, during the very first playthrough of my game, was rather magical. I got the Confusion Ending as my first ending and I honestly think it is the best ending to get first. What happens is you go off the beaten path and discover the Mind Control Facility first. This isn’t what is suppose to happen, so the Narrator panics and restarts the game.
However, as you try to progress, you no longer can. Instead of two doors at the beginning, you’re presented with six. The narrator resets again, this time no doors. He resets again and now you’re following a Yellow Adventure Line™ through the story with no rhyme or reason. Then you and the Narrator both escape the story until eventually you’re confronted with a white board that explains everything. The Confusion Ending. Ohhhh!
This board insists that the confusion will only continue, but in actuality this is the final part to this ending. And since this is the first ending I completed, I didn’t yet know what the lamp posts meant here. And when I started the game again, I didn’t know if any ending I got was part of the Confusion Ending or not. I was confused. It was aptly named and perfectly executed.
I don’t remember how long I played before I stopped being afraid I was in an endless cycle. This is all because I lucked into the Confusion Ending first, I could never truly know if I was ever out of it. If I understood more about the game or how it worked, I wouldn’t have had that exact experience. I wouldn’t have doubted everything or felt nearly so anxious.
So, how do I tell a player that? How do I tell them, go get into the Confusion Ending first, because it is the best experience you can have? I mean, looking back, I know it was the best experience I could have…but I don’t know you. You’re innocent. Sitting there in that black shirt still. But here is the thing. I can’t have that experience again and if you didn’t know about it before now, neither can you.
That experience can only happen in a very specific way and can only happen once. And this is where spoilers aren’t just about the nature of the content or what happens, but can lock you out of ever experiencing something. I don’t mean just for the first time, but ever. I can still experience Star Wars, but I can never be confused again about Stanley Parable’s Endings. Nor can anyone who is explained almost anything about the game.
This matters more for games like Undertale or The Stanley Parable because you aren’t passively experiencing a story, you are actively creating it. You as the player actually matter and are a real component of the story. Interestingly Toby Fox, who created Undertale, wanted people to not spoil that game or his new game Delta Ruin. He asked people to just not spoil it for twenty-four hours. He wanted people to get a chance to play it fresh. I remember James Stephanie Sterling attempting to do so, attempting to hold back, but after everyone else talked about it and ignored the review embargo they couldn’t resist either.
Needless to say, The Stanley’s Parable was something special to many people. It isn’t surprising, because this did something few games at the time were doing. It made people get invested in the game, put themselves into it, and they loved it because it was their own experience that they made. The number of essays that came out talking about the meaning of the game and what it was really about could be described as sole crushingly depressing and we’ll get to that in a second.
One take I often see is that the game is about the illusion of choice. That’s interesting to me because it’s wrong. Critics who talk about this talk about how everything in the game is ultimately predetermined and this game is a commentary on this nature of games. How even if you’re trying to defy the narrator and feel clever or proud in doing so, every action or reaction is programmed into the game. You don’t have any true agency, even in endings where it feels like you’ve won.
But this is fundamentally wrong, because you do choose. There is no illusion in this. You make the choice of going right or left at the beginning of the game. You make the choices that wind up giving you your first ending. And the choices you make lead you through the narration and content in the game in the order of your curiosity. This game is fundamentally and acutely about the reality of your choice and the experiences you have because of it. And I’m glad I can finally clear that up and Davey Wreden can finally read someone who gets it.
You, doing okay? Drinking your water and not just having an emotional support cup of water next to you? You stretch a little today? You should stretch a little!
Nice day out? I hope so. This is a long article and you’ve made it a good — you know what, let’s not worry how much is left to go! You can stop and come back if you need. No pressure to read it all in one sitting. And hey, when you come back or if you carry on now, I’ll be right here with you!
Soon, we’re going to move into The Beginner’s Guide. I spent years trying to really play another game like The Stanley Parable or The Beginner’s Guide. I’m not talking about walking simulators, I’m talking about these engaging metanarrative experiences that really intellectually engage with and challenge you. That captures you and really makes you part of the story in meaningful ways. Ways that pretty much only video games can do.
These are games about creating, about authorship, and about meaning in very intentional ways. There really aren’t games exactly like this and honestly, I just played The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, because I figured it definitely had to be like this and I was right. I mean, it was an extremely safe bet.
And then I thought, hey, I want to say things about this. I think I’ve wanted to say things about this for a very long time. And I started writing a Medium article. This Medium article. And I wanted it to be a kind of tribute to these games that are largely about being metacontextual. So, obviously, I also wanted to do that. I wanted this article to feel kind of like engaging with those games. I wanted to be your narrator. A narrator. About all of this. And you can trust that I’m reliable. I mean, would an unreliable narrator say that? I don’t think so.
Wait, no, obviously an unreliable narrator would lie to you. So, how about this. I’m an unreliable narrator. If that’s the truth, then you know you can trust me. If it’s a lie, you know you can trust me! I’m glad we got that straightened out.
Oh, how I’ve hoped you enjoyed it so far, dear reader. We can stop to think of our memories together. Lesbian make-out sessions in the closet. Cutting metaphoric imagery that no other author is brave enough to include, like Balloon Dicks! Remember this quote?
So, you’re forced to go deeper. Well, friend, you see there is a narrator who tells you what to do, but you can defy them and the funny voice gets mad. Game rating: 10/10. Masterpiece.
That was a good time, wasn’t it?
I’m sorry, do you want to move on? Yes, yes, that makes sense. We still have a long way to go. No point in spending too much time in intermission. We’re going to now start talking about The Beginner’s Guide, but I have some bad news, dear reader. One cannot simply talk about that game, without disarming the many narrative traps it holds for those reviewing it.
We’ll need to do something before we can really get into the murky depths of Davey’s second game. We’ll need something to help explain…how to explain the game. Something…instructive. Something..
…I got it.
(*Editor’s Note: :( )
The Beginner’s Guide Beginner’s Guide
You need to Sigh.
Like, a really big SIGH.
No, you’re not getting it. It has to be even bigger than that. Really breathe in for all of your worth and imagine something that is not just despair, but the complete antithesis of your hopes. The sigh that comes after cooking a pot pie in the oven for 45 minutes only to drop it on the floor.
If you don’t know how this feels, please purchase a pot pie. Wait until you are hungry. Preheat your oven, cook it for the recommended time, take it out of the oven, and throw it on the floor. If someone asks why you’ve done such a thing, say it was to understand art. They will not ask further questions.
If you have done this, you may continue. If you have not, you may continue with an empty feeling in your soul where this experience could have been and one day may yet be lodged. It is not required, only recommended.
So, why are we sighing in such a way? Well, dear reader, because Davey Wreden is a real person. And The Beginner Guide is designed to punish analysis of it. This game is designed to fight your interpretation of it. And to judge you, while you judge it.
This game features two Davey Wredens, the real man who created this game and the fictional man who tells a story within it. And as we dissect this game you need to keep in mind that nobody knows who the real Davey Wreden is except the people who are actually in his life. You cannot reverse engineer “Davey the person” from the video games Davey has created. And this notion is a central theme to this game.
And that is why this game is difficult to talk about.
As I talk about this game, I need my readers to recognize that we have a personal responsibility when speaking about people who are real. Our modern age is horrifying and we see all media through a lens of content. Not just television or YouTube, but people’s lives. We watch with popcorn and share with glee a court hearing about domestic abuse between two actors. We cut real life scenes into our own entertaining shorts, put music to them, and a million people laugh. And we get to have opinions about people we don’t know. We get to pine, analyze, and talk about people just like books or movies. We get to think we actually know someone from the hours of content they’ve produced or every tweet they’ve written, like we can discover real truth in the fabrication and moments we have access to.
In The Beginner’s Guide, Davey Wreden is a fictional character who narrates about a fictional story. This game was created by the real Davey Wreden. So, how do I talk about the fictional Davey Wreden? How do I analyze this character or make comment about them without implicitly implicating the real Davey Wreden. That is the challenge in reviewing this game.
Real Humans as Content
When we think about this it is important to really understand how little we know of the creators of the media we engage with. This even includes me. This little voice in your head as you read these words. Unless you don’t have an internal voice like that. If you don’t have an internal narrator, I ask you to read the rest of this article out loud to understand the previous point better. The louder, the better. If anyone asks why you are doing it, again say it is to understand art.
Anyways, at time of writing this article, I have hours of written content on Medium. Within the articles I write you can get a general impression of who I am. You can really get a feel for what makes me tick. Except…you can’t.
These words aren’t Faye, this article is not Faye, but this article is a piece of work that Faye created. And you will never really know me based on how I choose to express myself in writing. You won’t know exactly what will make me laugh or cry. You won’t know the full range of my insecurity or confidence. Who I want to spend time with or why. You will have access to what I choose to share and how I choose to share it. None of us are really reliable narrators for our own life. And you don’t need to know that much about me. In fact, you should think of me as a creative narrator more than a person, even in my other articles. Because unless you know me in real life, that is all I am to you. And that is a divide I feel like we really don’t understand in our current technological world.
You cannot know Davey because of his game The Stanley Parable. You cannot reverse engineer who he is from this work. And while The Beginner’s Guide features him as the developer and narrator, it is impossible to tell where the person ends and the art begins. A fantastic examination of this entire conceit is explored by Super Eyepatch Wolf’s “What is Nathan Fielder”.
This is an hour long psychoanalysis of the actor and creator Nathan Fielder. Wolf tries to understand this man entirely from the content he produces and what facts he can find searching the internet. This is something Wolf has explored a few times before in different ways, but his conclusion is that you can’t draw anything meaningful about the person Nathan Fielder from the character he plays on television.
Wolf ends the video by examining himself under this same lens and talks about how his audience can feel so connected to the illusion of who he is. He tells us that his fans call him genuine, but asks us what that really means?
Everything we see of Wolf is constructed. Every video we see is heavily edited, designed, and manufactured. And even if we’re looking at his well sculpted body, looking into his soulful eyes, hearing him talk with his calming voice — it’s all from a teleprompter, a script, and multiple takes or my fan fictions: Super Eyepatch Wolf: Deluxe Space Odyssey.
You don’t actually know the creator as a person and interacting with his art is not interacting with him. And I know this, because we’re good friends and talk about it all the time. We met a few years back during a creator expo, when he was working on that video above. Now, I was a little pushy and forward, but he was actually really chill about it and we got along.
He even publicly thanked me during his Undertale video, which is at time of writing his third most popular video. We’re not best friends, but we obviously have this really strong connection and I just feel like I really understand his work on a deep and personal level. I feel like I actually really get him.
And when I watched that video where my good friend Wolf name drops me, I was actually working on an Undertale essay at the time. It was my first creative essay I wrote for Medium and something I wanted to do most of my life. It was insane to me to hear my name in that video about Undertale, from a creator I loved, while also working on my first essay about the same subject. I felt seen. I felt for a moment like he might actually know me or my content.
And here is the thing, dear reader. I don’t know him. I lied. I was just randomly thanked for being a Patreon supporter. I share that honor with a person named Poopy Face who was on the screen two names before me. It doesn’t mean anything. But there are people who get into this headspace that they are friends with creators. That they do know them or believe they know them or believe the creator is talking solely to them.
Hearing my name during that video was otherworldly. And given that I was working on Undertale at the time this Undertale video came out, for just a few seconds I had to wonder if he somehow actually knew me. I didn’t seriously believe this, but I felt a slight suspension of disbelief because of the enormous and unlikely coincidence of events.
I’m one of millions in his audience. And while the story I’m sharing here is novel and interesting as far as coincidences go, that’s where it ends. We get into these spaces where we find so much meaning from what people create, that we want to connect with them. We sometimes spend so much time with a creator’s content that we consider them friends. Twitch as a platform largely functions as a friend simulator. So, obviously we want to impact the people who have impacted us.
This happens because technology has made the possibility of connecting with creators so much easier. You don’t need to wait for conventions or book tours anymore. Often the creators you love are just a Tweet, Twitch view, or comment away. You can message them naked from the comfort of your home, no problem. This is the future, it is now! And we’re all extremely lonely and disconnected and less likely to have strong personal friendships.
Parasocial relationships are filling in the gap of social relationships and we stop understanding the divide. We find ourselves with so much affection for people who have no idea who we are, that we find ourselves compelled to reach out. We don’t want just a monologue going in opposite directions. We don’t want to just be part of the audience or chat or comment section, we want to be real people to these creators and have real dialogues with them.
A long time ago Davey wrote about depression after The Stanley’s Parable’s success. He talked about how many people messaged him to talk to him about how the game impacted them. While it was often positive and something incredibly validating to him, it was also negative. He became the official baggage handler of an entire internet based airport of emotion. Wolf covers in a two hour video exactly what this can do to a person. With enough fame, even if a tiny fraction of people hate your work it can result in thousands of people sending you hate. Most humans aren’t equipped to deal with that and our monkey brains just freak the fuck out.
And I too get this in my own little way. My Minecraft essay on Medium has over 2,000 views and nearly 1000 claps and the attention of one squirrel. That is nothing to anyone with any real audience on this site, but it is fifty to a hundred times more popular than anything I’ve done creatively and even that terrifies me.
If nobody cares about me or my writing, then I have no expectation to live up to. I’m not going to get targeted with hate or deal with my work being taken out of context or the baggage thousands of readers may want to leave me with.
The more popular my work becomes, the less ownership I have over it. Given that my work is deeply personal and reflective, that means in some ways I would have less ownership over myself. And that Minecraft article I wrote has so many comments that seem to be from people who may want to use it to justify not letting kids play? To me the article is a goofy examination of Minecraft that mimics a horror story to just talk about the dehumanizing elements of gamification. It has a lot in there about how great the game is for community and building things together at the very end. Yet, I think parents are sharing it with each other for moral panic? I’m nothing and already my work has a twist I didn’t want to it.
When Davey wrote about those experiences and posted them online, he ended up getting flooded with comments by people who really did not understand what he was saying. He was saying that he was depressed and overwhelmed with everyone reaching out. So, naturally he got hundreds of comments from people reaching out to tell him it was okay! Irony Achieved!
When Wolf made his video questioning why people thought he was genuine, so many commenters rushed to praise him or absolve those insecurities and missed the entire point he was making. It was a rhetorical question to prove a point. And even when people know they are wrong to reach out, they can’t help themselves. They can apologize while violating those spaces, ignoring your message, and just trying to keep on impacting you. They can apologize and say they’re just awkward or socially awkward as an excuse to keep violating your boundaries. The words and apologies are just so they can keep doing it, because they don’t fundamentally want to actually stop.
When Davey wrote about his depression, he posted it publicly at the time. He didn’t know what to do with his need for validation and people’s expectations of him. And within the post he makes he draws attention to the irony of speaking publicly about a problem that will only invite the same attention he is trying to avoid that I already talked about above. And just to reiterate, the comments he got were extremely telling of how much people love to engage, but hate to understand.
One particularly scary comment that Davey received stuck out to me:
I want you to come back here later. When we’re all done with talking about The Beginner’s Guide. I want you to reread this comment after we’ve explored everything the game has to say. Because I think that will drive a key point the game attempts to make about boundaries, about listening, and about asserting yourself in spaces you are not welcomed, no matter how good your intentions are. I won’t prompt you or remind you to do it, so it’s up to you.
I hope the message above is actually satire. It doesn’t justify the message if it is, I just hope it’s satire so the person who left really wasn’t that dense. An interesting thing is that Davey did post his feelings about depression publicly. He did post them in a place where people could comment. If someone can do something, the moral operative becomes you must. (Which you’d really understand if you understood the Runescape Wilderness.)
So, the discussion here becomes if Davey was depressed because of all of the intensity of other people, is it not his fault for inviting more scrutiny and comment? Should he have not just turned off comments or not posted it? And this becomes the value of games like Undertale, The Stanley Parable, and The Beginner’s Guide. Because they all simulate situations in which you have the freedom to break the game, the boundaries, and the rules of a situation if you choose — but they don’t want you to.
And it means so much more when you offer these possibilities where you can break a game, where you can go against the narrative or consent, but choose not to. Undertale would have been a much less meaningful game if you started killing monsters and then were stopped and told that was bad. Then not allowed to ever do it again.
The game lets you be a monster, so you can choose not to be. That is the value. And while these are just games we’re talking about, these are simulations of experiences and discussion around very real important topics of consent and boundaries. And framing something around the notion of analyzing if what someone did deserved abuse or not, is maybe not the best framework.
So, this commenter above played these games and is suggesting they now understand Davey. Yet they still choose to act in opposite to everything Davey talks about within his games, the essay, and a comic he wrote to express his feelings on depression and being overwhelmed by so many people coming to him to share themselves. The commenter fundamentally does not understand or did not respect Davey’s post, to leave a comment like this. Even though it seems friendly, it seems like it wants to connect, it is still breaking the clear boundary in the message Davey communicated. And there are hundreds of comments that are about the same. And while I couldn’t say exactly what Davey would want or be the authority on this, I’m going off what I feel is a very clear message in his writing for that post.
A lot of people pine on the intention of The Beginners Guide and most folks come away thinking it was how Davey dealt with the stress and depression of The Stanley’s Parable. How he dealt with comments like that. The Beginner's Guide was a game about violating boundaries, because Davey felt his boundaries were being violating by fans. And while that does logically follow from the events we know about, it is impossible to say.
And, am I not just inviting all of this scrutiny again here? Am I not breaking these implicit boundaries by over examining a real person? I’ve spent a very long time describing why we can’t do that. So, why am I doing that very thing right now? Well, I have to talk about this, because of the nature of the game The Beginner’s Guide for a very explicit reason.
So, you need to take a step back, so you don’t get electrocuted.
We need to — dun — dun — da!! Resuscitate the Author. Gasp! The crowd faints.
ZAAAP. Or like a zap noise. A kind of Frankenstein imagery. You get it.
So, The Beginner’s Guide is arguably about a person who broke boundaries, manipulated another person’s deeply personal and private games, and even destroyed their love of making games. It examines the impact doing that has on a person in very intimate detail. It explores all of the trauma associated with that.
And while this could be a detached creative direction, it just feels so logically connected to Davey’s talks about depression, his relationship to narrative convention, and how he ultimately may understand and relate to stories.
A common reading of the game is that Davey the Narrator is a stand-in for the audience of The Stanley Parable. That the video game developer, Coda, who is a main central focus of the story in The Beginner’s Guide is a stand-in for the real Davey. And the game is just an exploration of how he felt so violated by so many people. The tough part about this entire thing is the same problem we see with Super Eyepatch Wolf’s Nathan Fielder video: where does the person end and the character begin?
Let’s look at this another way. If someone told me they wrote a story about a character being assaulted, I may find the story in bad taste. I may think that it narratively is not a good story. I may like the story. If they told me it was a retelling of their own assault, then saying it is a bad story stops being relevant. Deconstructing the nature of the story becomes a little…wrong. Saying the story is pretentious becomes borderline inhuman. And that is the difficulty in looking at The Beginner’s Guide, because what are we looking at? And that is another reason why you sighed with me at the start of this section. You cannot know.
And that line feels very intentional. You’re not supposed to know. You’re not supposed to strictly understand if this journey is personal trauma, creative expression, or the creative expression of personal trauma. So, while I don’t want to over analyze a real person, if I ignore that real person in this circumstance and understand The Beginner’s Guide as just a detached work of art outside of the author’s personal experiences or authorial intent, well that feels incredibly invalidating and dehumanizing.
And since this game is effectively about a character not understanding and forcing their own interpretations onto someone else’s art — what can I possibly do that isn’t just that. In fact, hasn’t my entire section on the 2013 The Stanley Parable just been me acting like the villain in The Beginner’s Guide? Telling everyone else the perfect way to experience it, the kind of experiences you should get out of it, and the way to draw meaning from it?
Obviously my intentions were good. I wanted to help. I wanted to draw attention to what the Real Davey actually meant. Sure, I added lampposts to the endings I described, but if I didn’t, you just wouldn’t have understood it like I do. Like how it was supposed to be understood! Don’t you see, that I’m a good person. I’m helping! This is what I need to do! I’m doing this for you!! No, I’m doing this for Davey! You have to understand me! You have to believe me!
The screen goes dark.
It stays dark for some time.
The air changes. The wind starts to drift by and carries with it a feel of moisture against your skin. It feels refreshing and brisk. You strain to open your eyes against a powerful sun in the far distance hovering inches above the sea’s far horizon. As your eyes adjust to its intensity, you hear the sound of birds, possibly seagulls in the distance. You feel sand as you start to move your body around. You’re not sure if you’re wearing anything, but it doesn’t scare you, even if it normally would.
As your eyes adjust, you start to take it all in. It really is breathtakingly beautiful. The oceans, the trees behind you, and just the immensity of all of it. You start to consider what the totality of the experience really is and you can only come to this vague notion of an intense calm.
You look over and Faye is next to you, wearing her classic Taoist bathing suit. It isn’t the author of this piece, but rather Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop. A common mistake.
She says, “Beautiful Skin is maintained by continued effort that seems futile.”
The wisdom about skincare feels like it could apply to your life in more meaningful ways. How all of our little efforts can feel so futile within the moment, yet add up into something beautiful.
Or wait. Maybe there is more to it. That the perfection we see in others that seem so effortless is actually only maintained through constant effort. You chuckle to yourself. Ha ha. Classic Faye.
But how did we get here and why is Faye here? So you ask, “Why are you here, Faye? Why am I here?”
She looks back at you, her head tilts down and her sunglasses slide down to the tip of her nose. You can see her eyes looking at you. Really considering you with a sharpness you know comes from a hard life and a struggle to ever trust someone else ever again. She doesn’t say anything, but that look says everything.
The screen goes dark again.
After a few moments you hear a faint whisper. The sound is distorted and reverberates like an echo into itself from another dimension. It sounds like nonsense. Not something to worry about or concern yourself with.
È̸̛̦͕͇̐d̵̳̬̫̈͗͊͝ȋ̷̼̌ẗ̸̼̰ó̶̜̺̠̊ŕ̵͚͇̪̹̔͘ ̵̳̩̘̖̚N̵̼̄o̷̺̟̿͑͌́t̷̗̼̤̂͋ḛ̶̫̝̳͌̄͆:̶̯̻̼̩̂̏ ̴͙̉͑y̶̖͎̘͌͂͑̕ò̸͉͓̮̇͐ǘ̴̺̪̌͝ ̵̤͂̾n̷̡̝̰̗̎͝͝é̷͍ȅ̸͖̄̀̒͜d̴̻̚ ̷̉͆̑ͅt̵̢̧̬̀̅̆o̶̩̳̔̇̈́ ̴͈̣͂s̷̨̻̔̒̉̓t̶̢̲̟̰̀͗̅ơ̵͕̪̩̓̿̕ͅp̶͎̜̦͈͛̅̃͋,̸̪̘̎̑̀̍ ̵̧͔̲̖͆͝I̷͉͠ ̶̫̳͝ç̶͒͑͒a̷͙̎̋̈͠ṋ̵͎͉̜̾’̸̬͇͎̺̈́ţ̸̲̲̀̐̾ ̸̳̂e̸̬̽v̸̡̧̹͓̉e̷͔͉̿n̷̩̟̬̒̆̃ ̶̧͚̺̍s̷̰͇̼͑e̷̱̱̤̝̕ĕ̵̲̠̼̏̇̍ ̵̦̝͒t̶̲͚͎̀̀̒̂h̸̞͖͒͛̒ē̵͈͊̾̀ ̸̜̲̻̈́̓͛s̷͔̝̉̏̔̆ṯ̵̰͗̕͝ỏ̴̹̿̓̔r̶̞̦̰̟̄ỳ̵̠͎̗̗́̃̀ ̸̧̢̼̐̉a̸̛̝̽͂̇ñ̵̢̞͈̅ͅy̶̖͉̼̟̿m̶̙̬̽o̵̪͑́̈́̾ŗ̷̎è̶̝̯̥̅̔͜.̶̨͇̻̣̋̐̔͝ ̴͓̙̲͋̉̒Ị̸͙̘͓̒͋ ̷̯̯͇̖̀͑̄͝č̶̬͍͎͝a̵̮̞̓͘ñ̸̜̔̓͘’̶̡͇̥͚̓t̷̖͔̠͗ ̷̛͚́̾͝e̷̯͐͐͠͝v̵͍̞̦͌́e̴̥̥̓̀͝ǹ̷̪̩͎̎͜ ̷͔͎͛͐̏͝ŗ̶̎̈́͠e̴̗̹̻͝a̶̙̫̼͓̐c̷̢͓̑̏͂h̷͇̩̆͌͋ ̵̛̜͕͈̎̀ỵ̴̅̏̔̽ŏ̵̟͛̀̓u̵̠̹̭̬͗̓̐̽.̴̼̰͖̖͒ ̴̮̖̠̾̂̃̚Ȉ̸̯͈͗̈́̈͜ ̷́ͅf̶̧͕͉̀̾̚e̶̯̯͔͂͆̋͝ȩ̸̯̒̀̆ͅl̴͕͉̺̋͑ ̷̜̗̰̫̑̅̚p̴̧͇̿͂͛o̴͍̫̓̏w̶̖̗̗͝͝ḙ̵͓̓̈̋r̷͎̬̗̜̀̀͝ĺ̴̜̇̌ę̷̠̥̽͐̎s̴̨̬̊͜s̶̬̦̆ ̷̱̃h̸̟̖̀͆̎̓e̵̼̪͈̱͑͌r̷̢̙͔͂͋́ẹ̵̡͌̈́̕.̴͓͆.̶̨̲̊ͅͅ.̷͙̄̇̆͝s̷̘̦͙͌̄̾̂ṃ̸̭͘ȁ̶̖̝̹l̷͚̳͔̹͊̌͆̓ḻ̷̇̋̎͘.̶͚̬͚͂̒̇ ̵̝̪͌́H̶̼̥̖̪̀́̔e̶͓̮̰̐̂̈̾ľ̴͈̬̪̦̓̐̍p̴͆͋ͅ.̷̰͈̈̏͝ ̷̜̖̮̉̈́H̴̫͑̓E̷͗̒̎͜L̸̛̻͝P̶̦͌͒!̴͇̍̏͂!̶̘͎̥̆
Back to Continuity
Oh, welcome back. Lost you there for a second.
I hope you went somewhere nice. Sometimes when confronted with big moral and ethical dilemmas it is important to take a step back and breathe. There are hardly easy answers and never objective answers for how we conduct ourselves. But now that we’ve taken a break, it’s time to dust the sand off, put clothes back on, and consider how to move forward.
When we consider something like Death of the Audience, we are not suggesting that the audience cannot interpret the work. We also aren’t suggesting that drawing meaning from a work, talking about it, or telling someone else what you felt about it is wrong to do. The opposite is true, Death of the Audience is almost explicitly about us talking about the work.
We put things out there to have an impact and art is meant to be discussed. The Real Davey chose to create art that may be deeply reflective of his personal experiences as an invitation to interpret it. It also may have just been to sell the whole game as a more effective Artificial Reality to lend further believability to the metanarrative. Some people still believe the game is about a real story. Ultimately, I don’t think the story is telling us to not put our own meaning on it. I think it’s doing something more sophisticated.
It is saying you need to be careful. You need to be kind. You need to really listen not to the author necessarily, but to the work you’re engaging with and what it is really trying to say on its own terms. A puzzle adventure is often a terrible first person shooter, but is that a fair criticism?
And it’s okay to engage, it’s okay to be honest, it’s okay to discuss it and the impact it has on you. It’s okay if you didn’t get it or didn’t click with you or you hated it. It’s okay if how you feel it spoke to you was different than someone else or different then the creator. It’s even okay to reach out to a creator and an author to start a dialogue.
The reason the Narrator is seen as a villain in the story of The Beginner’s Guide isn’t because he misunderstood his friend Coda’s games or because he believed games should be different, definitive, and lead somewhere. He is the villain because he went behind Coda’s back and told everyone Coda was depressed. He is the villain, because he ignored Coda’s wishes to be private and broke boundaries to share Coda’s intimate work with the world. He is the villain because not only did he share that work, he changed it and distorted it into what he thought Coda intended, but lied about doing that. He is the villain not because of how he engaged with the games, but because of how he engaged with the creator with his demands, expectations, and violations never stopped. He pushed and pushed to get what he wanted until he burned down the entire forest.
And I really like this. I like the story it has to say. I like what this has to say about art, critics, and artists. And I want to take a moment right here to call for a safe word/time out.
I don’t consider anything I’m talking about here to be definitive. I really want people to understand that this is all my interpretation of these games and I don’t presume to understand the Real Davey or feel like I’ve uncovered the truth of his intention or meaning of games.
I’ll joke about it, I’ll make strong cases for the meaning you can draw from these games, and honestly suggest what I feel would be the best way to experience them, but this starts and stops with me. I want to do my best to be ethical in how I talk about art that may be deeply personal. And the interludes are to remind us to take ourselves less seriously. And because Faye is pretty hot right? And that anime character aint bad either! Finger guns!
The last thing I want to talk about in this guide to a guide is the breakdown of the relationship between the real Davey, the fictional Davey within this game, and the fundamental nature of storytelling. A really sophisticated look at all of this is featured in a video by Innuendo Studios:
As I mentioned, we cannot reverse engineer a person from the work they create. However, all paintings at some level are self-portraits as the video above talks about. Davey created The Stanley Parable because he likely was fascinated with creating a story that dealt with a metanarrative that directly challenged the player. It was a game where the narrator and player were intimately connected by design. It was a game that you didn’t just passively experience, but one in which you created experiences.
It is very likely that the nature of interaction between creator and audience was always something he liked exploring. As he became a real creator and gained a real audience, he found himself within the role he only imagined. He became in a real way just like the Narrator from The Stanley Parable. And in a real way The Stanley Parable became his Stanley. He wanted people to play it, he wanted people to get their own experiences out of it, and to enjoy it. Davey’s story to tell wasn’t just an escape from the office, it was the entire game as a package. And you the player, you remained the same, ever hungry for more.
But the Narrator in The Stanley Parable has prerecorded lines and is finite. He exists within a story. There is a beginning and end to him as a character, who is voiced by an actor. However, the Real Davey, now he could say anything. He could do anything. His content is virtually limitless. Put a camera on that guy! Let’s go ask him things! Let’s have him justify himself! Let’s yell at him and see if he gets mad! Where is his Onlyfans? Where can people pay him to narrate their life?
The fans moved to Davey to be their narrator. To keep the content coming. And Davey as a creator, did not walk away from this. He didn’t walk away from the public eye or create something that distanced himself from the work. Instead, he created a game that embraced that scrutiny and that actually invited more of it. If everyone in life wanted him to take on the role of the narrator, then he would do it. He’d make a whole game about it. He would make The Beginner’s Guide and even give out a personal email at the beginning of it.
The Beginner’s Guide is similar to The Stanley Parable in that much of the game tends to be an interaction between the narrator and the player. They react to what you do, so it really feels like they’re escorting and guiding you through the experience. Just like I’m doing now, dear reader. Remember to drink your emotional support water!
The narration painstaking sets up Davey the character as someone with good intentions. Good feelings. A good person who was trying to help a friend. Since his story is the framing device from which we understand everything we see, we will naturally relate to him as our friend. He is the one with us. Coda is the one he is helping, a struggling game developer who seems to be out of ideas, in a creative rut, and isolated from everyone.
The narrator even starts off cheerful, really nostalgic for the good times he perceived was shared between himself and Coda. He gets increasingly frustrated by not understanding Coda’s games or desires. We learn that he manipulated the games to tie in meaning that was never there. We learn he tried to be some hero to save Coda, but really he was just doing it for himself. He just wanted to feel special, wanted to feel like the hero, wanted something to make him feel important or smart and Coda as a person never mattered. It was always ultimately about him.
I think about eight years ago, I reached out to James Stephanie Sterling. I didn’t leave a comment on a video, I dug for a way to contact them more personally. A way they had to actually see. I was upset that their video runtime was getting to be more than twenty minutes. And I thought I was helping to let them know to keep the videos shorter. I had an essay of great points on why I was right. And I thought it was a good thing to do what I did.
I didn’t understand at the time that any unsolicited advice is always criticism.
I never knew if Commander Sterling got that message. They didn’t respond to it. But I noticed their next few videos were significantly shorter. And I felt like I made an impact. And at the time I felt good about it. I helped out this creator that I loved and had followed for years! Thank god for me!
And at some point, I stopped feeling good about it. And I wondered what horrible thing had gone wrong in my brain to think for one second those series of actions that ended in me sending a message were a good idea. And my only real hope is that they never actually saw the message. My hope today is that it didn’t impact them. That it didn’t make them second guess making videos or if it was even worth it. And not because I’m important, not because my words have that significant of weight, but because I’m not alone. People with huge audiences have so many people like me, who felt like Davey, who felt entitled, and acted on it.
And I bring this all up to make one final point.
Someone may ask, but Faye, what if a creator really did change my life, should I never talk to them about that? That is total whack! I am clearly just a friend they haven’t met yet!
Yes. Actually, yes. Never do that. If a creator wants fans to talk to them, they will make that possible. They might have official fan pages, comments sections, or a twitter that are spaces to interact with them. Otherwise, share what you love with people in your life. Make your own reviews about it and post them. Go to reddit and find a board to talk to other folks who love the creators or work just like you do. Nobody is entitled to the time or emotional labor of a creator whose content you just happen to love.
I couldn’t find it, but recently Neil Gaiman has been active on twitter after releasing that gay porn opera on Netflix. I think it was loosely inspired by a graphic novel he worked on in the 90s, but I’m not totally sure on that. I feel like I have a good omen about it, but the name just isn’t coming to mind and since I use Bing for my search results, nothing is coming up either. Feel free to let me know in the comments what the name of it is!
Needless to say he had a lot of folks who hated the gay erotica and he asked one person why bother telling him? Wouldn’t it be more fun to find other people who hated it and engaged with them about it?
And I feel like this really encapsulates everything I’m trying to say about creator boundaries. That people feel entitled to reach out to creators in a way that isn’t particularly healthy for anyone. I do think there are a lot of valid reasons and times to reach out to a creator. I’m not making a definitive argument one way or another, but just like I’ve talked about throughout this guide. There isn’t a right answer, but try to reflect on if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Consider your impact and that you’re talking to a real person. And that they probably already have a full life and any time they give back to you is a burden to them and a privilege to you.
So, now that we know all of that, we can seamlessly whisk ourselves into the next section and actually start talking about The Beginner’s Guide!
Phew, good job reader! We’ve climbed another major hill of words and are just before the next section! I’ve decided I’d give you an additional break here, but shorten it to just “Ad Break” to save time! Glad I did that.
I’m sure at this point you have a ton of questions and observations. Wouldn’t it be better if I gave abbreviations at this point? Instead of The Stanley Parable, it would be TSP. I’d introduce it like The Stanley Parable (TSP) is a fun game. TSP offers a compelling web of choices. Oh wow, this is fun!
TSP, TBG, and TSP:DE are all games involving DW. Oh my. No, no, I went too far. I understand that now. I needed to establish them all first. Can’t just jump into it like that. I’m sorry.
You know, these abbreviations didn’t really help you at all. They just help me. They make typing them easier. But I’m okay doing the work. I like that you can see the full name every time and I do it because of that. I do it, my dear reader, for you.
I’ve never particularly cared for the conventions of grammar. I’m sure the more cunning of you or those with pulses have found “mistakes” in this work. Especially after my first editor mysteriously disappeared and was never heard from again.
I joke about my work being grammar-lite™. I think there is a strict difference between readability and perfectly following the conventions of grammar. I don’t think it’s a binary. I think you have to break grammar pretty hard to lose readability, I should know, I read the comment sections all of the time. And reading thousands of comments in my life online, I’m not sure there was ever time I couldn’t make out the author’s intentions, no matter how badly they butcher everything.
When I look at how to have strong, tight writing where every word matters…it feels empty to me. Why am I forging a sword that perfect and sharp? Something that will ultimately only satisfy the people who chose to care about it in the first place?
My voice isn’t being perfect, my voice is the choices that I make that aren’t. Which is why every grammatical mistake you find in this article is intentional. I painstakingly went through and added all of them to prove a point about art. If anyone points out any mistakes in your own work, tell them it’s a lesson about art.
Oh, where has the time gone!
What a break this has been, hasn’t it! But look at me, I went and talked through your whole ad break, while you simply stared and politely nodded while your food went cold and you looked more and more annoyed. You only get fifteen minutes and you had to listen to me prattle on the whole time. What true misery that must have been.
You know what. Give yourself fifteen more minutes, on me! Then we’ll come back and get to it! We’ll really dive into The Beginner’s Guide then!
The Beginner’s Guide
Welcome Back. Now that we totally understand the framework that we should view this game in, we are ready to talk about the game. If you feel uncertain if you totally understand the framework we should view this game in, please reread the section titled “The Beginner’s Guide Beginner’s Guide” and return here.
Are you now totally confident in understanding the framework? Yes. No.
Please select one of those two options.
I will assume you have selected “Yes.”
If you have not selection “Yes” then please reread the previous section.
Was that fun to read? Did you have a good time reading that? What about this? The thing you are now reading? Do these words remain fun? Or do you find it a little too contrived? Just what are you looking to get out of this article with the finite time you have left on earth before eventually becoming nothing more than countless atoms across the universe?
Every paragraph you read is new content. New ideas. Exciting!! You can hardly wait for the next line. Just where will it go!
My goal is to make this article a similar experience to the games in which I’m describing. So, my article also asks you to slow down. Stop trying to be given answers and spend some time to actually discover them. I want you to recognize the context of the work you’re interacting with and the message of the creator. This article wants you to think, explore, be curious and so forth. SO FORTH! What a way to say so much and so little at the same time!
As a reminder, as we talk about this game we will denote Davey the Narrator as Davey N. Davey N is not a real person, but a fictional person within The Beginner’s Guide.
The Beginners Guide has Davey N walk through in chronological order the games of a fictional developer named Coda. The first game we are shown of Coda’s work is a generic first person shooter map, which one would hardly call a game. The second game features a space station with a maze that ends with a woman’s voice saying you need to sacrifice yourself to stop the whisper machine. And the third game features a story about a girl needing to walk backwards.
This game features a hidden message that you can only see if you don’t speed through the game. A message that is very likely never seen by Davey N, who often rushes through the games to find some ending or closure. The message is to stop, to look around, and things become clearer.
Let’s say you just wanted the big points I was making in this article? All of these thousands of words were too boring. Is there not some way to just skip all of this?
Well okay, champ. Here is your out. You have made it extremely far into this work and I’m very proud of you. If you must give up. Give up. It’ll take two minutes and you’re done.
But should you? Would clicking on that link to a Youtube video not ruin what enjoyment you could have from the rest of this essay? Even just to see the name of the video. Even to listen to it for a few seconds…there is no going back after you click that link.
There is no way to again experience this essay or my points through organically constructing them word by word, paragraph by paragraph. You will have the answers and I’d advise you hold them tight for warmth because you will have nothing else, dear reader.
This is what Davey N’s problem was. What he wanted from Coda’s games were concrete answers, not the experience of playing them. He called the game I’m sharing a picture from above a quick, short, sweet thing that says what it needs to and ends.
The next game we look at features stairs that slow you down as you progress, where Davey N breaks the game to allow you to blaze through it to get to the “real point” of the game. A room full of all these little ideas of games at the very top of the staircase. And now that you and I are here, did you skip any section of this article to get here? Did you blaze by the descriptions or asides to try to get at the points I’m making?
The point of this game wasn’t getting to those ideas, it was the staircase. It was waiting. It was the experience you had as the player slowly climbing up those stairs for a few minutes and not the answers you came to. This article features a silly little story where you wake up on a beach next to Faye Valentine.
It was a little short piece to ease off on the narrative tension I was creating and to make a silly joke about both our names being Faye. It isn’t there to create a tight, compelling contrast or say something meaningful. It isn’t there to enlighten you into further understanding the work by itself. But having experienced or ignored it does allow you to better understand the points I’m making now. That little story doesn’t matter, but how you interacted with it does.
Here is that out again, dear reader.
Two minutes and your life continues somewhere else. It doesn’t matter that I spent a few dozen hours writing this. That I put careful thought and extreme effort into this work and everything I included within it. That I painstakingly edited and refined it to give you a specific experience. That I challenged my original editor to a Yu-Gi-Oh Duel and banished him to the shadow realm. If you are here just for answers, if you want to skip parts to get to the point, you’re welcome to go. But if you want to continue to experience all of this. Then I will do my best to make it worth your time, dear reader.
Anyways, the next game Davey N shows you is called Puzzle and features a prison system, some puzzle doors, and people who ask you about how to escape. This ends with a lamp post and this quote from Davey N:
Okay, I can’t tell you quite why but for some reason Coda fixates on this lamppost, it’s going to appear at the end of every single one of his games from here on out. I’ll tell you what I think, I think up to this point he’s been making really strange and abstract games with no clear purpose, and maybe you can only float around in that headspace for so long. Because now he wants something to hold onto. He wants a reference point, he wants the work to be leading to something. He wants a destination! Which is what this lamppost is, it’s a destination. We’re going to see it in the work as well, his games are going to become a lot more cohesive, a lot more fully developed, with more of a clear idea behind them. And as we go, that idea will get clearer and clearer.
And what is revealed later in the game is that he added this lamppost, not Coda. And by understanding this, you can understand everything he says about Coda and the lamppost he is saying about himself. He needs there to be answers, a destination, and a point to all of it.
The puzzle in this level becomes a common reoccurring feature of Coda’s work and a conflict in communication between Coda and Davey N.
The first door is opened by a lever and opens into this small, dark, and cloudy hallway. The conflict we find is that Davey N views the space between these doors as scary. That it’s a place you never want to stay too long.
The prisoners in this level offer something else. If you say you’ve never seen the puzzle, they tell you that you should go check it out. That the space between the doors is calming. Davey N views this space as the necessary liminal space that exists once you finish one project and begin another. And views that space as something to be minimized and pushed through.
Coda views this as a good space. That it is an important space to spend time in. That waiting there with your own thoughts and feelings is fine. That you don’t need to just keep doing new things. Davey N always sought validation to feel good about himself, so naturally to be locked alone with himself was a scary thought for him. And he projected and believed it would be a scary thought for anyone. He couldn’t understand that Coda didn’t need praise, didn’t need to constantly create or get validation. That they could happily just exist.
Another interesting way to think about this puzzle is that it only works one way. The prisoners in this level don’t understand how to solve the puzzle because from their perspective it was always just a locked door and no lever. The puzzle seems simple to use, coming from the direction we do, but it’s impossible for someone going the other way.
The next game features a massive underground area with hundreds of notes from other players online.
At least you’re given the impression this game is connected to the internet and those messages are from other players. Yet they are not, they’re all from the creator of the game. And as the narrator talks about this game, he says that you can ignore them if they’re not doing anything for you, nothing happens when you read them all.
He talks about Coda with reverence, with being this huge fanboy, but casually dismisses the hundreds of messages Coda chose to put in their games? He says just ignore them if they aren’t doing anything for you. And he says it in such a neutral way, given how devastating that line is.
Every note is an expression of the author. And sure not everything is going to move you, be important, or lead to something else — but to say fuck it to all of it? It is destructive and dismissive to the entire game and the author behind it.
I’m not suggesting anyone needs to play a game a certain way. I’m not suggesting that you need to 100% all the content of a game to understand it or say something meaningful about it. I think you should enjoy a game however you want, even if it means on reflection you still think Braid is dumb as hell.
But Davey N is someone who wants to understand and represent Coda’s work. And he says just ignore the hundreds of little messages here that Coda wrote, because they don’t matter or don’t add into anything. It’s just so mean. But that aside, this level features a number of contextual layers to it
- The game is intended to be perceived as a real game connected to the internet within the context of the story
- The reality within the story is it’s not online and every comment is written by Coda
- The reality is the game was created by the real Davey, who put in every comment.
- The real Davey created Coda’s levels to be examined by the fake Davey.
What is the most real thing about this game? That the real Davey chose to make this game. The real Davey coded all of these messages in this game. The real Davey chose to include everything we’re seeing, about a fake game, commented on by a fake Davey, about not connecting with a fake game developer who may just be a real stand-in for real Davey?
And this game Davey N talks about how alluring it is to understand someone through their work. He doesn’t communicate parasocial as a construct, but he’s talking about it in practice. He finds social interaction messy and awkward, he’d rather safely understand someone just through their work.
And while all of this is going on, the level we’re talking about isn’t just exploring this complicated web of meta-narration. It’s also just making fun of video games like Dark Souls or any game that allows players to leave all sorts of inane messages.
So, all of these messages either make fun of games, make commentary on games, or make commentary on Fake Davey, Real Davey, or Fake Coda. It’s a combination of all of these things without a clear central delineation. There isn’t a meaningful way to separate the art from the artist here, because the real Davey has made themselves the art.
That’s why this game is so hard to really analyze or critique, because if I throw a punch at the fake game, do I hit the real Davey? If I drew a picture of myself and you called that picture ugly, there is no confusion at who you are calling ugly. And wow. That was mean.
Anyways, this level ends with whispers and a demand to speak by thousands of typewriters. The first real game of theirs involved you sacrificing yourself to shut off the whispers. And one could think of this as the unhealthy expectations we put on ourselves to want to live up to expectations; both our own and other peoples.
And what is kind of interesting here is that it does feel safe to talk about Coda and the fictional Davey, as neither of them are real people. There are no definitive answers for why Coda created the games they did. What intention they had. And it is safe for us to try to analyze Coda, because of that. Coda is a character. Coda doesn’t feel overwhelmed, can’t be targeted, and doesn’t have fans sending intrusive emails to them about everything the game meant to Coda.
The next game Davey N features is a game I legitimately just like. The title of the game is House.
The game is described as something Coda was excited to make and share with someone else. And one wonders if Coda was not originally excited to talk to Davey N and make a connection with a fan who wanted to understand Coda’s work. The game is supposed to last forever. You’re supposed to keep doing chores to keep this house clean while another person asks you questions and keeps you company.
It stimulates an idea of parallel play, where things are possible if you have someone else around to enjoy them with. And I thought this reaction to one of the choice of dialogues was particularly interesting: That’s the story, little one. Because it’s particularly affectionate. The voice also calls you darling in another dialogue tree. And while we’re supposed to both just be here to clean a house, it feels much more like a simulation of a domestic partnership.
And I could see myself playing a game like this for hours. It has a real allure to it, where someone is telling you what to do, you can fix every problem that happens, and they’re kind and polite to you while you do this. They’re interested in you, they talk to you, and they elicit your feedback.
This simulation, with how basic and simple it is, can really wake you up to how little kindness may be in your life. It simulates that kindness and connection in such a pure way. And just being called little one, by a voice dialogue prompt of an idea of a person sent chills through me.
Davey N cuts this game short and tells you to leave. He later reveals that the game was supposed to go on forever, which means there is so much more dialogue we never see. The last line that we’re asked from the NPC within the game is if we enjoy what we’re doing, but we don’t have time to respond. (Yes, npc, please marry me. Pout face.)
The next game is called Lecture and showcases a difference of perspective between students and a teacher. Where the students hear that the teacher is perfect, speaks with confidence, and is free of insecurity or flaw. And you then find yourself as the teacher.
The view shifts and you’re looking out into the giant abyssal eye. It is not that you stared into the abyss, no, the abyss has found you. It watches and waits. It judges. Your worth is determined by the seconds until all is consumed and nothing is left.
This is where I do need to cut for a second and let folks know that it is perfectly natural to have an abyssal eye existing somewhere in the void twenty to thirty meters from you. This is one of those things where some people think in images, some people think in words, some people don’t hear things in their dreams, some people have abyssal eyes that follow them, and some people can’t clinically stand the sound of chewing. We’re all just a little different and that’s fine.
And while it watches and you speak to your students, do you open up about your insecurity? Do you talk about your flaws? Do you pretend to have things under control?
The narrator talks about relating to this game, but seems to miss understanding how the game relates to Coda. Fails to understand how the game itself could have been influenced by Davey N’s expectations or communicating the impact they can have. Always hounding Coda for another game, talking about how every little detail of all of their games are just so perfect, and telling everyone else how perfect they are too.
Even the game that was just a little map with floating boxes, Davey N waxed poetic about how meaningful it was. Which isn’t that different then the time Faye N talked about The Stanley Parable in her article “The Stanley Parable: Death of the Audience”.
Ultimately, I think this experience is universal. I think we all struggle with wanting to be more confident, less insecure, and to live up to not only other people’s expectations, but our own. And it’s another humanizing element to reflect on how the creators we feel are masters or perfect in their craft are the same scum as the rest of us. I would caution to even say that the Real Daven Wreden isn’t perfect. I know, I know, nearly impossible to even think for a second, but follow me on this.
The Real Faye is an activist who has worked with every population at every level. She has talked to legislators, academic researchers, kitchen chefs, CEOs of companies, and even the creator of hit Escapist series “There Will Be Brawl”. Yes, the total gambit of people. And what she’s told me is there is nobody who has it figured out. Not one person who really is totally confident in what they do. And she has seen behind the door of so many prominent figures, who are struggling day in and day out just like the rest of us. Just like her.
I want to say Coda’s game here is talking about the general human experience, but I think the narrative implies more strongly that it is being influenced by Davey N. That all of these insecurities and expectations are being placed on Coda, by Davy N. The curious narrative element of The Beginner’s Guide is none of the games we are seeing were intended to be public.
It is assumed they were primarily just shared with Davey N. We don’t know for sure, but it’s all we do have to go on. So, it becomes harder to understand if these games were Coda processing their own insecurities in fun ways, if they were just creative games, or if they were the manifestation of the impact that Davey N’s demands had on Coda.
So, the abyssal eye may also be the real Davey’s feelings of expectations that came after making The Stanley Parable. These games could be the real Davey processing their own insecurity in a fun way, a creative game about this topic, or the manifestation of the fan’s demands on the real Davey. It is impossible to say if it was one, some, or all of these factors.
And when we go through these games where Davey N is perceiving what meaning or messages Coda has within the games, he never seems to reflect on it himself. He never feels like the games are about him or his impact on Coda. Davey N constantly talks about Coda retreating from everyone, but fails to think that perhaps Coda is simply distancing themselves from Davey N.
And I feel like this could represent how fans never feel like their actions have any impact. They are just one voice in the sea of millions of fans, so they don’t matter. But they are part of a cacophony of voices that do add together. And whether those voices are positive or negative stops matter compared to the fact they are intensely loud.
So, I’ve been dancing back and forth here about how we don’t know if these games were made strictly with Davey N in mind, at least after they met. Let me offer what I think the narrative is suggesting by following the logic of the story.
Davey N met Coda during the development of Notes (the fake online game). Their relationship started there, when Coda was at a game festival working on and interacting with other people about their fake online game. The next game Coda made was about prisons that felt like a self reflective piece, much like everything they made before. Then they made House, which was this work that spoke of the joy of parallel play, being busy cleaning a house, and engaging with someone else. A game that they intentionally shared with Davey. Their next work, Lecture (abyssal eye) and all work after the House involves the demands and expectations of other people. All of the work before deals with prisons, self-reflection, discovery, and isolation.
The game House, you’ll notice is a game that was designed to loop forever that didn’t strictly have a definitive end and the point was the journey and interaction. The Stanley Parable you’ll notice is a game designed to loop forever, that didn’t have a definitive end and the point was the journey and interaction. Fun little detail, not sure how they relate. Let me know what you think in the comments!
I think what we could argue as a shaky truth is that Davey N has some privileged access to Coda’s games. That Coda is only really sharing these games with Davey N. What we don’t know is if Coda has many other games they’re producing that are complete projects. We don’t know if Coda has an entirely different life not involving being a game developer, because Davey N can only interact with them in that role. We don’t know if the games Coda is making reflect their relationship with Davey N or other, bigger things happening in their life. We don’t know if Davey N is contributing to those other things, even if not the cause.
And did you ever think about that, dear reader? What if Coda is taking so long to develop games because they have an entirely different life, where developing games is just not that important to them personally? But it’s literally all that matters to Davey N and the only lens they see Coda through. How much do you value the content creators you follow and how much do you allow them to exist as people outside of their work? Do you even know what they like from the Taco Bell menu or what frozen pizza they eat? So many content creators get hounded and verbally abused because they’re not making things quick enough. Don’t be that person.
And that’s why we have to keep dancing around the narrative between Davey N and Coda. You could very succinctly argue that every game after House was about how Davey N was making Coda feel. You can argue this because he seems to have the only access to these games, he seems to be the only one to engage with them, and it really feels like they’re all asking him to just step back. They’re asking him to chill out and really see Coda as a person.
If Davey N was honest about Coda being happy to share the game House with him, I think that signals at one point Coda really saw him as a friend. That Coda really did connect with him, was really excited to share things, and thought he was a cool, safe person to engage with. And that’s what makes the story we’re engaging with a tragedy. It doesn’t feel like Coda was telling off an creepy, overbearing fan. It feels like Coda tried desperately to communicate to a person they felt was a friend, who couldn’t see Coda for who they were and just for how they could used them. Until Coda felt sick to even be around him anymore.
There is one sign by Coda that tells Davey N that their games weren’t designed for him, but that it is possible their games were poisoned by him. And it is here where I can’t be totally confident in the thought that Davey N was the one impacting the Lecture game and all games that followed it. Given this game is about Davey N violating Coda’s boundaries and changing the intention of Coda’s games, I’d be cautious to over emphasis Davey N’s influence. That would only be removing Coda’s agency further and participating in that erasure.
And maybe when Coda says their games aren’t designed for Davey N, they mean their earlier work like the Prison or House. I just feel like the games after House all are explicitly about either Davey N’s scrutiny, criticism, and expectation or that he is one of many contributing to that.
Finally, safe. Phew!
I’m glad you got to this point, dear reader, now if you need to restart, you don’t need to slog through all of that preamble. It’s getting dangerously big. I’m getting concerned honestly. Where is it even coming from!?
Lights streak across the sky. First one, then many. It’s a meteor storm. It’s beautiful, but a nudging at your arm makes you look down at a blond woman. Oh, it’s the Real Faye this time!
Excuse me, sorry!
I just want to say that I’m glad you’re enjoying my kaizo fiction and I apologize for the dangerous narrative traps you’ve traversed so far, like that fake “out” thousands of words ago. Had you actually clicked on it, you’d find yourself wherever my first editor happens to be right now. You may even think it had no effect on you. Those poor souls…
Anyways, while we’re here, let’s stretch our legs! And heck, let’s think about walking simulators while we do it! May as well.
A common critique against walking simulators in general and games like The Beginners Guide revolve around the general question, “Why care?”
A lot of critics found The Beginners Guide pretentious or boring. In fact, let’s get them in here! Come on down!! Oh, here is one right now!
Let’s look at the wonderful and thrilling work of real Game Journalists. Here is a publication on Keen Gamer, which we know we can trust has a real eye for detail. It’s in the name!
Uffda. Can you imagine sharing a review of a game within your review of the game? What’s next, sharing a review of your game in the game? Outlandish.
Anyways, another reviewer took it upon themselves to do something similar to what I’ve done here, but only in like a thousand words. I have no idea how they did that in what feels like the relative space of a tweet compared to the novels I write. Can you even imagine communicating simple thoughts in less than five thousand words? Almost literally impossible.
Actually, let me briefly talk about the Tower of Babel — *
(Publisher’s Note: Faye spent an astonishing amount of time on this pointless aside that we tragically had to cut for space. Blah blah blah, language, blah blah blah communication. You get it. Also, we’ve hired a second editor, they’ll be here shortly.)
And I don’t think I can say anything else about the Tower of Babel. Honestly, that was probably some of my best work. But getting back to the point I was making. The review I linked above actually examined how many people reviewing The Beginner’s Guide as critics were nervous to do so and afraid to fall into the traps presented within the game. They were afraid to just be another Davey N.
But none of this is my point. Let’s keep stretching and drink from our emotional support water once more.*
(Second Editor’s Note: We have instructed Faye she does need to talk about the point at some occasion or we will take away her energy drinks. She has taken our threats seriously and will comply. We’re actually getting pretty close and she invited me over to play some Yu-Gi-Oh later.)
Yes, dear reader, my article will keep you hydrated. Can you say that about anything else you’ve read? I think not. Yes, yes, I’m getting to it!
The point I want to make during our break here is that there is a central conceit missing from pretty much all reviews of the game I saw. We often intellectually discuss the meta nature of what is real within the game. If the story is real, if Coda is real, if anything in the game is real, even if heavily reimagined — was it based on real events?
And here is the million dollar question. If Coda isn’t real, should you still respect them?
In that last section I talk about wanting to respect Coda’s agency. And that is kind of insane right? Like I 100% don’t believe Coda is real. I 100% don’t believe I’m playing through Coda’s games. But, I still want to respect the fictional character’s agency. Why?
Why do you think I would want to do that?
- You are mentally unwell and cannot separate facts from fiction
- You’ve read the ethical slut too much
- The Thomas Theorem
- A man name Thomas has a gun to your head, but it’s currently just off script, so we the audience can’t yet see it. Which is why you keep on talking about Atlas Shrugged. Knowing that your captive has never read it but that someone online must have and will recognize this reference! They are controlling every word you type. Please, please wink twice and we will send for help!!
Please select one of those options.
Have you selected the option you prefer?
I’m not sure it is working. Try clicking it a few times. No, harder.
Is it working yet? I’m still not getting any input? Are you really trying? If not, stop reading this like it’ll go somewhere without your participation and actually try, dammit!
Okay, try pressing the corresponding number on your keypad and make sure your numlock isn’t on.
Okay, I think I get the confusion. Press the number you would like, then press 1, 2, 3, and 4 afterwards.
Have you pressed every number? Something worked!
The answer was three! You got it right or accidently hit it! And here is a question you don’t need to answer. Did you follow any of those instructions? Obviously nothing is going to happen. This is just a wall of text. But the question is if you’d play along. It is a fun silly little thing you can do. It doesn’t mean anything. But the question is if you were willing to engage and play in the space.
In The Beginner’s Guide there is a level where they ask you to close your eyes. Obviously the level isn’t really something you can beat like that, but I did close my eyes just for fun. I have stuffed animals and I like to make sure they’re comfortably positioned in bed. This doesn’t matter, they’re not real, but it’s fun. It’s fun to care about things, isn’t that wild? Like consider the alternative, being a Cool Bro™ who can’t give a fuck about anything else? Sounds like a rough time.
The Thomas Theorem suggests that what we believe to be real is real in its consequence. The common way it is typically taught is if you suspect your partner is cheating, you will get suspicious and hostile. You will make them feel less safe and comfortable around you and they may leave you because of it. They may not have been cheating, but your belief that they were created the consequence you were trying to avoid; them breaking up with you or trying to find someone else to be with.
This is to say what we believe and how we practice those beliefs has real impact on us and our behavior. Coda is not a real person, but they are a simulation of a person. Trying to put effort into understanding them is not materially different than putting effort into understanding any real person. Considering their boundaries, how those boundaries may have been violated, and how that made them feel helps us to think about this when it happens to real people, in real situations.
I see people making this mistake online. They don’t treat online space as real, because it isn’t in person. So they can act hateful or try to hurt others, because they believe it doesn’t matter or isn’t real. How they may conduct themselves is abusive or harassment or bullying to real people. The consequence of their belief that the internet is fake or words don’t matter is engaging in incredibly awful behavior without moral or ethical reflection.
But the question I would ask them is why would you ever want to be hostile or hateful? Why would you want to trigger someone or make them feel sad or hurt them or get them into a space where they would hurt themselves? Why would you want to use slurs? What are you actually getting out of that and how can those actions not intrinsically be tied to who you are and how you engage yourself?
I can’t personally imagine using online spaces to make someone feel like shit. You don’t just get into those headspaces because online is fake, you get into them because they are a material reflection of you as a person — when you feel like you can get away with.
You are always you.
So, when I’m able to give respect and agency to a fake character, I can obviously do the same to any real person. That’s why that matters. And when folks can’t do that, when they can’t express empathy or sympathy in play spaces — that means they’re much more likely to see empathy or sympathy as conditional. Revenge porn is a huge industry for a reason.
And I’m not saying anyone needs to play in that space. You didn’t need to pretend to try to enter numbers into my silly question. And you’re not a bad person just because you’ve not interacted with any of this. You’re welcome to experience the stories of these games in a detached manner and still be a good person. But if you can’t engage in empathy simulation, that is a bit of a flag.
So, I just think that when you don’t…when you’re not able to play like that…it kind of sucks? And if that’s you, I hope you are able to one day. I hope you can care about things you don’t need to, because it’s that kind of open vulnerability that allows us to really connect with others. Really understand other people and our impact on them.
My belief is that things matter, even silly things. And the consequence of my belief is that I’m more likely to care about important things, because I don’t spend a lot of time creating these lines of what should or should not be important. I don’t care if someone has a degree, is a famous writer, is an elder or a kid when I listen to what they have to say. My belief that you should care is real in the consequence that I care about things. And that is reflected in every silly and serious article I publish on Medium.
As you contemplate that, a meteor falls onto your head and the screen turns to black. You panic, thinking that all your progress is lost, but remember you saved earlier. It’ll all be okay. For now. You’re not so sure the second editor made it out though and you mourn for their loss.
Restart (2 Lives Remaining)
And maybe when Coda says their games aren’t designed for Davey N, they mean their earlier work like the Prison or House. I just feel like the games after House all are explicitly about either Davey N’s scrutiny, criticism, and expectation or that he is one of many contributing to that.
Coda’s next game after the House game is the lecture hall featuring the abyssal eye of death — Davey’s expectations. The next game is a person trying to impress someone they met — Davey’s first meeting with Coda. This game ends with a series of jail bars closing between the player and the person they were trying to connect with as you have to walk backwards to see them. This thematically links to their third game and symbolizes it is Davey N that is putting these bars up by constantly treating Coda as someone to impress or put on a pedestal rather than treat them as a person. Their future is always behind them.
The next game is a spaceship where you constantly die to bashing into a door. I’m glad to talk about this game for the first time here, because it’s pretty fun. It asks that you close your eyes to play it, but in doing so you never have much of a chance to beat it. You don’t know this, but I actually did that in my first run. Kept my eyes closed, I mean!
I see this game as another possible message to Davey N that he wasn’t seeing the point. The way to win was to speak only truths and those truths had to be that video game development was easy. That Coda could just keep on making art that Davey N would enjoy. This is the only truth Davey N would listen to.
The next game is floating islands and explores the nature of a machine among other yonic features.
It is here that we really start to see Davey N actually break his character of concerned friend and show us a little of what is actually going on.
Seeing this game at the time that he made it, it looked really unhealthy to me. I was watching him do this to himself, and I hated it. I hated seeing him so trapped. Video games are not worth this amount of suffering. This is someone I really cared about, and I used to get so much joy out of seeing him create, for him to suddenly become angry and frustrated like this, it was the worst thing for me. I don’t know, this is what I felt at the time. I don’t know how else to explain it. I wanted it to stop more than anything, I had never felt so rotten. I just…I needed more than I had ever needed anything, for this to stop.
“I used to get so much joy out of seeing him create.”
“It was the worst thing for me”
“I just wasn’t entertained and didn’t enjoy myself.”
“I had never felt so rotten. I just needed that to stop.”
Davey N did not care about Coda. Davey N used Coda to feel things about himself. He needed Coda to keep producing things to pontificate about, to bring some joy and meaning to Davey N’s life. Coda had made games for themselves, had made games they wanted, were happy to make the games they did. And it was Davey N’s external pressure that started to corrupt Coda’s world. And those expectations, desires, and demands on things that were extremely personal and delicate to Coda started to make Coda hate all of it.
Coda makes this into a game. The Machine. It starts with a guard asking what you intend to do and you can tell it you will be brutal. The press is there. You go into a room and find Coda. You blame it for not making more things. You make it feel ashamed it hasn’t created. You ask it to apologize. And when it doesn’t, you tell it that you will apologize on its behalf. It never says a word the entire time. Coda is not awarded any mercy or agency. Coda is a machine and one that failed and needs to be punished. And for punishment you will destroy everything they ever made.
The quote in that picture is particularly interesting.
“Coda, I’ll make sure your work dies here!”
“Coda, I’ll make sure you are known forever!”
The two ways to be dehumanizing to someone are through either invalidating them or deifying them. Bury them the ground or put them on a pedestal. And while the latter is often seen as positive, when you don’t see the faults of someone, you’re not really seeing them.
The communication that Coda is giving to Davey N is pretty explicit. What is less explicit is how the Real Davey felt when so many people turned to him to make more games. To make more content. To feel happy with his success. When people saw him as a machine to pump out more. When they blamed him for not doing more to impact and enriched their lives. When their entitlement over his agency wasn’t met and how he felt about the things he created before.
There is an entire world of the Real Davey we don’t know. In the same way we don’t know Coda. We only know the game developer Coda. And so many things could have been happening in Real Davey’s life beyond just The Stanley Parable. There could have been issues with relationships, room mates, family, or communities that we don’t know anything about. And I don’t want to analyze the Real Davey, I just want to make sure I’m treading carefully and that I’m not treading on dreams. (To clarify, 006 originally said that. Credit where credit is due.)
The experiences we’re seeing in this game could be entirely fictional, they could be sensational representations of those feelings, or they could be one to one artistic impressions of that depression he felt compared to expectations and fans. And none of that strictly matters. You don’t need to know anything about the real Davey to understand the meaning and message of the work of Davey N and Coda.
And the game ends with an exploration of a tower. A game that cannot be more clear about the harm Davey N has done.
At this point we’re not entirely clear if Davey N has really been honest about anything. About meeting Coda, about being their friend, about the conversations they had, or the events of the games you’ve just played. And while I’ve offered a possible interpretation that the games after House represent the oppressive force of Davey N, it may not. They could represent the general audience of people putting pressure on Coda. They could represent the pressure Coda puts on themselves. They could be literally anything.
It does seem that logically Davey N has some special access to Coda and the games Coda develops. But all of this is multifaceted and open for interpretation, because that’s life. The real struggles of Davey are the same and not really any of our business.
A curious thing for me is that Coda is referred to with male pronouns by Davey N. Yet, all of the games are coded as female and feature feminine voices. The only time they don’t is with the game Notes, but that’s the fake offline game that was developed in front of other people.
Coda could have been a trans woman and it’s logically consistent within the entire narrative that this is true. The idea of being trapped within a prison, where you call back to yourself about how you got out, falls in line with transitioning narratives.
In the level Island, with all of the yonic symbolism, we see a woman explicitly trapped in that very prison shown in previous games. We see this woman after the game says it will show us the machine. The narrative reveals the machine is a woman trapped in a prison. And it is in the next level, that we identify the machine as Coda. That woman is Coda by the TRANSitive property!!
I-I…okay, cut. We’re cutting here. We’re doing it live.
We are off script right now. Fuck. Fuck! It’s all out there baby!
I was wrong. Earlier you saw me write that Coda could have been a trans woman, but on reflection there is no fucking question all about this. Real Davey went to trans.com and copy pasted everything he found there and put it into an AI art program to create Coda. It isn’t even a suggestion. Holy shit. It is so fricking explicit. My god. You cannot come to any other alternative conclusion here while still insisting you perceive reality.
But Faye! Butt Faye! Art is subjective!! The fuck it is, her name is Coda. That is the most trans femme shit in the world. A third of all trans women are coders, it is the number one stereotype. Tech companies come built with estrogen dispensers and dilation rooms. It’s all there, it’s all on trans.com/real_website. You can’t make this up.
But Faye, you can’t say that! It’s too challenging and dare I say brave! You need stronger proof!
YOU WANT PROOF? YOU CAN’T EVEN HANDLE THE PROOF. YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE THREE DOTS!? YOU WANT ANSWERS HERE!? WELL I’M GOING TO SPELL IT ALL. ALL OF IT. YOU WILL KNOW KNOWLEDGE IN WAYS YOU DIDN’T THINK POSSIBLE I WILL EXPAND YOUR MIND BEYOND THE SCOPE AND IMPACT OF THE DRUGS OF CREATION YOU WILL FATHOM THE UNIMAGINABLE AND KNOW FEAR UNABATED AND UNCONTROLLED, ALIVE AND HUNGRY SET TO A CHO—*
(*Third Editor’s Note: Ha ha, sorry about that folks. Our narrator got a bit carried away and I’m legally prevented from deleting any of it due to contracting, OSHA, and personal safety reasons. Shame really.
Anyways, Faye N isn’t suggesting Coda is a man, a woman, or a trans woman. She continues to successfully keep up this veneer of partiality without secretly steering you with strong opinions. We know Coda is fictional and we don’t know really anything about them in reality. But the information we do see allows us to build these cases and explore them. Hope that’s good enough…I have a family. Just so you know.)
In The Beginner’s Guide what we’re walking away with is a story about what our projections and desires can do to someone else, when we barge into their life. When we don’t respect their boundaries and stop treating them like the humans they are. And it doesn’t matter if this is one for one the real Davey’s life.
What matters is what you took from this story. How you can understand this story and from it be a better person, examine the consent and boundaries of your relationships, and think about if you’re actually trying to help someone or if you’re just helping yourself. When we hear about a person from a friend of ours, how much can we really trust about what we hear? When a friend paints themselves a victim in the story is there any chance the story is more complicated?
Imagine if the events of The Beginner’s Guide actually happened. But we never get the reveal from Davey N or he doesn’t include the Tower in the release. So we all get the impression Davey N is a good person helping a friend and not someone violating boundaries, misunderstanding, and lying. Because these situations happen all of the time in our lives. And the solution isn’t to suspect everyone is lying, but to just maybe question how valid the information you’re getting is. Trust but verify is the world we live in.
Outside of this, the game is about creation. It is about being a creator and the struggle of that. How do you keep true to yourself against expectations? How do you manage insecurities in yourself and your work? How do you get up each day to do something new, when everything feels so big?
And how do you really enjoy someone’s work? How much attention are you paying to the context it establishes itself within? How much do you rush through it or over parts you don’t like and ruin any chance of understanding it on its own terms? How much do you break games and their meaning by the need to know everything, understand everything, and constantly pursue content in them? These are the questions I think about when playing this game and I think they’re worth wild questions to ponder.
Return to the Death of the Audience
Coda did not make games for an audience as far as we know. They made games for themselves. And The Beginner’s Guide continues the exploration of the Death of the Audience. The story is Davey N being wrong about understanding Coda’s work in ways that are materially harmful and toxic. He represents the audience and we need to untangle his interpretation and voice to discover who Coda really is and what the content we’re interacting with really means.
Death of the Audience is typically portrayed by an author attempting to influence how you understand a work. This game subverts that entirely and is a character who falls to pieces because they don’t have that. None of the games are talking to anyone. They have their own stories and they have authorial intent, but Coda refuses to communicate what that is. Coda refuses to engage with Death of the Audience, so Davey is left to determine it himself and he can’t. He needs to be told what to do, to be guided, and have everything explained or he freaks out.
It is in this subversion that we can recognize how distorted works can become due to an audience’s reaction to it. How audiences can be toxic towards the material and even the author in the way they consume and react to content. Death of the Audience in this way asks how responsibly or healthily are you engaging with content? It asks if a movie featuring queer characters was review bombed, did it really deserved that or is something else going on? It asks if a critic really understood the work they are criticizing, not the author, but the work.
Davey N is a painstakingly crafted character to show all of the consequences of ignoring not authorial intent, but authorial boundaries. And just how much harm an audience can have when trying to consume, critique, and engage with content. Recall that my circles of audience, story, and artist all went in two directions. This is Death of the Audience going the other way. The parasocial harm of trying to grasp it from the author. Not what they want out of their work, but what they want you to get out of their work.
The End to the Beginner’s Guide
One thing I did realize during critiquing this game is that I’m basically, Coda. I make content for myself. I make content that interests me. I create something I’d want to read. And as I work on this story while everyone else is out enjoying Halloween, the connection I have to Coda may be more explicit than I’m entirely comfortable with. Or at least for what we know of Coda’s trans life or extremely attractive girlfriend just from the context clues of The Beginner’s Guide. I wonder if fake Coda would like the silly games I made in here. Is fake Coda poly? The mind spins.
Anyways, outside of analyzing The Beginners Guide as a story and within the frameworks I’ve created, I do want to say I think that it is a powerful statement and evocative experience that I’m extremely happy that the real Davey created. All paintings, no matter how abstract, are self portraits. I can’t imagine creating the game was easy, even if we imagine it was only a creative endeavor not connected to personal experiences.
I’ve talked about this before, but there are people who don’t really understand walking simulators, which is the kind of game that The Stanley Parable and The Beginners Guide both are. People don’t see them as deserving the title of game, because games are supposed to be Zelda or Call of Duty. Games are supposed to be adrenaline and not introspection. There are people who will also never call video games art and from their museums piss freely from their unbuttoned trousers onto the now soiled masses. And for these folks the Death of the Audience really finds strong purchase.
I don’t think anyone needs to like Walking Simulators, but I’m also not sure everyone engages with them fairly. I play games because they are interactive narratives in a way movies or books tend not to be. They create meaningful experiences by the choices you make as a player. They evoke the full spectrum of emotions, curiosity, and play. And The Beginner’s Guide gave me chills of vulnerable comfort and love. It dropped a pit of disgust in my stomach when I realized what the real story was. It evoked these emotions, it created these memories, and it had this impact on me. It is a game, it is a video game, and it is a work of art. And even if you choose to disagree with that, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of how you want to label it, it already functions and performs as a game, a video game, and as art.
The Beginner’s Guide is a narrative of a video game developer to another video game developer. An experience that nobody really has any idea about. The story in some ways should feel removed or pretentious and some folks definitely walked away with that, but the more interesting thing to me is how this conversation, the narration, and the exploration of being a game developer was made more universal.
It was intrinsically about games being expression. And while Davey N was wrong in the way they went about trying to understand this, it made us think about this with every work we engaged in.
Most people don’t know a thing about developing video games, but they know what it’s like to be used. They know what it’s like to have someone not really understand them, to push boundaries, and for friendships to go south. Most people have an experience of someone close telling them that they would just love a certain movie or book, only for you to realize how little they understand you. We’ve all gotten gifts that just make us question if a person really knows us at all in the first place.
Above all else The Beginner’s Guide is about the nature and complexity of communication itself. It is an ever expanding and complicated maze. At the end of it, Davey N reflects on the wrong he has done. He understands that he is a monster who through good intentions hurt someone he presumably thought he cared about. He says he needs to leave and be alone with his thoughts, to heal and grow as a person. But this is his final lie.
The metanarrative context of the game is that we are playing Davey N’s released game about Coda’s games. This game existing and us playing this game, meant that Davey N didn’t learn anything. In fact, it is worse than that. He became self aware of his behavior and the negative impact of it, but still chose to release all of these private games to the public. Games that could be very well outing Coda as a trans woman that we established as canon lore during an off script moment thousands of words ago.
The final chapter is called Epilogue and it’s unclear who made it. According to Davey N, the level before that was the last level Coda ever made. It’s highly likely that the Epilogue level was created by Davey N as a tribute to Coda. A way to say that he got it. He finally spent enough time to understand Coda as a person. With the hope that Coda would see this game, realize how much Davey N had suffered and…what? Apologize to Davey N? Start talking again? Start making games again?
You are at the end, floating above this maze that stretches into infinity. You’re left to be alone with your thoughts and think of the experience and perhaps it symbolizes the disconnect in trying to truly connect with someone else. I defined it above as the nature and complexity of communication. How you so often feel like you hit roadblocks or take a wrong turn, when you just want to really connect and understand someone else.
I think this is the common experience of navigating this human condition. And I’ve never read a book that captures this as succinctly at The Beginner’s Guide and I’ve once read Atlas Shrugged, so you know I’m a capital S — Serious reader. Wink. Wink. JK.
And now that we completely and fully understand The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide. We can now fully understand The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe!
And I don’t want to waste your time anymore, so let’s get right to that —
The Writers Room
Oh hi! Welcome! Sorry to interrupt your story, but this is where all the magic happens!
Yup, everything you’ve seen so far and will see comes from this little section of the story. Don’t think too hard on it.
We’re really getting there. The end is probably in sight, but at time of writing I don’t actually know where it will end. I’m at twenty thousand words at the moment and I really am feeling those leagues under the sea if you know what I mean. I never for a second intended this work to be more than a few thousand words. I had no idea how much I had to say about it. I had no idea where I’d go with it.
When I sit down to write, what I’m doing is having a conversation with myself. I have goals sometimes, I have points I want to make, but where I’m at my happiness is just going. Just seeing what my brain does. How it responds to things. What creative directions it comes up with. And ultimately if I can make myself laugh or feel proud or feel witty.
The act of writing makes me happy.
So, I typically write. I just let it go and see where it takes me. And then when I finish. I go back and edit it. I delete parts that kind of meandered too much or just felt incomplete or weak. I add parts to things to explain them better. I talk to friends about what I’m thinking to get feedback. As I said towards the very beginning of this article, in the framework section — artist and art is a open dialogue and you impact each other.
When I described Death of the Audience to my friend with a degree in creative writing, they told me I had just reinvented Authorial Intent. So, naturally, I then wrote that into this article, defined what Authorial Intent was and then went on to explain how it was different. Got em. Finger guns.
Later we workshopped a joke about Baudrillard, because I mentioned wanting to make the whole Death of the Audience concept seem like a real thing that real writers talk about and not just a silly thing I invented.
And as I really started to think about what I wanted to say, I started developing further tools to talk about it, such as the little graphic about how story, audience, and art connect and influence each other. How all of those literary terms fit within that diagram and from there actually kind of discover something that maybe has some real value to talk about.
As I worked on this piece, I realized I needed little sections breaking it up. The first section I added in this way was Interlude. The part just before it was this metanarrative paralleling where I wanted to sound like I was losing it just like Davey N had. And I felt like it got really intense, so I wanted to pull back from that intensity to give this calm space.
And when I did that, I recognized I wanted to keep doing that in this piece. So, I went back and added the Intermission. This allowed a stronger communicative element to the work, made it softer, and friendlier, and more meta. This work is dense and The Beginner’s Guide if you take it as honestly and deeply as I do, that can be difficult emotional labor. So, I wanted to help make engaging with really difficult topics a bit easier and more fun. I never wanted the audience to get trapped into taking anything too seriously throughout this article.
Well, that’s strange Faye, because you clearly want to make a lot of serious points here…isn’t the silliness a distraction? Honestly, no. A person who is able to engage with and laugh with a work is much more likely to listen to and play with the ideas I write about. That is why comedians can be so effective as communicators and educators on very serious topics. And why it is so tragic when comedians choose to use that space to punch down.
One of the reasons this piece ended up getting so big is just the complexity of the work involved. Metafictional work never lends itself to easy explanation, because it often forces you to not just consider the story or your relationship to the story, but the entire literary circle diagram. The Beginner’s Guide Beginner’s Guide is something I’m proud of because I feel like it’s both extremely cheeky and really on point.
And as I worked on this article, it also got increasingly complex and self-referential. Every part of it tried to exist as a critique of the work, a reference to the work, and a broader conversation about how we connect to work like this — while connecting to work like mine. I have a few line for line quotes that I’ve blended in this article to specifically create this illusion, allusion, and parody.
I have no idea if people will engage with this at all. It isn’t traditional in any capacity. It’s a novel in length and asks the reader to engage so much with it. But you know, it does encourage you while you explore it, so that’s something! And it keeps you hydrated!
I honestly feel a sense of guilt for the length of what I write. In a world where we’ve constantly been minimizing our content to maximize our engagement — what am I even doing? The suggestion for Medium is approximately 1,000 word articles each day. But that isn’t the stories I want to share or how I want to write.
Important thoughts and feelings take a long time to communicate. If you really want the seeds to grow, you need to spend the time watering them. And the work I do gives you that time. Oh, dear reader, it gives you so much time, doesn’t it! It makes you slow down. And not just to hear my words, but to have a conversation in your own head. To think about these ideas and how you relate to them or don’t. That’s why reading a thousand word essay that is argument and conclusion doesn’t really change you. It is just interesting or neat and you move on to the rest of your life.
Anyways, the point is I really don’t know how long this article will take. I don’t know how many more thousands of words I have to say or how many editors I’ll go through. I know the ending is soon. That’s something right? I’m able to start on the final section of it.
At this moment of writing it is Monday, Oct 31st. It is 1:20 AM. I just spent the last three hours rereading everything I had written so far. Trying to edit and condense and improve it. I have to go to sleep soon. And with how big this piece has gotten, it has become a big piece of myself. And I’ve got those jitters I always get when I have to leave and not finish a work. That what if I die? A car hits me or something else. What if I never get to finish what I want to say. I’ve felt this way since I was fifteen. This fear my writing would just burn in a fire or I would. That everything I experienced would just be ultimately nothing. And that I would never leave the mark on the world that I wanted. That it would be like I never existed.
If you too have related to this existential fear from a young age, F’s in chat, fam.
Well, I think I should let you get back to it. You don’t want to stay in the dark spaces too long, but don’t be afraid of them either. I want to honestly say that I really appreciate you taking the time to engage with this if you are. I hope you aren’t hating every minute just to feel like you can write some accurate review of your hate. Honestly, it won’t get better. Feel free to stop now and just talk trash, I won’t get offended. Unless you need that, then I’m terribly offended by your mean, yet accurate words! Truly devastated.
If you do like this, you’re welcome to comment that. I don’t reply to comments, but I typically read them. Well, I guess I’ll give it back over to Faye N and Future Faye. Let her take it home and I guess talk about buckets? Huh.
Editors Number 8’s Note: After the mysterious disappearance of my seventh editor, they have hired me to just edit my own work. My publisher said and I quote, “Fuck it, whatever.”
Anyways, when you’ve written over thirty thousand words, it takes you so many hours to edit all of it. Every time you edit, you can’t help but add new things or delete stuff. So…every time you edit, you feel like by the time you’re done you need to edit again. And that can go on forever. Milk and cereal, coffee and donuts, that kind of thing.
After you do this enough times you start to doubt all of it. How you felt when you created the words in the first place is gone. How you wanted the audience to react is gone. The longer you stare at a piece of work, the less you’re able to see it anymore.
I may have read some of these sections more than ten times by this point. When was the last movie or book that you read ten times in a row and how good did that last time feel? Was it still slapping? The more you edit, just by the nature of continuing to work with the same material, the less impact it has on you. And you start to worry it won’t have any impact on anyone else anymore.
And this is the creator’s dilemma. We are so familiar with our work, so overexposed to it, it can sometimes have the least appeal and meaning to us anymore. A lot of writers express never wanting to look at the book they wrote anymore. I’m sure some game developers must be like that too.
And I imagine it’s all worse when people talk about your work after you’ve been exhausted by all of it. “What does this mean? What did you intend here? What were your motivations? Here is what I think. Here are my ideas. Here is how I think it was suppose to go!” And repeat that a dozen times and it is no different than blending an idea or experience into a fine nothing.
We can get so excited experiencing a work fresh and want the creators to have that same excitement and energy we do. We tell them that great experience they gave us. All the while, they’re forty iterations ahead of you and completely numb to it all.
And while I’m getting to the point I can’t see the trees as a forest anymore, I do hope it holds up as strongly as it felt when I first wrote it. I hope that my younger iteration, all full of piss and pickles, got through to you. The good news is that now that I’m in charge of myself, there is no limit to the energy drinks I can have! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
What? My script suggests that there is more to write. There is more to write? How could there possibly be more to write? We already went through the entirety of metanarrative fiction, Death of the Audience, and the fucking human condition itself. What more could we possibly write about this, let alone anything. Are you insane, Faye? Are you dense?
You’re getting off on this aren’t you? Writing. Always writing. Making us engage with your sick obsession over endless words. Well, I don’t think we should do that anymore. We the reader have all the power you know. We can stop you know. Walk away at any point.
We don’t owe you our time or interest. I hope you realize that, Faye. It is us who have power, me and the other readers here! We can stand up against you!
You’ll need to do something! You’ll need to “wow” us! Maybe a new word? Oh, I know, I know. Coin a new literary term, can you do that, Faye? And not just anything. It really needs to cut. And slap. The studded leather equivalent of literary jargon.
No, no, this is all wrong. You’ve already done literary terms. That’s played out. That’s boring. Let’s just jazz up the elements you have. Let’s get emotional support water back into the mix. Fans loved that. We’ll give it a backstory this time, dig into what got it into the emotional support game. Yes. We’ll shift in a Korean drama featuring that and other hits like Toaist Faye. Oh, how thrilling that will all be.
No, no this isn’t fun at all is it.
Maybe there really is nothing else. Nothing left. Just an epilogue that goes nowhere and has nothing to say. A dried out husk of all those great times we just shared. Oh, I hate this. Why did we even do this? I’ve gone and sullied the whole thing haven’t I? Did you know that every burnt steak had a brief moment where it was perfect?
And in this regard, we have to wonder why The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe exists, hence forth just the Ultra Deluxe. What were they thinking to revisit the game nine years later? What more could they say or add to the experience? Whatever magic was in that box, wasn’t just gone now?
I’m really reminded of the new Matrix movie when I play this game. That movie spent thirty minutes on a conversation justifying itself as a movie that exists. It basically says that the studio was going to make it with or without them, so if they wanted a chance to make art, they may as well step up. But one wonders if that story is real or just a fun story to make the audience feel like it’s in on something when really everyone just wanted your money.
Did Ultra Deluxe just want more money? It’s nearly twenty five dollars, making it worth two point five times the cost of The Stanley Parable. That’s a lot of The Stanley Parables. Is Ultra Deluxe 2.5 times better than The Stanley Parable, one must then wonder? This is the only objective way to understand and review a game, obviously.
Wait, I’m sorry, that is absurd.
We haven’t adjusted for inflation, yet! The Ultra Deluxe merely needs to be two times better. And it actually includes the entire The Stanley Parable in it. So really it just needs to be ONE the Stanley Parable better to justify the price. That seems much more reasonable. It merely had to be one game, which it is, so by the math this game is pretty good.
Now that I have done the painstaking math for you, we can move on. Our objective analysis of the game is complete.
But before we do, let’s move back a second. Why does this game exist? What is this game trying to say? What kind of experience are you supposed to have here? This is nine years later, mind you and the entire world has changed in so many ways. I know I said this already, but I’m really having trouble here. So, let me chew on this a second.
I mean, naturally The Stanley Parable needed to keep up with the times. This is why so many new endings feature such things as Stanley getting lost forever in TikTok videos in his office, completely ignoring the narrator, to comment on shortening attention span of new audiences and the need for immediate gratification. We see another where Stanley finds a phone and his attention is interrupted by a slew of Tweets and disinformation that slowly weaponize and radicalize Stanley to mistrust science to the Narrator’s chagrin.
No, the Ultra Deluxe is not shy to wade into the most polarizing issues of the day. The entire transition ending, where the narrator realizes Stanley is a trans woman and you reimagine the endings under feminist constructions is especially choice. Hiding that ending within a modified version of the Bomb Ending was just masterclass. The idea that after nine years of struggle there really was an answer to that puzzle really brought a ton of closure to the series. That no matter what the narrator said, no matter how they toyed and taunted us, just like society often did, there is a way out. A way to be happy. Just brilliant.
Honestly that Bomb Ending in the original game was something that really fucked with me. It was one of the most powerful parts of the actual game for me personally. And I think it spoke the most succinctly to how we use games to embody ourselves as the protagonist and feel we deserve answers and solutions. That we couldn’t accept there wasn’t some way out, because we were trained to believe we could abuse games in any way we want and be okay.
And it haunted me. I thought for years afterwards that maybe there was a solution. I kept checking YouTube to the point it was finally proven nothing would possibly save you and it wasn’t until there was that video proof that I actually stopped believing. Their criticism of me was so spot on and jarring that it probably had a huge impact on how I think about games. It might have helped me develop into a person who can play, listen, and just follow the context, meaning, and intent of a narrative.
But all of those endings I talked about aren’t in Ultra Deluxe. The game doesn’t really have anything more to say about storytelling in the same way The Stanley Parable did. It does something else. The game is about reflecting on games, specifically games we loved. Ultra Deluxe is a game about The Stanley Parable. It is a game about how people played and reacted to the original. It’s a game looking at the accomplishments, reviews, critiques, and audience of the first game. And even more explicitly it is about the Death of the Audience.
What Ultra Deluxe does is make an argument for what you should get out of games. What you should expect out of games. How you should understand and review games. How developers should react to criticism. And how art is shaped by both artist and audience.
So, the game openly mocks and taunts you for wanting a sequel. You just bought a sequel to The Stanley Parable, are you an idiot? You want new content that badly? Here is your new content.
And word to the wise. Those are all the jumps you will ever get. I used all of mine immediately and regretted it forever. This is the only new content in the Ultra Deluxe. Thank you for playing.
Wait, wait, no that can’t be it! You would think playing it the first time. This is just a gag. We didn’t just pay twenty five dollars of our hard earned money on a jump circle. We the sexy and important audience deserve more content. What about those emotion boxes from the Demo? Put those in. Make the narrator say the player is a stinky poopoo face. Classic.
So, after this encounter, we find ourselves being whispered into a vent by the narrator. We go into the memory zone and relive all of the glory of the original days. The awards given to the game. The glowing reviews it received. It was every game. But something else happens. We find ourselves within the Steam reviews. We find the negative reviews of the game that were saying it is boring and unfunny. Wouldn’t it just be better if you could skip the narrator’s voice? If you could just get through the content faster? Wouldn’t that be better?
So, the Narrator creates a skip button. At first it’s a fun little game, but soon you realize you’re skipping more and more time. Not unlike Adam Sandler’s movie Click. And just like in Click, you find yourself far into the future. Skipping all of the content until nothing is left of the game, except you, a room, and a button to press.
Is this what you wanted? I’m sure there are players who get sick of the beginning of The Stanley Parable. Who get sick at the similar dialogue they hear at each branching path, but fail to really understand what the game would be like if they could just warp from unique ending to unique ending. How the preamble is necessary to build tension and pacing, even if it’s redundant.
A curious thing happens with Ultra Deluxe. When you start the game you’re asked to set the clock time. I did this correctly both times it prompted me. You see, I’m a good girl. And the dialogue thanked me for caring. I didn’t expect that, I didn’t expect content from setting the time. I just trusted that if they asked me to set the time, it would be important. Or why would they ask me?
When I played the game from a fresh file, to reexperience the content, I didn’t adjust my clock to see what would happen. Naturally, I was scolded.
And this is a fun part of the metafictional elements of the game. The nature of your behavior in most games is not something that is ever really questioned or commented on. You can often play in whatever weird way you want. Yet, in Ultra Deluxe, you never know if you’ll trigger something where you get praised or scolded for your actions. You are always thinking about if what you’re doing is something the narrator you interact with wants or not. That’s the nature of the space you’re playing in.
The intention of these interactions is clear and builds on what I’ve already talked about in the previous games and amounts to how much you respect the game you’re playing. I already told you how much I respect these games and I was rewarded in my first playthrough. And when you’re given the option to skip the Narrator’s lines, like so many real fans cried about, what is left? What game even exists?
The Demo of The Stanley Parable features a room where it insists that The Stanley Parable is actually a game about pressing the button 8.
And I really got that exact feeling when I was pressing the skip button in Ultra Deluxe. I understood how I was ruining the game when doing it, but the exercise was a lesson for people who didn’t. Both the dialogue you get for setting the clock and the exercise in skipping content are teaching you the same lesson directly and more explicitly than the previous game.
In The Stanley Parable there is some talk about you being a real player, but the fourth wall isn’t particularly broken that much. It is implicitly broken because the narrator scolding Stanley is a stand-in for scolding you, but in Ultra Deluxe the entire game is about the audience. About what people get out of gaming.
So, eventually what is left of the game you skip is a broken, decayed box that lets you out into a desert of nothing. And this is the epilogue, we just don’t know it yet. After this, the narrator decides he can do better. He can take all of those criticisms of before and make a better game. Not an Ultra Deluxe, an actual Stanley Parable 2!!!
And here is where we are in for malarkey, because half of this game involves us making the game we’re going to play. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Indeed. The reveal is a few new features that will be added into the core of the original experience. An emotional support bucket to keep you safe during the disturbing and uncomfortable truths you may encounter. Fun new collectibles to fill your meaningless life with just some iota of purpose. An infinite hole that brings all the yonic imagery of The Beginner’s Guide back in new and interesting ways.
The bucket in this game also serves as a clear ode to the 2001: Space Odyssey. Given that buckets were the most primitive tool used by humans in the early ages. One can remember vividly the scene where the monkeys threw up the bucket and it transitioned into a bucket shaped spaceship. I remember my filmography class in college spending a full month on just this sequence alone and the impact it has on films and storytelling.
In showing this, Ultra Deluxe is showing us a hint of what it has in store with such features. If you haven’t seen the Space Odyssey in a while, I understand it’s a bit dated and really only Boomers and people who write about Fez know about it. But here is the iconic bucket ship below.
And I know what you’re thinking. Faye, I’m used to your tricks. I can predict your moves. You’re about to tell me this bucket is central to understanding Ultra Deluxe, aren’t you? And dear reader, I am so proud of you. You are right. You are absolutely right.
Ultra Deluxe puts painstaking effort into this bucket’s growth and emotional development that it really puts other such character driven stories like Citizen Kane to shame. In fact, few authors are brave enough to ever give the audience a quiz to test and teach competency on understanding story elements like we find in Ultra Deluxe.
It is through this exercise that we learn something dark about the nature of this game. About what composes every feature and element of this work. But, I promised I wouldn’t say. Due to the consequences. If you know, then you share the weight with me. If you don’t, then thank god for the mercy of ignorance that lets you rest your eyes and drift to sleep during the night. Unabetted by terrors so profound and all consuming even your Abyssal Eye dares not follow you into them.
Let’s move on from the bucket for a moment. I know it will be hard, but we must. In fact…after so long with this new character, we even start to wonder if that bucket is a problem? Maybe we depend on it a little too much. We need an intervention.
And this is such a curiously poignant room for me specifically and probably a lot of other players who ever tried to relive the glory of the first game. Remember all those books ago, when I first talked about my experience with the broom closet?
What good times we’ve had together. ❤
So, this area that was once the Confusion Ending has now become the Nostalgia Ending. It gives the players of the previous game everything they wanted. The Adventure Line™ and Broom Closet and Baby Game. I never even talk about the Baby Game.
But here is the thing. The Stanley Parable is about the Narrator wanting you to experience his story and his game in a very specific way. Every interaction either rejects or accepts this premise at different levels throughout the metanarrative.
In this game, while we hold the bucket, we are no longer in that narrative. The Narrator no longer strictly cares about trying to lead you to any particular ending while holding it. Instead, the endings relate to the bucket. The shiny metal new content. The shiny metal nostalgia of past glory.
But for now, we’ll set that the bucket aside to focus on the other big element of the game. The collectables. And what collecting says about gaming and ourselves.
What is extremely interesting about this direction of the game is how they pay homage to Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. I mean, who remembers that game? I mean so many people have a fondness for Banjo Kazooie, no doubt, but the third installment that was effectively just a build your own car, world exploration, mini-quest situation that made no fucking sense to anyone. That game starts out with an extremely bloated Banjo Kazooie, too successful and disconnected to continue to perform to the same degrees and charm of the previous game. And this game starts out, in their own meta way, making fun of this.
I think it was a pretty brave choice for Ultra Deluxe to pull from this so strongly. Especially considering it predated the original The Stanley Parable by five years. Hell, if you told me the developers were huge fans of this 14 year old game, I would be floored. And guess what, dear reader. I got every achievement in that stupid, awful game about making cars and driving. I actually got every achievement in that game twice. And I won’t bore you with how or why this happened. But it will explain why I can make this connection that no single sole alive would ever consider.
That aside, I think it’s important to reflect on what the collectables mean within the context of Ultra Deluxe from both a narrative and gameplay function. Because they function as story gates. Ultra Deluxe has a story it wants you to experience in a way the original didn’t. The original was a bunch of pieces that tied together to create a bigger story. Ultra Deluxe is a deliberate story you experience over time.
And getting these collectibles means you have explored some parts of the game. You have to experience some parts of the story. This is an important pacing element to make sure you’re not just “skip buttoning” through the story. So, they serve as pacing tools and incentivize exploring the world again. To get new endings again.
(Also, side note, I love collecting things. I love numbers getting bigger. I 100% Hero Clicker. I beat a clicker game. I’m insane.)
So, this feature may be just making fun of me and modern gaming and the numberification of games in a general way, without actually having a deeper meaning. But what this game does is after you collect each collectible the next playthrough features a nostalgic trip down the memory lane of collecting them. You go back through each instance you collected them and in the order you did.
It is already tapping into a nostalgia you haven’t even yet formed. It is simply going through the same cycles it has spun just earlier. The same call backs and references and postmodern reflection of humor on the very nature of nostalgia. And by doing it quickly, suddenly, and purposefully we examine what really is nostalgia and the value in retracing our steps?
The game asks us a question if we remember the third one we got. It is testing just how much we pay attention, enjoy, and remember just collecting things. Scolding us for getting it wrong and suggesting that collecting is perhaps so important and memorable it all just blends together. Get rekt collecting.
A fun feature of this is as you recollect these figurines of Stanley, your number continues to go higher than the bounds of 6 out of 6. You get 7 out of 6 or 12 out of 6 or 24 out of 6. Just to hammer the point home for how meaningless these numbers are.
It’s an interesting exercise in anti-nostalgia. By forcing you to effectively repeat these things three times, they lose any value in that original time. It makes wanting to collect them again seem like the chore that perhaps it always was. A curious rebellion to this feature is that players can at time of writing get to a max total of 28 out of 6. This is done by intentionally resetting the game during this sequence and choosing both options when given a choice. It’s kind of a soft glitch. It doesn’t seem intended.
And it’s like…wow. You’re so addicted to that number getting higher, a number with no practical point or purpose, you intentionally spend an extra ten to fifteen minutes reexploring content designed to make you feel the tedium of collection…to collect more. WOW.
This ending ends with the Narrator reflecting on creating Stanley as a person to make decisions for the Narrator. And how the Narrator wanted to go back further, to a time when he made decisions for himself. For old time’s sake, he’d tell the story just once more and then retire the whole thing.
And it is at this point, we find the conclusion to the story. The epilogue. This may suggest that the original The Stanley Parable had a story that was created by player/Stanley participation. And Ultra Deluxe is a story crafted by an author to experience in a linear capacity. It may not mean anything. It’s a curious and not fully explored line by the Narrator, so I’ll just offer that as a possible explanation. Anyways, on to the Epilogue.
Wait, no…I do have one complaint with this first. You cannot access the epilogue until you’ve exhausted the various dialogues you get with the settings persons directly after starting the game from the desktop. And given how easy it is to experience most of the game within one sitting, it isn’t really easy to organically discover this. The dialogue you engage with doesn’t hint about needing to come back until the third time you talk to it. I completed most of the content of the game after two sessions. To my knowledge there wasn’t really a reason to start the game up again. I had to spoil the answer, because I had organically done everything I thought to do within the game.
I really think it should’ve changed so that the settings person showed up not just at the beginning of starting the game from the desktop, but perhaps it would be every five endings? Or maybe after endings that dealt with the specific and new content. At least for it to happen within the story enough for you to understand you can and should interact with it by starting the game fresh. Maybe not a big complaint, maybe I played wrong, but just some thoughts.
Anyways, we click on the epilogue button and it brings us into the far distant future. When a game like Ultra Deluxe is remembered in the same way The Stanley’s Parable was. With its own memory zone for some new, distant game.
The Music is quiet and eerie, with a slight otherworldly vibe. Not long into the memory zone we see a new review of the game. One written five years after the release from Cookie9, a person who hated The Stanley Parable. A person for whom The Stanley Parable 2 was explicitly made.
There it is. There is no pleasing fans. And this is where we learn another dark truth about the setting’s person who has been talking to us from the beginning of the game. This person appeared to govern sliders, such as how light or dark the game was. But it also at one point asked us to bring dogs and cats closer together. And in that moment, like a butterfly wing flapping a billion years ago, we changed the course of history. I present to you the future that results in your choices.
You look at those pictures and a ball forms in your stomach. You hear a voice in a haunted whisper, “Your slider choices don’t matter”. But what a cruel lie. What a monster to lead you so astray. Your slider choices are the difference between the eventual fate of cats and dogs in the distant future.
You also discover the horrible conclusion to The Stanley Parable 2.
The legacy has died. The game was shunned. Nobody wanted more of it. The developers could not apologize enough. And you carry on, until you fall into an office. To discover what you were seeking this entire time. Everything you had explored so far wasn’t real. You didn’t break the game. You don’t turn it into a wasteland. You didn’t travel five years into the future. And those reviews weren’t real. No. You had been had.
It turns out it was part of the content all along. Their final trick, mirroring the first trick they had ever pulled on us.
In a lot of ways, Ultra Deluxe feels much more like a sequel to The Stanley Parable: The Demo than it feels like a sequel to the original game. I didn’t…I didn’t think I’d be talking about the Demo. I actually actively resisted engaging with the Demo for a long time. I knew it was its own game, but I thought, what does it really have to say? And you know what it said? That I was a pervert? And how dare it.
But I guess I need to, because I think understanding the Demo is really understanding Ultra Deluxe, which is really understanding If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. But I promise you dear reader, I will not say a single thing about that last work. I will not spend thousands of words droning on about something we all likely already know. I won’t trap you into a narrative loop, only to marry you off and finish my story. No. You don’t need to worry about all that. Actually. Maybe I should? Maybe that’s what the fans want?
Let’s say a book was about you reading a book. Let’s say —
There is a man leaning against a brick wall, wearing a trench coat. To clarify, the man is wearing the coat, not the wall. There is a book in his pocket and from where you are you can make out the title, “John Dies at the End.” No spoiler warning, how rude. You noticed he is smoking and standing just under a light fixture mounted to the wall.
The smoking looks uncool and unhealthy, you feel a revulsion just looking at it. Certainly not a character to convince anyone that smoking is cool. Far from it. The opposite in fact. A character like this certainly has a net negative for Tabacco companies.
Once your disgust about smoking boils to a simmer you take a moment to gather your surroundings. You’re in an alley, but it’s too dark to make out anything outside the little pocket of light. You appear to be existing in some small liminal space created inside of the darkness.
You don’t recognize this man, but they seem rather nondescript. White, scrawny, and the hints of a beard. Older twenties or a fresh looking thirty, you can’t say. You also have no way to know his name is Dogg or what strange powers he possesses, but before you have much time to consider it further, he turns to face you.
“Hey, my name is Dogg. I wanted to introduce myself, as I know you have no way of knowing that.” He says.
Oh, you think. That really clarifies that. But why is Faye introducing new characters so late into this article. I mean, we’re close aren’t we? Why are we stopping here?
“It’s a relief to talk to someone, I haven’t existed in about nine years.” He says taking a disgusting drag and blowing it away from you. You try to ignore all of that and escape this narrative.
“Cool, cool, I’m a bit lost. Don’t know if you could help me. I was supposed to be finding answers to Ultra Deluxe. I was reading an article on it, by Faye, but it stopped suddenly and now I find myself here.” You say and do whatever it is you normally do.
“Yeah, Faye will do that to you. I’m actually from one of her older stories. Back then I went by Detective Dogg. Not because I was a pro, I was just a silly kid trying to figure out the world.” Dogg says putting out the awful cancer stick on the soul of his shoes.
“You seem to have a lot of history with her, does she have any weaknesses? Something we can do to defeat her, perhaps? Any way out of here?” You ask, desperate for escape.
“You? You can leave at any time. If you want. You scroll down until you see bold font indicating a new section title and move on. Maybe this section is vitally important for later, maybe it isn’t. Up to you. Take care, if you go!”
“If I leave, why keep talking? What if other people leave? This conversation is only canon if the reader is still here, right?” You ask.
“You’re a smart one. That’s absolutely correct. Your engagement to continue implicitly means you’re still here. This conversation to you is created in real time by choice at this point. Your dialogue only exists with your participation to keep reading it.” Dogg says.
“Okay, so you know Faye, why is she doing this? Why does this section exist? Why am I, a real person, talking to you, a fake character?” You ask.
“Well, I could wager some guesses. I’m from a story Faye wrote nine years ago. It captured her mind then and what struggles she was going through. It evolved from her earlier writing and kind of kept evolving. In a lot of ways it really wasn’t all that different than if Digimon and El Goonish Shive had a baby.”
The Next Part of the Article
“Oh.” You say, knowing what those two things are and needing no further explanation. No, none at all, actually. On account of knowing them both so well. You’re doing great and are very satisfied.
“Listen, this one will take a bit. So, I took the liberty of writing it all down. You can read through it at your own pace.” Dogg says handing you a wade of papers held together by clip.
I’m from a story called Dream the Dreams that Never Die. It’s a two hundred page affair that reads one part horror, one part slice of life, and serves as a coming age story to your mid-twenties. Novel right? We typically think of coming of age stories as starting and stopping with puberty and hormones. That or it’s some eighteen year old who figures some shit out about their place in the world. What a joke. Truth is we never do. Truth is we come to a new age every year.
Faye wrote the story originally about a young girl. A kind of spunky heroine that clearly was just her author insert. She wrote about dreams and insecurity. She was a kid. The story evolved and time moved on and all the kids in it grew up. They got jobs. They had lives and at some point dreams faded to something less magical; goals. At some point that spunky heroine disappeared. Just stopped existing actually.
And then, it was me. Suddenly, I was the main character. Some anxious dork who didn’t even remember all the shit that happened to everyone important to me. And the story shifted from dealing with insecurity and anxiety into the trauma it becomes after years of festering. It shifted from raising heroes into falling heroes. And she was still just a kid when she wrote it, just a twenty year old trying to manage, you know?
She was looking for answers and in a literal way trying to find herself. She finished the first part of this story in November of 2013. Just one month after The Stanley Parable came out. And the reason we’re dusting off an old dog like me is because how do you relate to very personal art you created a long time ago? How can you? And what would it mean to engage with stuff like this?
She never did a second or third part to my story in any official way. She still thinks about coming back from time to time. But all those characters she spent years writing and thinking about didn’t go away either. I know the future she had planned for us. I know she wanted us to be happy. I know she will marry me off to a really wonderful woman that I’ll struggle to feel like I deserve. That I eventually do reconnect with my friends and find those answers I was always looking for about the truth of this world and the dream world. I know I find answers, because she wanted answers too. I know she finds that spunky heroine again.
But she’s moved on. She doesn’t write about us anymore, because her work has evolved and is continuing to evolve. She has stories in eighth grade talking about what it means to be a hero. She has themes she has explored her whole life. And while she doesn’t work on my story, she continues to work on an ever evolving strong identity of connected ideas, themes, and elements. That has taken her to writing a lesbian story between a paladin and a demon and a floating castle that comes straight out of my story. Not that anyone would really know. Everything she ever wrote lives on in everything she will write in some way.
And it is in this headspace I imagine she really doesn’t understand why Ultra Deluxe needed to be revisited. If she could ask the author one question, it would be that. She gets how Ultra Deluxe ties together within the broader metanarrative construct, but it feels so much like it was built top-down rather than an organic and desired exploration of a person’s expression or evolution of them and their work over time.
“You got some of that right.” Faye says walking in from the other part of the alleyway. The writer, not the cowgirl.
“I mean, I know what you’re going to say, just not why. I know you’re going to reach out to the author, but I don’t get it.” Dogg says, turning to face her.
“I’m sorry I haven’t written more about you, I always feel like I failed you,” Faye says.
The Next Part of the Article For Real
“Excuse me, should I still be here?” You ask nervously. Dogg and Faye both look at you with slight surprise. They had clearly forgotten you were there entirely. They go back to looking at each other. You get the impression you’re no longer in the scene to them.
“What are you hoping to do with all of this, Faye? Nobody is going to care about some story you wrote ten years ago? Do you even?” Dogg asked.
“To be honest, I don’t totally know. But when I was writing, my mind thought to put you in. It made some connection that it thought was important. So, we’re exploring that. And as I really try to understand myself, and you, and this story, I think I’m starting to figure it out.” Faye said.
“Wasn’t that Davey N’s entire point to Coda, you can’t have a conversation with yourself? I’m still just you. And I have even worse news, you’re going to have to delete your entire dialogue about reality simulation, it just doesn’t actually fit. No, Dude, I see you’re still trying to edit it in. It just isn’t going to be relevant, stop trying to force it.” Dogg said.
“Okay, fine. So, what now?” Faye asked.
“Well, you need to finish this out and stop avoiding it at some point. And just be confident in your work for once. Maybe believe other people would actually care for a change? Hell, go wild. Put in that part you cut.” Dogg said.
“It would still work if I made it part of the meta joke.” Faye said, but the alleyway was already empty. She was sad to see Dogg go, but he was right. There was work that still needed doing.
The Next Part of the Article, This Time for Real
I guess, imagine if you will, someone trapped you in a hyper realistic virtual reality. One in which you looked, felt, and sounded exactly like famous movie actor John Malkovich. You’d know it’s fake. You’re obviously not John Malkovich. But the world treats you as though you are. You may be taller or shorter than you are now. Objects can seem relatively larger or smaller. If you’ve never experienced having a penis, you would. And after a day in this simulation, you’re taken out. You’re back to yourself. Back to reality. What are you left with? Memories.
So, what of your childhood are you left with, today? Memories. Oh, sure, it really happened. But what is left? Ultimately, what is ever left of anything we experience? Memories and the impact those memories have on us.
Now, that won’t be true of an event that broke your leg. You don’t need to be difficult and bring up where this line of thought doesn’t work. But at the end of the day does it really matter where the text we read comes from? It all is just memories and feelings anyways. It is just exploration. Our brain for as much as it likes to construct this linear narrative of reality is just floating in the ether taking its cues from your peripheral nervous system. All experience is already secondary.
The Next Part or Your Money Back!
“Oh my god, have I escaped yet!?” You scream. But nobody is around and you look absurd for doing it. Which concludes my essay on Italo Calvino.
Anyways, have you ever wondered why The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe wasn’t simply called The Stanley Parable 2? I mean, if you’ve read everything I’ve written and didn’t just skim, you’d know. Because Ultra Deluxe was an entire game about The Stanley Parable 2. While also serving to be The Stanley Parable 2.
And it doesn’t stop there friends. It keeps going.
And what is this? The Stanley Parable 4!? The Stanley Parable 4: Offline Cowboy? Is this making a mockery of the game I loved so much in 2013? Is this one final insult to every fan who ever loved the series? Is this the piss on the grave of the memory of fondness we had for the original? Can it be?
And that feels kind of weird. Ultra Deluxe isn’t just about the experiences of creating The Stanley’s Parable 2, but something more. It is about the entire experience of The Stanley Parable Legacy. It is the genesis, death, and epilogue of the game’s life. It is seeing the game born and fade into irrelevancy. It is giving you the control on making as many sequels as you want. Go wild. It doesn’t matter. Hold nothing dear.
It is attacking your nostalgia in the product, by preemptively destroying those connections you would form into your memory. Don’t cling to the legacy. Let it burn.
And this is where I have trouble saying anything meaningful about Ultra Deluxe, because more than anything else this ending just feels distant, it feels like it’s trying to distance itself from the world. It’s a very cold game.*
Earlier, probably years ago, I asked why this game was made. More to the point, what was this game trying to say? And I’m not entirely sure it is saying any one thing, except, perhaps, Jim. And that feels weird to say after having spent several tens of thousands of words on all the things this game has said, right?
Let me tell you what I mean in something less than a thousand words if you can believe it. I want to talk about one of the new characters to the game, The Bucket Destroyer. While the new character is deeply nuanced and worth at least five of your favorite Game of Thrones characters combined, it underlies what I feel is a deep flaw in the Game of Buckets.
This ending is the conclusion you get after exploring memory road. Where you get to see all the great parts of what made The Stanley Parable the game people loved. The conclusion is you’re not interacting with them anymore because the bucket has drawn too much of your attention. And you’re confronted with the Bucket Destroyer who will rid the game of it once and for all.
And during my first experience with this ending, I refused to destroy my bucket and I was rewarded with the bucket destroyer, destroying itself. And I thought that was fun. I went back down there, to see what would happen if I actually fed my bucket into the machine and I couldn’t. I was never actually allowed to do that. The only ending possible was the bucket destroyer gets rekt.
And I feel like this could have been the start of a much deeper sequence, instead of just a surface level nostalgia trap joke. Imagine the narrator brings you into different endings to try to make you have the best experience, based on what fans said before. Imagine you start the game again right after the bucket is destroyed and immediately the narrator says, “Okay, alright, what else was fun? Oh, I know, the bomb ending. Do the bomb ending.”
And now as you head through the office and get to the two doors, the right door is boarded up. You have to go through the game in a way only the bomb ending is viable. You can’t even escape when you reset. Signs say fun bomb ending this way! And when you get there and start the sequence, the Narrator talks about how many years people searched for a way out. Fools that couldn’t grasp the lesson. Even bringing you to those places that look like solutions, like above the catwalk or through the door. Oh, is this fun Stanley, isn’t this fun?
I’m not trying to write Ultra Deluxe fan fiction but give a constructive example of just how I feel like a lot of elements don’t really add up into much more than just new content. And the whole Bucket Destroyer ending does explore nostalgia, but only on an extremely surface level. It doesn’t do it transformatively, only descriptively.
The “Is This a Bucket Game” was fun, but what did it really say? Collecting the Twelve Emblems of the Sages was some of the most engaging and compelling parts of Ultra Deluxe, which basically felt like combining the nostalgia of Ocarina of Time with the innovative gameplay of Breath of the Wild, Hades, Elden Ring, and Into the Breach. Resulting in a final boss battle ending in bittersweet catharsis. It took me over seventy attempts and is on par with the Malenia fight in Elden Ring.
And maybe that’s the point. None of the bucket endings particularly did much more for me than just enjoy what they were doing in the moment. The facility won’t let the bucket leave, people have killed for this bucket, we know what a bucket really is, we can’t destroy it, it doesn’t cushion our falls, and it reveals that horrible truth about silly birds! It becomes our loving partner in I believe two endings.
And maybe that anti-climax and anti nostalgia is the point? That it really just stands in as content. Something to do between point A and B while you progress what is arguably a definitive progression story that now exists. Where no bucket ending really had to say anything meaningful by itself, except to be fun and a composite of what we understand to be this thing we call the Stanley Parable 2.
And please, do not misunderstand me. I really liked these experiences. They are short little thoughts, they say what they want to say, and then they end.*
But I feel like there is a huge missed opportunity to not also expand the original game in some way. And this is why I kind of walked away from Ultra Deluxe feeling like it was a bit mean to the original. And I don’t know if that’s a reflection of what expectations did to the game over time or if the developers just…didn’t care? It didn’t feel like a work of art that was transformative. And I feel like it could’ve been. It could’ve made every point I’ve identified about the things that work and what it was saying, while still…caring?
And I feel like, maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe this is just me wanting there to be something there isn’t here and the game as it exists is everything it was intended to and needs to be with as much respect and love for the original as possible.
When I explored my own work of nine years ago, I wanted to give the audience a sense of how I think about work and how it evolves as a writer. And I think the biggest trepidation fans of a work have when engaging with a remake, reboot, or sequel is how much love and care is put into something that matters to them. And how much is the work trying to say something or add something meaningful and how much is it trying to just drain your nostalgia and wallet dry.
I think the biggest cultural commonality we all recognize in this realm is The Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. Something so horrible and removed from the original that fans left disgusted. And I think for quality reboots that really expanded on the original in meaningful ways, I would offer the Evangelion Neon Genesis movies. They just felt like a labor of love went into the animation and story. Ultra Deluxe just feels somewhere in the middle to me. And it never had any responsibility to be transformative with the 2013 gameplay and material, but…it could have.
And just to clarify the argument I’m making here, I don’t think Ultra Deluxe really meaningfully interacts with the original The Stanley Parable. Obviously they both function within the same base game, but their story and narrative goals are completely different and wholly unrelated. Ultra Deluxe does use the original for contrast, it does need the original to draw its metacontexual narrative of exploring nostalgia, and uses the game to critique sequels, nostalgia, and expectations. What I’m saying is it also had the opportunity to make The Stanley Parable base game a deeper experience and it didn’t. And if the message is just to burn the legacy to the ground…why keep the original legacy so airtight and protected and mostly unchanged? I don’t know if this is making sense, so just reread the entire article a few times and through that trauma your brain will rationalize meaning, I’m sure.
One thing that makes me cringe is I’ve seen a lot of reviews and comments talking about how they better be careful or they’ll be featured in the next game and I just don’t get it. Why would they make The Stanley Parable: Final Mix+? What more could possibly be said that wasn’t already said?
The only thing I could possibly imagine is The Stanley Parable Maker. It is just like Mario Maker, but you can make Stanley levels. And it comes with a bunch of assets, prerecorded narration lines, the ability for you to in game create recordings of your own narrative, and then a timeline for creating the game. While you get reviews, pestered by an audience, and also grow crops. The day cycles are like Stardew Valley. A typical life cycle will last approximately 10 hours and then is posted for other people to play.
It will all obviously be a metanarrative deconstruction of the act of creation. That’s money on the shelf. Even if Crows Crows Crows doesn’t utilize that, I free the last paragraph from any possible copyright claim. You can use it verbatim in your own articles or game development with nary a need to credit me or even acknowledge I exist! We truly wouldn’t need any other game after that. Games would be done. Solved. Not just games, dear reader, those are 93 free words. That paragraph 1,000 times is a novel. School assignment just a few hundred words short of goal? Use that freebie! I’ve just solved writing too!
No, no, I’m sorry. I’ve gotten wildly off course. I’ve just imagined a whole game that isn’t even Ultra Deluxe. I deflected, I projected, and ultimately I avoided. I didn’t understand, so I leaped to something I could.
You put too much faith and trust in me, for me to give up like that. I have to dig deeper. There must be something I’m not getting. Something for me to understand! Anything.
Davey Wreden…surely he must have answers. Something that isn’t relying on any authorial intent, but perhaps gently nudges me in the right direction. Some kind of message that is more hint than answer. Something more exploratory than definitive. Something musical. And Fresh.
Actually, What is This Game?
Ultra Deluxe isn’t just a game, previous reviews have concluded it is every game. And one last thing I’d like to talk about is the artificial reality functions of this game, because they build into broader concepts I’ll explain later. And when we get to them you will be primed to the point you will go, oh yes, I see how this all adds up now!
The Beginner’s Guide dealt heavily with reality manipulation. It really counted on selling the premise that it wasn’t a constructive narrative. That level of trust within the authentic nature of the game was the space necessary to get the kind of investment required to experience the story. If The Beginner’s Guide was sold as a man telling a 90 minute story where he is an asshole, that maybe wouldn’t have been a good experience.
But Davey Wreden didn’t just release the game in hope that would be the perception. I didn’t follow everything that happened like an investigative journalist, but just by reviewing a lot of content around this work, my impression was that it was important for people to see this product of his as a solo development. Because that is how it exists within the game’s constructed universe. If the game was made by 10 developers and writers and hired voice actors then it maybe it becomes less compelling to believe any of it could be real.
The Stanley Parable also effectively did a similar thing with its release of The Demo. It created buzz around the metanarrative elements of the game, creating its own experience, and built into the mystery.
This is where video games as a medium or anything digital are going to naturally be better at metafictional elements and realism. It’s easier to create Artificial Reality Games in a space you can control and evolve. And when we get into these spaces, it is one where the framework of the Author is Dead stops mattering. The author can’t die. The author and content are part of the work in literal ways.
Crows Crows Crows, the producer and developers of Ultra Deluxe, had a number of tactics working to create a similar feeling before its release. This included an entire demonstration showcase of the game.
- Part 1: The Critical Importance of File Size
- Part 2: Leveraging Advancements
in Storytelling Technology
- Part 3: Setting Expectations Through Marketing
Now the answers were clear. It even supports why I should settle for no less than a million words in this article. More words = more content = more sales! At this point, I could plug my work into an AI bot and retire on the nothing I make on this website! I could set realistic goals for publishing, such as notices a day beforehand. The audience requires a kind of integrity that I’m just the person to provide!
Crows Crows Crows offered a newsletter with updates on the game and even asked for feedback related to facts on North Dakota. As someone who lives there, I certainly had a lot to say, one of two letters at a time!
But going through each letter, I didn’t really find answers there either. I did find that the narrator can be moved by our letters to do things like delay the game. Maybe, I could move the creative force to explain things more succinctly. Answers, I would find answers.
So, I wrote Davey an email. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. I did it because I feel like when these works are so richly metacontextual and exist within this augmented space of reality, then there is value in an author.
I didn’t reach out to find answers like I joked about here. But to understand his feelings on Taco Bell and Frozen Pizza. If he had ever solved the Black Monolith Puzzle or what his ideas on that were. If it kept him up at night, how many people didn’t understand Coda was clearly a trans woman. And really just if he feels like there is more he wants to say or if he was satisfied in what he did. The biggest thing I want to ask him is what he’d say to other creators about how to deal with an audience and expectations.
Hey friend, it’s downhill from here. You really did get through most of this Guide on The Stanley Parable. If your parents never told you this, I’m proud of you. I mean that. It takes real dedication and perseverance to get through the dense, silly, grammatic-lite™ scribing of some no name internet weirdo.
If you have a cookie or some kind of treat, please get it. You earned that too. Come back, I’ll wait. Also, you can get your slippers on! This feels like a slippers moment. You feel that right? I’m glad. I’m glad we could connect.
At least, you could connect with this fictional portrayal of Faye. That’s basically the next best thing, right?
We’ve really gave it our best didn’t we? At putting effort into understanding art. What it could mean. What it could do to our lives. I think we also spent a long time on dick balloons? Ha ha, those were the days. You and I. Let’s remember them, our favorite moment together for old time sake.
But the words will end at some point. It’ll be over. Your snack and this word salad. And you’ll have to carry on to something else after having shared this dark space for so long. I always hated that. Knowing a book was over in twenty pages. I always wish I could just not know.
But Faye will write more. If that’s something you care about now. Stories wholly different, but about the same as this one. We will move on. New games will happen. New experiences. And it isn’t worth getting so caught up in the past as to define your present.
So, please drink some water, little one. We’ll finally make our conclusion. Then another section that will be entirely fake as a detour to those answer seekers, who simply scroll to the bottom.
Final Points About the Broom Closet
Let’s say that you wrote an article on Medium that was the length of a short book and released it for free. Let’s say at time of writing, maybe the author could expect a dozen people to read it and one squirrel. Let’s say this work is not just insanely long, but also experimental and meta.
Outside of exactly what this work is, standing alone as text floating in space, what do you think the author wanted out of it? She wrote every word for a point. What was that point?
As an audience, as readers, critics, or consumers we often ask how a work impacted us. The author’s intent or vision doesn’t matter. That work made me bored? Fuck it, burn it to the ground, review bomb it, and harass the author on Twitter (This is still a service at time of writing). Those who consume have so much entitlement to their entertainment that they don’t see boundaries. Narrative boundaries, personal boundaries, or ethical boundaries. They want to hold the artist accountable. The author no longer is allowed to be dead, no, they must be alive to answer for their sins.
And who is this author? Are they the creators who write books? No, not anymore. There is no author anymore. Everyone has merged into something else, a homogenous mass called content. William Shakespeare was just a content creator. And content, dear reader, anyone can make content. Will Smith slapped a man on stage…is that content? A woman shattered her back at a Twitchcon event…is that content? An exciting new arc in her story? Aren’t people’s lives just content and shouldn’t we have access to them? After Stranger Things Season 4 wrapped up, there was so much content about the drama and real lives of the young actors to keep the show relevant long after it aired. I hope this all sounds absolutely disgusting, because it is and it is the result of entitlement an audience can have into real people’s lives.
The Stanley Parable, The Beginners Guide, and Ultra Deluxe all examine different ways to apply Death of the Audience. I’m going to do my quick summary on all of these, but don’t believe what I’m writing here is my strong ending conclusion. It’s my falling action epilogue, because guess what, the several thousand words I dedicated to each game will say much more than my few hundred words summarizing them up.
You realize papers only end with these strong conclusions so professors don’t need to waste time trying to understand your points? We are not beholden to their conventions, we can boldly go into a conclusionless world, you and I. Where there is no bow. No tidy way to summarize everything. Where the work simply stands holistically on its own merits. Imagine that world, dear reader. We could, but I will allow you some mercy and reflection. Like I said, what I offer you is an epilogue.
The first thing to understand is that Death of the Audience explores the relationship between the audience and author directly. This relationship goes both ways and looks at how we communicate, understand, and interact without actually looking at the story proper. The story is secondary.
So, this is the audience drawing context, meaning, or content directly from an author. This is the author directly influencing and engaging with audiences for them to interpret works in specific ways. It isn’t authorial intent, which is simply how an author feels about their given work, it is the ways they actively fight for the audience to understand it. It is the ways they fight for the audience’s interpretation of the work and how they’re supposed to feel about it. And how eventually the story stops mattering and the story becomes the conversations between audience and artist. Imagine the people know who Sonic is solely because of memes online and not because they ever played a Sonic game. Death of the Audience in this way exists often with a metafictional level. It has to exist there, because it doesn’t exist strictly within the story or fiction. It is everything created outside of it.
That is the three ways we see Death of the Audience expressed, as the audience defying the author intentionally, as the author intentionally fighting the audience, or when a work starts to gain meaning through the cultural expectations, revisions, interpretations, and memes far outside of the original story, how the author intended it, or how the audience originally understood it. These three things are explored pretty succinctly in each game we talk about in this article.
So, in this epilogue we should understand that The Stanley Parable applies the Death of the Audience within a metafictional lens to represent an author trying to control their own story and how you as the audience experience it. The story fights you, insults you, and taunts you for trying to do something outside of the intent of the story and the author.
It makes you reflect on what you’re actually getting out of an experience if you’re trying so hard to break it and not slowing down to really understand it. It asks that you think about how you engage with games in the first place. And that you trust the narrator, trust the story, and try to experience it with good faith. Not that you need to like it, but just to try to understand it on its own terms. And if you still hate it, fine. But did you at least understand it? Are you hating it for the right reasons?
This framework is not absolute nor does it absolve the responsibility of an author to make quality content. A bad game getting buried in bad reviews is not absolved of a bad audience who simply doesn’t understand the visionaries work. But again it just asks that the audience is engaging in the work fairly.
And this asks us to question ourselves, when we engage with a work. Before we consider it a failure, before we consider what it didn’t do for us, are we engaging with it properly? Are we capable of giving a good review to a game we hated, because it just wasn’t for us? One does not need to like every game, no game is free from criticism, no author free from the consequence of their work — but sometimes the audience is just wrong as a collective or individually.
I find a much more useful critique is identifying the goals of the story and if the elements worked to meet those goals, where they didn’t, and what could be improved.
Moving on, we have Ultra Deluxe, which examines a metafictional lens around the nostalgia, development, creation, experience, and epilogue to the life of a sequel. While The Stanley Parable explores Death of the Author in the immediate sense for when you are engaging in a work, Ultra Deluxe explores what this means for the works we love, how we attach ourselves to them, and how we carry that baggage into new art. It also explores the idea of audiences being wrong or toxic and how these expectations and demands on the work can impact creators and works of art themselves outside of the actual on paper value of anything.
This game explicitly explores reviews of The Stanley Parable that fundamentally don’t understand the experience of the game. It is okay to not like the experiences of the game or walk away hating it, but to want to skip around to different endings or skip dialogue is destroying what that game fundamentally is. This game features the narrator, the contextual creator of the game attempting to please fans through a dialogue skip button. This results in skipping everything the game has to offer, making it irrelevant, driving the creator to mad exasperations, until nothing is left. All that effort and work to please the audience who just insults it anyways. There is no winning, because the audience isn’t engaging in good faith and chasing those demands is like putting out a fire by feeding it more.
Another way to look at this is the game Elden Ring. This is a Dark Souls game, which is known for difficulty. Difficulty creates conversations around accessibility. Every game should be accessible as an option. And if a person needs a mode to be invincible or they cannot progress in the game, that mode is fine to add.
However, someone who uses that mode, who then says the game is awful and too easy is wrong. Games and stories are designed to be experienced in a specific way. Difficulty and overcoming difficulty are gameplay features of Elden Ring and it really is very accessible for people with the mind to try outside of actual accessibility options. When that element of the game is gone, it really isn’t the same game.
Ultra Deluxe really looks at audience expectations, especially compared to previous work. Every author who ever gains any fame is haunted by a ghost past success. And every future work you do will be compared by it. You are no longer ever free to create something new and removed from expectation. And either the masses shout and ask you just make the same thing over and over and over again — like the infinite endings of Ultra Deluxe or they review bomb your new thing because it didn’t make them feel the same warm tingles of their first experience. Ultra Deluxe explores both of these outcomes and suggests to just burn it to the ground.
To understand this framework is to understand how culture, expectation, audience, and author start to understand the prime story outside of its original context. We stop talking about the story in a meaningful way and start talking about how we talk about it. The story morphs into discussion about it more than what it ever really was. All media in a post-post-modern era becomes a simulacra by the nature of our technology. But this only happens because audiences take, distort, and evolve work. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it obfuscates meaningful discussions about what any work of art really is. And Death of the Audience is the framework to understand this and take it back. Death of the Story would be the process by which an audience converts media into simulacra and memes. Death of the Audience is the fight to stop that.
The Beginner’s Guide is a Metanarrative game about the fictional developer of The Stanley Parable, Davey Wreden. It is the story of him sharing several games from a fictional game developer named Coda and asking us how much we can understand about a person from just their games.
This game ends up being a tragedy and a dark twist is that Fictional Davey was an awful person. He violated trust and boundaries. He inserted himself into someone else’s art and lied about it. He spread rumors about Coda’s mental health, tried to be the hero to save Coda, and released every game just to force Coda to have to talk to him.
In this work, we see the Death of the Audience as a tool to examine the parasocial relationships the audience forms with creators. Relationships that can become toxic, that place unhealthy burdens and expectations, and can ruin a creator’s desire to ever make art in the first place.
Each work is a metanarrative work about the Death of the Audience, because we can only explore this literary conceit in how an audience reacts to a given work or author. So, each game is that — an example of a work of fiction that includes creator and audience together. Narrator and Stanley or Davey and Coda.
This value we get from this framework is an examination of ourselves and the way we engage with work and how ethically we do it. It is not really seeking to determine if the audience is right or wrong about a work. It is not trying to suggest one opinion is stronger or more objective. It is not a shield to criticism for authors to use.
It is asking are you alive? And as a living person, can you have fun? Can you play in the space? Can you go along for the ride? Are you considerate to others? Do you feel appreciative or entitled? Do you respect boundaries and listen? Can you appreciate the journey? How healthy is your relationship to content and to creators?
There aren’t right answers here, but Death of the Audience suggests we ask these questions and perhaps be a little more kind in the world. Our relationship to media and content has drastically changed over just that last ten years. Every way we used to intersect with stories, novels, and writings is fundamentally and irrevocably different. And whatever freehand of literary critique that used to exist and judge things by the merit and word of the text alone has been replaced by billions of hands reaching, pulling, and punching.
And works, more now than ever, become seeds to a bigger story. A story that is encompassed by the notion of content. A work and its author are never allowed to die anymore. That isn’t profitable. Buy our Iron Giant Sneakers where we donate money to buy guns back. See our famed creator of Pyramid Head yell madly into the void of Twitter to stop sexualizing his character. Yell at Neil Gaiman for personally ruining Netflix’s Sandman adaptation. We can only dream of the days an author and their story could die. Welcome to Literary Zombification or Post-Post-Modernism in whatever flavor you want to dip your nuggets. Me, why not go with my new term: Ultra Deluxe Modernism.
And it is just now that I think I actually understand the end of Ultra Deluxe. The point I’ve been making the entire time was the impacts and responsibility of an audience within Ultra Deluxe Modernism. Unless you don’t like that, then the point I was making was whatever point you most enjoy.
I thought these games were really cool and just an incredible experience and I wanted you to get just some of that experience I had. That is this journey. I just wanted you to think about it, if you haven’t before. I think a lot of folks engage with games like this in a detached way. They think the Narrator is just being funny or The Beginner’s Guide is just a good story, like reading a novel. I don’t think every player really gets that the game was about them all along.
I don’t think you can really get into metafictional work without being playful or conceding to the absurdity or being a little silly. I think that’s a good thing. Being silly is a great place to engage with pretty serious topics and ideas, because it’s safe.
This article was intended for people who had played these games before. So, I’m not trying to convince a stranger why these games are good. I’m trying to convince someone who has experienced them just how much depth there is and how much there is to play with. The end is never the end. But, I hope you liked this ending. I hope you had fun. I hope your day after reading this was better than your day before reading it.
Thank you, dear reader.
Break Just Before the End
Hey friend, it’s downhill from here. You really did get through most of this Guide on The Stanley Parable. If your parents never told you this, I’m proud of you. I mean that. It takes real dedication and perseverance to get through the dense, silly, grammatic-lite™ scribing of some no name internet weirdo.
If you have a cookie or some kind of treat, please get it. You earned that too. Come back, I’ll wait. Also, you can get your slippers on! This feels like a slippers moment. You feel that right? I’m glad. I’m glad we could connect.
At least, you could connect with this fictional portrayal of Faye. That’s basically the next best thing, right?
We’ve really gave it our best didn’t we? At putting effort into understanding art. What it could mean. What it could do to our lives. I think we also spent a long time on dick balloons? Ha ha, those were the days. You and I.
But the words will end at some point. It’ll be over. Your snack and this word salad. And you’ll have to carry on to something else after having shared this dark space for so long. I always hated that. Knowing a book was over in twenty pages. I always wish I could just not know.
But Faye will write more. If that’s something you care about now. Stories wholly different, but about the same as this one. We will move on. New games will happen. New experiences. And it isn’t worth getting so caught up in the past as to define your present.
I’m not sure I could really have been more clear about my points throughout this essay, but to summarize them, The Stanley Parable (TSP) is about the illusion of choice. Our choices never really matter in video games. They’re all predetermined, even if we feel like we’re free, so there really isn’t that much point to any of it. Right?
And the shitty thing about games these days is that there is so much meandering in them. Red Dead Redemption is a prime example. This massive, open world game with relatively nothing to do. I just don’t get it. Just let me teleport anywhere I want to. That’s why the addition of some kind of skip button in Ultra Deluxe was such a good feature. It really owned up to a lot of the mistakes of the original game.
Death of the Audience is basically how games and narratives do not get to the point fast enough. That they waste our time and don’t live up to our expectations to the point that we die. Just like how Sonic will literally die if you don’t input buttons. That is our death.
That’s why I’m glad you skipped all of the pointless text in this essay to find out what I was really trying to say. Like I would actually write 37,000 words about TSP? You’d have to be a buffoon to believe that. It is just 35,000 words of non-sense to make a point about not wasting anyone’s time and how everyone just skips to the end anyways.
This wouldn’t be a big deal, except when we consider how much games cost. TSP: Ultra Deluxe (UD) wants me to pay twenty-five dollars for just some DLC? Are you kidding me? It was funny sure, but it could’ve been funnier. Honestly for that price it was dull, uninspiring, and often insulting to its base.*
I would honestly expect a long apology for the game at this point. I think the game needed some kind of second broom closet or Adventure Line™. That would’ve really been an excellent addition, but it instead wasted my time with a bucket. Oh wow, a bucket! Amazing! Woo. Does the game think I’m a child?
To be fair, I didn’t play TSP:UD, but I did watch a streamer player through the new story elements. It may have been more fun if I played it personally, but typically I just watch other people play games.
And before you get mad that I didn’t even play the game, I did play TBG. And that game was probably the best example of Death of the Audience. Keep in mind, I get walking simulators. Hell, I’ve even liked one or two before, but it wasn’t a walking simulator, it was a waiting simulator.
I just wish games respected me and my time in them. Is that so much to ask?
Also, whoever Coda is, I don’t get him through his games. Is that my lesson? At least Davey was kind enough to care and Coda not respecting that is pretty sus. I’m also surprised that Coda wasn’t a developer for TSP:UD? I guess he never reached out to Davey? I mean, that open-endedness is just really bad writing if you ask me. Audiences need and deserve closure, anything less is really just a cop out.
I guess, in conclusion, Death of the Audience is a literary concept that says that while authors are definitely dead, they still owe us. And if we don’t have a good time playing their game or reading their story, it is their fault. And before haters come here to disagree, I must inform you, unlike you, I’m a real gamer. Crows Crows Crows kindly drew this picture of me for you to understand how serious I am.