It seems to be traditional, when you talk about The Beginner’s Guide, to not talk about The Beginner’s Guide.
If I Must,
The game? It’s fine. It’s a perfectly interesting work about imposter syndrome and emotional boundaries and creative processes and a lot of other things you can see in your own inkblots. It’s an artistic piece that tells you a narrative in a really blunt way, but it uses its framing to create a blurred diegesis. It uses real world markers to confuse you about the actuality of its narrative.
There’s a forking challenge here; on the one hand, I want to berate videogames, as a culture, for being so woefully ill-equipped to deal with meta art as to be convinced that the narrative presented in The Beginner’s Guide was actually real and have actual journalists be so unsure of the reality of the presented narrative as to hedge their bets and ensure refunds were an option. On the other hand, it’s not like we’re drowning in meta-aware fiction and a cultural discourse that can treat this kind of thing seriously.
Rather than focus, then, on complaining about The Beginners’ Guide fooling Videogame Journalism, I want to tell you about s1m0ne.
Wait, The Movie?
S1M0NE, stylised however you wanna, is a movie about a dude who creates a virtual actress. That’s not even how it actually goes, it’s way more involved than that and it includes bestiality, and it has this nasty kind of undercurrent about the fundamentally exploitable nature of women in media spaces. It’s an interesting film. I didn’t say good.
Anyway, the thing is S1M0NE’s central premise is the virtual actress, Simone. In-movie, she doesn’t exist. To reinforce this, she isn’t credited as having an actress. The movie does do an extensive cgi sequence, showing Simone being constructed digitally, but it was… let’s say it’s very 2002, and leave it at that.
Anyway, so a bunch of people including representatives from the Screen Actors Guild believed it.
And they started a huge fuss about it.
I mean it stands to reason, if you’re a union you want to oppose things that hurt the interest of your members, and that’s a perfectly valid concern to be worried about around about now with things like deep learning technology allowing us to transplant faces and details across multiple media works and the complex relationship between motion capture and voice actor and fully integrated action – like, if you weren’t aware, motion captured faces are not a 1:1 acting thing, they’re a structure for animators to work from. Gollum is not ‘Andy Serkis is amazing,’ they’re Andy Serkis and the fifty people doing all the rest of the work are amazing, and yes, Andy’s ability to disappear into the role and do the physical acting element is impressive. That’s a real conversation.
But it’s not the conversation they were having in 2002.
There were some people, in late 2002, who genuinely thought that an Al Pacino movie with Winona Ryder and a budget of $10 Million had successfully replicated the human form with complete authenticity, and that the much cheaper and easier tack of using an actor wasn’t more likely. Then they thought it’d involve, y’know, pig-doinking.
Good grief, this is a silly thing.
Simone was played by a Canadian actress, and the movie otherwise glanced over its very interesting questions of identity and artificiality and technology to instead tell a story about a dude who was very, very anxious about his inability to control women. The real story of the movie, then, is less about what the movie wanted to talk about and much more about the fact some people couldn’t tell where the movie was fiction and where it was fact. The boundary of the diegesis confused people, and there were some critics who were genuinely unsure of how confident they could be about dismissing the fears of people who thought the end of actors had come.
I guess all I’m really saying, all I’m really saying here, is that sure, it’s kinda stupid that videogame criticism was duped into believing that maybe an author stole all their work and then recorded themselves having a nervous breakdown then edited that nervous breakdown and cleaned up the audio and packaged it up and sold it on Steam without at any point considering that the art was stolen, it’s not like videogames are unique in this regard. We have a history of people not knowing the boundary between art and real and sometimes, when people play with that, especially in areas of new technology, people make mistakes.
The Beginner’s Guide is available on Steam.
Get it if:
- You like small, arty ‘message’ games
Avoid it if:
- You don’t like anxiety simulators piped into your ears