Caledonian Antisyzygy: Beeswing Is Now Available

I haven’t been back to Scotland, my motherland, for a long time. Beeswing is a game about small-town Scotland released a few days ago. It is written in snippets of philosophy and folklore. It is told through hand-drawn maps and gentle guitar strokes. It is Final Fantasy on a small scale, in the spirit of Yumei Nikki, hand-illustrated and studded with the kind of Scottish duality people don’t talk about any more. In Beeswing I feel acquainted with death, but not in a morbid way. In Beeswing I feel like I am home in summers of Loch Lomond watching bees suckle pink flowers and dance between the heads of heather. I wanted to call my mother at a point, in fact, a thing I forget to do but Beeswing tattooed it into my consciousness. Beeswing sent me home.

Probably the part where I cried and wanted to call my mother was at the part where you can walk up to a part of the garden and look at the flowers, and the dialogue box informs you that you are looking at some thyme, and thyme in Scotland symbolises virginity, and there’s a saying “don’t let any man steal your thyme”, and I wanted to ask my mother about it. I wanted to ask her if my grandmother told her that. I think this is the kind of game this is. It is a narrative-based RPG of sorts, but the narrative is… of other people. Of the need of the Scottish to wander like I do now. Of transcription. Of making a record. Of the stories you grow up around. About listening.

I guess the implication is that if the game is about listening, then it is also about being thoughtful. I think about the stories characters tell in this game. Each of the characters have their own problems, and they are serious problems that I think I’d wrongly associate with big cities, like Aberdeen, the Scottish city I grew up in during the oil boom. Aberdeen is a city that has all the grace of a kid gorging himself on cake, except the cake is oil, and the kid is rich people, and the separation between rich and poor is sometimes so acute there I feel very uncomfortable in Aberdeen’s expensive establishments whenever there is some sort of formal event. The influx of Polish families was something Aberdeen was coping very badly with when I last visited, though Aberdeen was of course happy to see the Polish boost the economy. I remember helping out in a school where teachers were struggling to get by with only one Polish classroom assistant.

But small Scottish villages are trying to cope with similar issues of change and poverty. The smaller kind of places my mother, my aunt and my grandparents grew up in also need to adapt.

When I want to delight my American friends I tell them my aunt and uncle used to live in a Fife town called ‘Auchtermuchty’, where the ‘ch’ sound is a gutteral noise that sounds strange to other English speakers. Sometimes, I say, we just called it ‘Muchty’.

The concern about change and the onset of time is something that weighs greatly on every word in Beeswing. The friction between tradition and modernity. The passing of time through storytelling. Jack King-Spooner touches on Polish connections in conversations in Beeswing. He touches on memory, remembering. It all reminds me of George Mackay Brown’s wonderful book ‘Greenvoe‘, and I’d be surprised if Jack King-Spooner hadn’t read it.

Do you know, sometimes I overuse the word ‘profound’, and I used to think it was because I was encountering particular things, but it isn’t. It is because I am from Scotland, and that means an old man on the park bench can tell you something that will change your life, just like in this game. Remember Duncan Fyfe’s The Dogs of Summer? That experience is so familiar to me. That experience of the absurd and profound together. Scottish people see both meaning and humour in everything. The world made up in stories like Celtic knots.

God, imagine that we could preserve our grandmother’s stories through games. Imagine that we could preserve whole lost cultures for the future. Imagine that we could preserve how things used to be through games that have maps drawn from memory. Imagine I could preserve my grandfather’s warnings about Kelpies through sounds and hand drawings like Jack has done.

The soundtrack: the soundtrack is wonderful. Jack scores the game himself.

And if you haven’t played Jack’s free game Blues for Mittavinda, well RPS, I just don’t know what you’re doing.

Beeswing is available to buy here for a small fee, and it comes with the soundtrack too. And yes, I did want to use the word ‘antisyzygy’ in the title, because I have read some books and I want to prove it.

22 Comments

  1. Alistair says:

    Scottish people are this, Scottish people are that… Not sure you know very many of us.

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      Aerothorn says:

      I’m…I’m pretty sure she knows quite a lot of Scottish people.

      Though we really, really need to stop this trend of “first comment on article by Cara is about Cara.”

      • tormos says:

        but if we do that, how will we remind Cara that she is Woman and Other and Wrong?

      • Bart Stewart says:

        I understand what you mean, and don’t disagree.

        But this is the consequence of RPS’s collective decision to defiantly stick out its jaw and declare that objective journalism on games is impossible and they’re not gonna do it and you can’t make them, so there.

        When the writing is personal, deliberately, there’s no point in anyone objecting that the comments on that writing are also personal. One invites the other.

        • Chris Cunningham says:

          No, it’s a consequence of Internet commenters being the worst people in existence, and proof that no matter how much RPS does to dissuade the Greater Dickwad Community from flatulating its opinions into the comment box here there will still always be plenty of Alistairs to go attacking anyone who dares to be a woman (and Barts to defend them).

    • thedosbox says:

      Wait, you’re basically accusing Cara of being a fake Scottish person? amirite?

    • Grygus says:

      The string “Scottish people are” does not appear anywhere on this page before your comment. Perhaps you are personalizing more general statements.

      I hear Scottish people do that.

    • Cara Ellison says:

      Alistair I know your ma and I swear to god she’ll skelp you

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      neffo says:

      I am not a Scot, but I found your combination of an ad hominem attack, and a no-true-scotsman fallacy to be profound. Thanks, Alistair. You missed the point, but you made one regardless.

  2. Messofanego says:

    I have played Blues for Mittavinda, so I guess I’ll check this out.

    “Imagine that we could preserve whole lost cultures for the future. Imagine that we could preserve how things used to be through games that have maps drawn from memory.”

    Never Alone pretty much is all about that with native Alaskan tribe culture. Passing down generations of stories for younger audiences.

  3. Scurra says:

    And I am so grateful that RPS brought the Kickstarter to my attention. Thank you. (And, of course, thank you Jack for a wonderful experience.)

  4. B.rake says:

    lovely trailer (also quite liking the song ‘Beeswing’ via related videos)

    *EDIT* eek… I’d gone through most of the areas when I went to the Bus Stop and clicked on the sign. It asked me I if I wanted to leave, selected No… but am now stuck in Bus Stop purgatory unable to get back to the map- I’d advise avoiding inspecting the bus stop sign until everything else is done. Also occasional memory leaks and it’d get my laptop all hot and bothered like it was trying to run Skyrim on max.

    Still, I’m pretty sure I found and inspected all the toilets, which means I won, right?

    Made for an ok Saturday… reminds me a bit of the movie Waking Life mixed with Jonas Mekas’ amazing film-scrapbook movie with a plonking homespun soundtrack As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty .

    • jackspinoza says:

      Eeek indeed! Sorry about that! I’ve fixed yon bus stop purgatory now. Thanks for playing. I’m glad my toilet, erm, “happenings” where enjoyed by someone.

      Again, so sorry that you had to be the one to find that bug.
      Keep jolly and have a merry one,
      Jack

  5. Kaeoschassis says:

    Have to check this out.
    More of this please, RPS.

    As a scot it always sort of knocks me for six when I encounter another scot on the internet. The net’s always seemed full of strange foreign people and their weird backwards time zones and their cookies instead of biscuits. (Less so on a predominantly british website like RPS I suppose, but still)
    I made a random comment to someone on the GOG forums the other day – his location stated “United Kingdom” so I just off-hand told him that I hoped he wasn’t in the middle of that godawful storm (we were).
    His reply was “Barely a witch’s mile of rain here, and fuck all blaw either.”
    I just grinned so much it hurt.

    Also I fondly remember doing a writing project on kelpies when I was younger.
    I am babbling I’ll stop.

    • JimmyG says:

      Your story makes this American smile. I’m living in northwest China right now, a city of about 4 million people named Lanzhou, and one of the other foreign teachers at my university is a Scot. There’s only about 5 million of you guys, if I remember right, so you’re probably a rare find anywhere — but always a welcome one.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      While my folks have been colonials for generations, both sides of my family (especially my mother’s) can trace their lines back to the old country. We’re steeped in it, and as the one who’s been the keeper of half my family’s genealogy for decades, I feel my Scottish connections strongly. During a whirlwind two weeks there in 1995, I felt like I was home.

      The only thing that pokes out uncomfortably and feels wrong is the “stick it to the rich” classist thing. For a people whose extraordinary individual exceptionalism has been so well-demonstrated for so long, it’s always jarring to encounter the modern Scottish attitude of socialist leveling of outcomes regardless of personal effort or genius. That saddens me.

      But the wry humor, that practical, self-aware sense that most every big thing is a balloon that will benefit from the occasional popping… that suits me right down to the bones.

      My introduction to that was on an ancient BBS system. One of our members was a guy from, as it happens, Aberdeen. In the fashion of the day, we used handles as names, and his was Dan Gleebits.

      It took me longer than it should have to get the joke. When I finally did, it told me something I enjoyed knowing.

      All of which is to say, it is a Good Thing that there are games like this one being made, I enjoyed Cara’s telling of it, and I also would like to see more of these stories of places and people.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        While your comment made me pretty darned happy, I have sort of got to point out that if that “classist stick it to the rich thing” were as prevalent as people seem to think, we’d be an independent country right now.

        • Bart Stewart says:

          I think you’re not wrong in that assessment. But I think it’s also fair to say that this is a pretty prominent belief system there, and has been for a generation at least. I have a vivid memory of a tour bus driver on Mull in ’95 criticizing “absentee landowners” in the most matter-of-fact way — long memories of the Clearances, maybe.

          The point to my mentioning it wasn’t to provoke debate, though I have no right to complain if it does. It’s more that the little-us-versus-big-them attitude feels like an important element of the Scottish character these days (if anything like that can exist) and so deserved to be commented on.

          But it’s definitely not what mattered most in Cara’s excellent article. The sense of place, the land and the people in it, is a rare and excellent thing to render in a game, especially when it evokes one’s own native place.

      • Josh W says:

        The big thing to remember is that part of the reason that “leveling down regardless of ability” seems out of keeping is that it isn’t actually how people think.

        You can’t draw it down to one single phrase, but I’ll try two:

        “Look after each other, and if you do well, give back.”

        and

        “That boy thinks he’s better than us, just because he has money.”

        It’s hard to see if you’re coming from a place when the ratrace has been entrenched for most of it’s history, and doing well at that game is something to be applauded, but there are communities that were around before it was possible to make a money spinner and build a new individual life. Where prejudice and privilege basically locked most people out of making money. Making money was something that happened to you, something you were used for and maybe got a little out of, and you and your community made do with whatever was going on.

        What this kind of industrial backwater history means is that people have preserved strong traditions of working together as a community, of looking after your friends and neighbors. Where americans place lone pioneers in their history, these economic edges of Britain can place real solid ancient communities. That’s where we’ve come from.

        Bad side? Sometimes local boy done good becomes local boy going alone, and is seen badly for it. Sometimes people can stay in a poverty that refuses to play along with the same rules that are making them poor, even as staying out of them also makes them poor. We’ve seen enough people abuse power and position to make it very easy to speak against and take down people who do well, just because of vague ghosts of abuse of power.

        The good side is the best healthcare system in the world, because people know it’s worth investing your time in looking after each other, building proper community. I’m also really proud of scotland that they’ve been trying to get back the rights to their tax and benefits, so they can stop this assault on the poor and unlucky that’s being promoted lately, go for something fairer and saner. There’s education too, stuff about letting everyone be their best, helping them on, not just flipping a coin and giving it all to the winner. It’d be called nurturing if that didn’t sound too soft, it’s about doing the basics to look after each other.

        That’s my story anyway!

  6. The Dark One says:

    Cara, your description of Aberdeen is worryingly close to what’s been happening in Alberta. When the price of oil went past the point of making bitumen profitable, the economy went nuts. An explosion in oil revenues meant that blue-collar guys were suddenly making six-figure salaries, and the demand for housing sent the cost of living through the roof. Companies started abusing the ‘temporary foreign worker’ program to fill jobs that the nouveau-riche wouldn’t touch, often installing them in awful company-owned dormitories.

    Of course, now that the price of oil has plummeted, the whole province might just implode on itself, instead.

  7. mikmanner says:

    More people should buy this game, hasn’t sold much it seems. It’s interesting from multiple angles. One of the most visually eclectic games I’ve played, with quite a wonderful soundtrack too.