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Dendry port of Bee: Source
at Github. (**This version is incomplete and buggy.)

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by Emily Short profile

Slice of life

(based on 60 ratings)
3 member reviews

About the Story

The story of a home-schooled girl preparing to compete in the national spelling bee, dealing with various small crises with family and friends, and gradually coming to terms with the clash of subcultures involved in belonging to a family like hers.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: May 21, 2012
Current Version: Unknown
Development System: Varytale
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFID: Unknown
TUID: 8pe83e92v4nvabic


Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing - 2012 XYZZY Awards

23rd Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2015 edition)

23rd Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition)

Editorial Reviews

What�s so inspirational about this story is the compelling realism from the characters. Initially, I found it somewhat difficult to relate to them: I know next to nothing about the US education system, don�t �get� spelling bees (apparently they�re a big thing over there), and certainly can�t put myself in the position of a home-schooled American girl with a super-religious family background! But before long, I was starting to really feel for the character and beginning to see how her life fit together.
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Games That Exist
Parsing Interaction in Emily Short's Bee
Bee is engrossing because it never resorts to explicit, over-the-top, �beady-eyed religious fundamentalist� characterizations. The weirdness of the narrator�s environment reveals itself with subtlety. The characters� religious fundamentalism is a matter-of-fact, even endearing, part of their complex personalities, preventing them from being reduced to one-note caricatures. The parents are devout, controlling and paranoid, but never cruel. The annoying but beloved younger sister is allowed, if not always encouraged, to be strange and to draw strange things.
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PC Gamer
A great example of how interactive fiction can work without a big dramatic concept ...
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XYZZY Awards blog
Reviews of Best Writing Nominees (Yoon Ha Lee)
Upon reflection, the writing in Bee is quite adroit, and my initial dislike for it is probably a matter of idiosyncratic player reaction. I imagine that it worked just fine for many players. But that first reaction to the early prose was so difficult to overcome that, by the game�s end, I was more relieved than sad to see it go.
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XYZZY Awards blog
Reviews of Best Writing Nominees (Paul O'Brian)
Most every passage of the game is a pleasure to read, and a few are nothing short of sublime and beautiful. As usual for Short, she accomplishes a great deal with subtlety, understatement, and concision. Her trademark sentence fragments are sparser here than in her parser-based games (probably due to the lack of room descriptions), but used to good effect where they appear. Where she outdoes herself is in characterization. The prose feels deeply inhabited by the main character�s point of view, in a way that is clear-eyed enough to let us understand some of the things she does not, but also authentic enough that it generates sympathy not only for her situation but for those around her who create that situation.
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XYZZY Awards blog
Reviews of Best Writing Nominees (Robb Sherwin)
I can�t categorize this Varytale experience as a role-playing game, CYOA story, text adventure, all three or something in between, but Bee made me want to spend more time with the people inside it, which is more important than classification, anyway.
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With Varytale�s controls, it feels as though you are navigating the way your character feels throughout a functional story rather than your taking part in creating the story. That is a strong difference than traditional parser interactive fiction. While there were stats to control, acquaintances to make, and Zulu root words to study, it felt like I was seeing the world through a characters eyes rather than an active participant in the way the story engaged. This is not a slight to Short�s writing, which was deft and well-conceived, it was just an unexpected experience.
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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 3
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Words Apart, June 5, 2012
The fundamental subject-matter of literature is difficult loves: problems that matter deeply but are insoluble. By this standard, Bee is the most literary CYOA that I've encountered. A coming-of-age story about impossible parents, limited means and awkward emergence from isolation, it put me a little in mind of I Capture the Castle (which Emily tells me she hasn't read).

Rather than being structured around a strict linear tree like the bulk of stateless CYOA, Varytale encourages modular design more akin to RPG gamebooks or Echo Bazaar style browser-adventure-RPG games. Bee is structured around the passage of the year, with different events becoming available at different seasons; age, the state of your stats, and previous events also determine which options are available. A number of sections can be repeated with variations, but (more so than its antecedent Echo Bazaar) these are things whose repetition makes sense as narrative and as reality: chores, seasonal religious festivals. The fragmentary nature of Varytale stories is very well-suited to the retrospective style, with its assembled incidents of memory.

It should scarcely need repeating by this point, but Emily writes consistently sharp, telling prose. The story would not work without it.

One of the game's strongest points is how successfully it evokes the particular intensity of the aesthetic sense emerging in adolescence, the discovery of a transformative power, burning in isolation, standing out sharply against the world of drab concerns and tired formulas. The most prominent parts of this involve the protagonist mapping out for her own feelings about Christian ritual and the English language, but also in the seasons, in the contemplation of an emotion, in the elusive moments of family happiness. It's a story about learning to appreciate things deeply, and how to negotiate for a better deal, and reconciling the two. It's about the realisation that you're smarter than your parents. Like much of Emily's work, it's about the pathos of limitations, about lofty ambitions that will inevitably be diminished -- you're told from the outset that you will not win Nationals. (Despite the competitive framing, and in line with the Varytale ethos, this is only slightly game-like; character stats are tracked loosely, and while not every node can be found in a single playthrough, there is not really any challenge per se.)

It's also about an interweaving of shame and bristly pride; at its most documentary, Bee becomes something of an account of the culture and experience of homeschooled children. It's neither an attack nor an apology, though it has definite elements of both; it paints a more nuanced picture of homeschooling than is usual from either its advocates or mainstream critics. One obvious effect is that the protagonist has no friends in the normal sense: the listing of known characters makes a distinction between family (too basic to list) and Acquaintances, an uncomfortable and lukewarm category that's confirmed by the text. (Of course, much of this is because the protagonist's intellectual development is far in advance of everything else; it's easy to think of her as being considerably older than she is. For a while I had the vague sense that the story dealt so slightly with sex and romance because she was from a repressed religious family; but once I actually articulated the thought, I realised it didn't hold up.)

(As a technical note, I first played this when play was restricted by Story Points, Varytale's equivalent of the Echo Bazaar candle. Bee is, at present, no longer thus restricted. Generally speaking I loathe the candle system; it's horribly anti-player. But I'll admit that its artificial choke on pacing does affect how one reads, and offset the distinctly CYOA-ish temptation to hurry through the text and to get to options.)

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
BEE casts a wonderful spell, June 9, 2012
by Danielle (The Wild West)
My first encounter with BEE was magical.

I have been feeling restless and blue of late; few activities have been able to engage or cheer me for very long. But I nearly always enjoy Short's work, so when I saw she had a new one out, I ran over to read it. I thought I'd get to play a great game. Instead, I encountered a beautiful work that helped me get lost in someone else's life for a while.

It's sort of hard to explain the sense of engagement Short's created here, because it's different than a CYOA and even a well-made IF. While I made choices throughout the piece, it didn't strike me as a game. It sucked me in like a great novella--one I was co-creating (not just reading!) in real-time.

I've since done a number of playthroughs in order to see the different endings (there seem to be many). During these playthroughs, I've been guilty of skimming through in order to get to the "picking choices" part.

But my favorite version was my first run-through, which I did at a slower pace, contemplatively. Something about the prose, the cyclical scenes, and the portrayal of the quieter moments in life really spoke to my heart.

I am thankful for the talent, hard work, and investment Miss Short put into this piece; it transported me away from my discomfort for a while, and I think that is one of the noblest things a writer can do.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A long choice game about life as a home-schooled child, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour
I had mixed reactions to Bee by Emily Short, most of which were favorable. I compared this game in my mind to Bigger Than You Think by Plotkin, which is another choice game by a famous parser author.

The game is in a completely real-life setting. You play a homeschooled child over three years or more as they prepare for the national spelling bee. Time is organized in months. Each month, you can choose from a variety of activities usually three), and within each activity, you can control your reactions to events and sometimes some big choices.

The game allows quite a variety of choices; the first time I played, I practiced my butt off for the finals. The second time I played, I goofed off as much as possible.

The game was enjoyable; as someone who entered competitions like this as a kid, it was fun to study for the test and get competitive. The interactions with neighbors were fun, too.

But the game got pretty monotonous, perhaps because I tried to be so focused each time. 36 months, with multiple actions a month, makes for a long game, and there was not enough material to fill it all up. Instead, many scenarios were repeated five times or more.

This is not my favorite choice game, but neither was Plotkin's. However, both are very enjoyable; I just wonder if specializeed choice authors like Porpentine or the My Father's Long Long Legs have greater mastery over the form.

If you enjoyed Bee...

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The following polls include votes for Bee:

IF about human beings by namekuseijin
I'm looking for IF about human beings and human struggles in a more or less common setting. No zombies, vampires, orcs, demons, robots, slimy aliens, gods or monsters of any kind; just plain human beings please. Yes, I know many works...

Canonicity and IF by juliaofbath
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Mother-Daugher Relations by matt w (Matt Weiner)
What are some IF works that involve a relationship between a mother and a daughter? Not necessarily as the center of the work, but as something that impinges on it at all.

See all polls with votes for this game


This is version 14 of this page, edited by Nomad on 3 October 2020 at 7:59am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item