Bee (Emily Short)

Sooner or later, you’re going to lose. Only one person wins the National Spelling Bee each year, so an elementary understanding of the odds means it almost certainly won’t be you.

The only question is when you fail, and why.[Author’s description]

[Play Online]


  1. I’m going to ramble a bit — apologies for not taking the time to edit this down into something more self-coherent:

    This is great. Maybe I’m just unaware of some prior art here, but I’m struck by how the inclusion of just a bit of game system (stat points, time of year, year-end goal) goes a long way toward mitigating the feeling of undirected haphazardness that plagued most of the ‘hypertext fiction’ from the 90s (with a few exceptions, most notably [if I’m remembering correctly] Shelley Jackson’s ‘Patchwork Girl’ and another whose name I can’t recall that was brilliant but, it turns out in the end [and I remember thinking this correlation was likely no accident] completely linear). The game systems restore a sense of authorial control, I think, that I’m mildly convinced (perhaps controversially?) is crucial in making reading a story feel worthwhile.

    (I didn’t realize until the end that the formatting/infrastructure is a function of the Varytale platform and not specifically created just for this piece?)

    The one thing I wasn’t sure how to handle was the large amount of repetition, especially in the spelling lessons / word lists. Some repeated events make sense, mirroring the cyclical life of a family (game night, time for church, etc.) and it’s a plus, I think, that the repetition there lets you see other sub-branches of those event types, but the lack of new words to learn made each click on, say, ‘study greek roots’ feel like a wasted opportunity, both from a player perspective [was this a wasted turn? I want to win!] and from a storytelling/reader perspective [there could have been a nice new paragraph to read here!].

    That said, perhaps the repetition also helps alleviate some of the earlier hypertext works’ groundlessness. Here, by the end, you feel like you’ve almost saturated the entire field of storytelling options, and the repetition lets you know that you’re not capriciously missing out.

    But perhaps it’s telling (and undercuts my initial argument) that my favorite part has almost nothing to do with the game system. The second trip to the hair salon was just such a nice bit of storytelling, teasing out a small bit of social misunderstanding into something that feels more momentous precisely because we’ve already spent a bunch of time with the main character and have already internalized her (and her mother’s) limited perspective.

    • Well, if you want some prior art, you could check gamebooks, like the Lone Wolf series. The system is pretty much the same: you have some RPG-like statistics, and pages of text with branching paths (“if you want to turn left, go to page 19”, “if you have the ability X, go to page 67, else go to page 89”, and so on). Except it’s, you know, on paper.

      That being said, the tale of this little girl that strives to make her life worthwhile is so endearing, I’m recommending it to my no-gamer friends.

  2. Not sure how I felt about it. It had this writerly quality that, I don’t know, it was charming me occasionally but I fundamentally wasn’t interested in the story. At the same time, I may give it another go and see what happens if I ignore the spelling stuff entirely. So I find it interesting at a couple of levels.

    • The thing you have to understand about the story is that it authentically describes an insane, hermetic American sub-culture in true detail from the inside. Approached from that perspective, it becomes really really good.

      • I don’t think I can appreciate that. I replayed it, in the spirit of “fuck spelling”, and in addition to one very strong dramatic scene I really appreciated the divergence.