With so many modes of interaction, gaming offers the scope to tell stories tackling serious subject matter in wildly different ways. In the years since the industry injected itself into the mainstream, developers have taken more narrative and gameplay risks. Games like Psychonauts and Hellblade offer depictions of those suffering with mental health through more traditional takes on gameplay design. As a walking simulator, Before I Forget eschews this to give players more personal insight into the protagonist's mental state.
Before I Forget
Players take control of Sunita, a renowned cosmologist. She lives in London with her husband Dylan, a famous pianist. The game opens with Sunita in her home, overlooking a pinboard. The surroundings are blurry and colorless. It's a struggle to make anything out. After picking up a pair of glasses on the desk below the board, splotches of color fill a small corner of the room as Sunita's vision returns. She can see clearly now, but can she really?
With focused vision, Sunita sets off on a journey to find Dylan, but something is amiss. The pinboard is filled with over a dozen post-it notes stating, "find Dylan" crossed out. One single post-it note in the center reads, "find Dylan", but this one hasn't been crossed off. This opening sets the mood for a short, impactful story about a woman suffering from dementia. Dementia is a catch-all term referring to various aspects of cognitive decline ranging from a failing memory to issues with problem solving and language.
According to the World Health Organization, 50 million people suffer from dementia worldwide with an estimated rate of 5-8% of individuals over 60 afflicted by it. Dementia has no cure or preventative measures. While steps can be taken in its early stages to ensure a smoother lifestyle, its inescapability must be suffocating for the afflicted and their loved ones. Before I Forget communicates this struggle as best as it can.
Remembering Through Interaction
Lasting an hour, Before I Forget trims some of the fat walking simulators sometimes suffer from. Every interactive item triggers a memory within Sunita, giving players more insight into her personality, relationship, career, and family life. She'll make remarks upon finding a note she doesn't remember writing, reading an old letter, or even discovering an umbrella.
These short asides are where Before I Forget ties the experience together. As an audience going in that knows nothing about this person, we're meant to discover Sunita alongside herself. Her remarks are usually very short, offering just enough information to give players an idea of what she's referring to without going overboard. This lack of information works in Before I Forget's favor. How do we know that she actually remembers the event as vividly as her voice implies? She could only have vague recollections, subconsciously tricking herself into believing those memories are more distinct as a means of detaching herself from reality.
This detachment is further communicated through the pockets of color darting the house as players interact with items. This color gives the false impression that by the end, Sunita's house will be filled with a welcoming sense of warmth. Make more progress and return to find that corner by the window drained of color again. These momentary splotches of vibrancy reinforce the inescapable fact of living with dementia. Remembrance is temporary--dementia's effects leaving a lifelong impact on the afflicted.
Performance is a minor footnote worth discussing. Before I Forget is enhanced for Xbox Series X. Having played through the Series X version, I was surprised to find a few instances during which moving the camera caused a noticeable stutter. As minor as it was, immersive experiences such as this are most impactful with the fewest distractions possible.
An Hour Worth Spending
Before I Forget isn't an examination of dementia. Rather, it's a representation of it. From this perspective, it's about as successful as a small-scale project can be. Its restrained writing and the ways with which it communicates Sunita's mental state are effective. Slightly more fancy rendering tech would have helped with this depiction as various visual effects could have been used to simulate different things. A high-quality depth of field effect for simulating a higher intensity blurred vision, for example, with the associated focus effect as players regain their vision. Given the scope, though, there's not much to complain about with Before I Forget. Even if it ends up not clicking with you, it only took an hour of your time, leaving you with something to think about in the process.
TechRaptor reviewed Before I Forget on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the developer/publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- Effective Representation of Dementia's Memory Obfuscation
- Sunita Isn't a Chatterbox
- Two or Three Instances of Momentary Stutter on Series X