“I guess everything can be condensed into a soundbyte now.”
I had been talking to a character, attempting to console him after the death of his mother with the notion he was nearing the last of the five stages of grief. It seemed a throwaway comment, but his response left me shaken. The simpleness with which I had uttered supportive comments – told people that everything will be alright and they’ll get through this – were suddenly laid bare and hollow, having been said to so many that they came almost automatically and without any real meaning behind them. How then must those actually going through these traumas feel? Being forced to listen to my fabricated condolences and pretending they mean something, when they can likely see better than anyone how forced these words are?
No doubt this is a conversation for another time, but it was during this exchange that it first hit me how attempting to review Beeswing would only find me fumbling around in the same place, trying to put words to describe my experience with it but in doing so reducing it to just another series of acclaims. “It’s beautiful/moving/a work of art/incredible.” Lines I’ve written many times in regards to many games, settling for easy, familiar descriptives to talk about games in a way that’s expected and considered perfectly adequate by the majority of those who take the time to read reviews like mine. But when we come to games like Beeswing, it doesn’t work.
My standard review practices become obsolete, because what I’m playing isn’t something that can be quickly broken down and critiqued the way we’ve grown used to thinking about games. That’s both incredibly exciting for me as someone who longs to see games as a medium grow and evolve past what we’re used to, but also disheartening because I know no matter what I say (or even because of it), there will be a vast legion of people who look at Beeswing and see nothing but pretentious indie garbage. And this is sad to me not because I feel Beeswing is above criticism, but because the conversation never makes it that far. It stops at the very idea of someone making a game that’s different from how games are typically viewed, that makes people uncomfortable or confused because this isn’t what games have ever been to them (and to some people shouldn’t attempt to be). It’s a problem other mediums have been able to move past (at least to some degree), but and yet games, or more accurately the people who often talk about them the loudest are holding fast to like a tick you can pull off.
Where then does that leave this review? Well, I’ve hardly talked about what Beeswing even is so maybe this is hardly a review at all. What I took away from Beeswing though, and what I have tried and failed to discuss in this review, is how honest it is and aware of itself in a way that a lot of games similarly branded and cast off often don’t fully achieve. It’s not trying to impress anyone or manipulate them into feeling something, it simply wishes to exist; to say and show people sides of life that aren’t easy to talk about, or that you can will people to care listen to.
Beeswing isn’t sad, but it isn’t happy either. It recounts the lives of its characters (who to my knowledge are based off real people the developer knew) with a plain melancholy that is difficult to properly explain. I’m so used to media recounting horrible events, making me depressed for the sake of a narrative that’s supposed to mean something, that’s I most often find myself numb to any attempt to breach my emotional wall. But Beeswing never tried to bring me down, in fact it’s so clean in its indifference to how the player feels that it would seem cold if not for how tangible and raw the things it says and the way it shows you them are, being irrevocably connected to the actual experiences and history of the people within this tiny Scottish village.
The collages of hand drawn pictures, sculpted clay, and glitching digital art are arranged imperfectly in a way that reflects the emotions of whoever is at the center of them. It’s a constantly evolving style, but consistent in saying what lines of text could not. It’s messy, disorienting, and captivating in the pieces of myself I began to see strewn about like so many half formed thoughts and feelings I can’t describe. I wasn’t expressively trying to relate to Beeswing, but that’s also why it hit me harder than I could have expected.
Saying Beeswing moved me is easy. Calling it a work of art is reductive and redundant. There isn’t a single word that can describe what Beeswing is and will mean for different people, and that’s why it’s so stunning and important. It isn’t a game that can be taken easily, or that will likely entertain, but what it is able to say about life, death, and all the messy bits in between was more profound than any number of polygons and kill streaks have ever come close to being.