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Have You Played… The Beginner’s Guide?

I've never meta-fiction I didn't like

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The Beginners Guide, aka, the sad one. After the Stanley Parable warmed the innards of human animals across the world, the two creators went their separate ways. One of them resurfaced a couple of years later holding a free game with a superbly long name called Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. The other appeared with The Beginner’s Guide. Both were good, but for completely different reasons.

Dr Langeskov was, from the off, a comedy. It had tiger sound effects and a bossy narrator with the voice of Simon Amstell. The Beginner’s Guide, meanwhile, was… damn, I don’t know. Two paragraphs into this and I’ve already fallen apart. This happened a lot to the critics who tried to describe what the game was. Let me try. Ahem. It’s a first-person meta-fictional essay about human frailty. Did that help? No, I suppose it didn’t.

As the player, you are wandering around a series of videogame maps designed by someone who is not the narrator. But the narrator is telling you all about this person and guiding you through the maps, level by level. He plants you down in one and muses about it, then moves onto the next. It’s like an interactive lecture on level design. But as things move on the story becomes more personal. The narrator loses his professorial tone and you begin to become uncomfortable, unsettled by the things he talks about. By the end of the 1-hour-and-a-bit journey, you’re a confused, sad, conflicted, skeptical, concerned wreck. You feel like phoning all your mates just to ask them if they’re okay.

I waited years for someone in videogames to do service to the idea of meta-fiction, because I’m a huge twat who reads exclusively Flann O’Brien and Italo Calvino novels and then drops that fact on a videogame website. Then, in the space of a few years three games get the genre so damn right. Good stuff, videogames. Good stuff.

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