Back around when COVID quarantine was getting underway in the spring, my son got very big into Bendy and the Ink Machine (BATIM). It’s a video game, and was distinctive from the start as being not Minecraft–that was a welcome change of pace for me. But apart from that, the story was compelling and drew me in. It was SUCH A RELIEF to have an appealing plot, environment, characters, etc. to sink my head into, a change from the kid stuff that up until then I had to endure all day long. BATIM very much saved my sanity when I was starting to lose it.
What is BATIM
If you’ve read anything about the franchise before this, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “blah blah blah Mickey Mouse something-something pentagrams,” and that is part of the story, but there’s more to it than that.
So this is kind of a primer for parents or whomever who might be leery of the franchise because of the demon stuff, but this is my perspective and why I find it acceptable for my household. (And as an added bonus, the game has been a great incentive for learning letters and numbers. TK had to learn letters/numbers to navigate chapters and elevator floors, and to read messages on the walls.)
BATIM is the story of an early animation studio, Joey Drew Studios, fallen from glory. It’s commonly compared to Disney, with Bendy the equivalent of Mickey Mouse. (I mean, there were other early animation studios, that no one knows about because Disney buried them, so perhaps a better comparison is to one of those, but you get the idea.) I would not have expected that this concept would be something I developed a fondness for. I have always found the style of old-timey animation to be deeply disturbing, and maybe that’s why it works for a horror game, because it owns up to its inherent terror-inducing nature.
The game also appeals to me because it is the story of a dysfunctional workplace, and that’s something that’s very relatable. Who hasn’t had a crazy boss and annoying coworkers? What boss hasn’t had their own ill-advised pet project? (If you haven’t had these experiences, you haven’t truly lived.) It’s a delightfully quirky family of employees who hate each other’s guts, but can all agree on hating the boss. (And who’s idea was it to put all these switches and levers nowhere near the utility they operate?)
I would sum it up as being a cautionary tale against using people, taking their very humanity, on the path to success. Joey Drew literally harvested the souls of his employees to make the most authentic character theme park ever–ultimately, for him to gain fame and wealth. Don’t do that. It’s bad.
Who is Bendy
The cartoon character Bendy, referred to in show titles as a “demon” or “devil,” is a mischievous little imp. He does things like bake gingerbread cookies and build snowmen–he’s not very threatening. Note the following attributes from the Employee Handbook (official game guide): Bendy “on brand” is mischievous, playful, and attention-seeking. An attribute that Bendy specifically does NOT have is being “[e]vil, playing mean-spirited jokes” (page 205). Bendy is not an evil entity.
The Ink Demon is Bendy’s real-world form, spawned from the Ink Machine, a soulless, artificially-created monster. So the animated character reverses the expectations of a devil, and then the conversion to artificial ink creation reverses Bendy’s character back to an “evil” persona, so we’ve come full circle.
Is it demonic
Bendy in any form does not have a tail, forked or otherwise. Fan art commonly adds this feature, but the official character design is tailless. No forked tail, not a demon, case closed.
Well, maybe there’s more to it than that.
This is something that the game developers have revised throughout the release of the chapters, replacing pentagram imagery with a more sanitized “transmutation circle” of alchemical symbols, putting it in the realm of pseudo-science rather than the dark arts, if you care to make the distinction. The Ink Demon and his minions are not demonic entities from hell, but man-made life akin to Frankenstein’s monster.
In the end, is the Ink Demon Bendy really so evil? To me, he appears more like a wild animal doing what he must to survive, defend his territory, feed… and maybe be a little playful. Everyone assumes he is evil, but is that his intention? What if he’s trying to play and inadvertently killing you? As you respawn anyway, it doesn’t even seem that harmful.
I think Ink Demon Bendy is, at his heart, a sympathetic character. He’s alone and confused, misunderstood, reviled. Like a wild animal going on instinct, not inherently evil, but doing what he must to survive. He’s stuck with the unfortunate appellation of demon, and everyone runs away screaming instead of trying to understand him.
So far this article has just been about the “demon” aspect, but other considerations for parents are:
Language – a few h-ls, as in “what the heck,” and one d-n. There is also one “OMG”–but I mean, finding out your old boss is creating artificial living cartoon characters, might be a valid reason to call on God.
Scariness – If scariness is a concern, it is that. As for my son, he finds the jump scares entertaining.
Violence – People get stabbed and stuff, but they’re made of ink, soooo… there’s no blood.
Sexuality – Nothing more dangerous than little black dresses.
Comment below if you have additional questions. If there is enough interest, I will expand on this topic.