Notes on Beeswing: Flatness and Depth

ONE. I can see the edges of the paper, the little drips of watercolour paint. I can see the punch-holes where they were ripped out and the paper layered on top of a mess of other sheets and I can see the wood grain of the desk. It’s all a frame for the delicately messy landscapes of Jack King-Spooner’s Beeswing, ephemerally and impressionistically creating a window into the world of a small, Scottish hometown. The landscape as both a dream-space and autobiography. A window into and out of the special context created by the characters seen through King-Spooner’s eyes. The gentle browns and greens of the forest and the countryside contrast with the harsher, hotter pinks, reds, orange highlights on the gray of the city, and the black-and-white sketches of its alleyways. The country is serene, calm. The city is busier, dirtier. The country expands and the city winds. The city is a twisting of lines and the country is a curving gradient of soft colour, like rain, like a meditative pond reflection. Like quietly paddling through the water to happen upon a mythic aquatic creature. The muted blackish-purples and wintery whites of the graveyard inspire a feeling of cold, finality, mortality. A somber sleep.

TWO. There is a forest and in the forest there’s a woman. She’s wheelchair-bound and says nothing when I first approach her. She scowls and looks to the ground, at the screen toward me, through the screen, through me. Everyone says something, has something that compels them to beseech me. It’s not because I’m special, not because I’m the silent hero on an epic quest with some hidden power. I am small and monochrome in my apartment when the game starts, in my bed where I escape into my nostalgia, where my memories flicker with the symbolism that images acquire through reflection. I am short, round and cute in the country, where I encounter the woman again at the graveyard, and near the retirement home, and in the city. I am tall and aged and less innocent when I enter the city and I encounter the woman at the bus station. My avatar, like most things here, has the texture of paper; of superimposition; of layers upon layers; of flatness; of a being in the world but not quite of the world. Some of NPCs are coloured-in, but I’m not. Neither is she. There’s an outsider quality to me, and a sense of incompleteness. Maybe my specialness is my relative quietness.

THREE. I have a list, and on it there are names, tasks, miscellany. It’s reminiscent in the way all of Beeswing is reminiscing: it’s a mission log. When I travel between places in the town, my character travels atop the painted map, as another RPG hero might have once upon a time. Completing a mission doesn’t result in a check but strikethrough. Missions give little hints as to their solutions, so total exploration of the space is implicit. Aesthetic flatness gives way to an illusion of depth in the way my avatar shrinks as I appear to move “inward” at a focal point—like a path painted in between two mountains. There’s a tension between the static moment-in-time of the image, the authorship and perspective implied by the painted image, and the complicating intrusion of the characters and symbolic objects embedded in those peaceful images. I must help one neighbour overcome grief over the death of his wife. I must help another cope with the social isolation and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness. I must kill an injured bird. There’s no real sense of closure, no solution. There’s just seeking advice from the priest, and pensively watching the balloon of a ruptured relationship fly up and away. There’s just watching the video of the once-glorious, now-featureless man in the sketched alley for posterity. There’s just providing company that’s warmer than the glow of a television screen in old age. There’s just coping, and growing.

The forest gives us insight into this tension, how it jars visually. One scene turns from that two-dimensional painted space to an isometric fall scene in claymation. Suddenly my avatar is both grown and coloured-in. Things feel rounder, more filled-out. Leaves fall, bunnies hop, and a man in a remote house monologues at length about social and institutional iniquity, toward poverty, toward mental illness, and the regret-tinged tone of it all implies a father in his twilight years who wishes he could have done better.

FOUR.  In the graveyard, the woman speaks. Her name is Beatrice, or at least she speaks of a Beatrice with a heavy suggestion. She speaks in the third person and then, when she speaks again, it’s just ellipses. The graveyard is dark and rich and the music is strangely upbeat. Seasons change like dimensions and colour palettes in Beeswing. It is always winter in the graveyard. I walk past this appearance of Beatrice and suddenly I’m in an enclosure, and I walk. And I listen. I try to listen hard to the voice through white noise that sounds like an old radio broadcast. The enclosure is cold white and grey and topdown so that everything in it is small, including me, and it’s difficult and frustrating and slow because I can’t see the ends of it, and I just listen and walk around the expanse. I occasionally find a wild creature, an owl or a fox, and I’m told a fact about the legality of fox-hunting.

A lot of this game requires patience, listening, for the unfolding. The sudden and unmooring changes in perspective that happen as I gain knowledge, turning to wisdom, represented spatially. Listening means to the rustling, to the wind, to the twang of acoustic guitar, to the changes in pitch and tone and how those sonic shifts influence each area of the game, every state of being within them. A lot of this game is a reflection on retrospect, about the flatness of images and memories opening up to the depth of meaning. A lot of this game is wondering what could have been if I could go back, what I would say if I had to opportunity to wind back the clock on everything, and then realizing the arrogance of that. There’s an order and a pattern to how things are to unfold, one that’s so integral to the game at a systemic, structural level, but can only be revealed by going through it, with no obvious answers, and understood in retrospect. There’s an order and a pattern to where, in what area, at what time, I speak to the various Beatrices. Slowly I come to learn about her life, about her unprepared parents and their inability to properly provide, to her casting as a burden, as a tragedy, before being given a chance to find out who she was. Slowly the vignettes come together to form a full portrait of a person. The papers come together to suggest a full image of a memory. There is no answer to this, there’s just listening.

FIVE. When my list of experiences, when my recovery of trinkets, when my recollection of lives, are completed insofar as the game will allow me to engage with those things, there’s the bus stop. Everyone is there. My neighbours. My childhood cat, Pipkin. Beatrice. Semi-translucent until I flesh out their stories, they become opaque one by one. No one takes on colour, though. We’re all paper cut-outs, flat but full, in the world but no longer of it. I act within this space to the extent it permits me, but the thing about retrospection is it reveals to us our own limits, our own losses. There’s not much to do now but leave, with all these other ghosts. I get on a train, and the credits roll. The guitar music plays. Goodbye, Beeswing. It was nice getting to know you.

I have to wake up now.