Before I Forget allows you to see life through the eyes of Sunita, a woman suffering from dementia and searching for Dylan. You observe her routine while moving her through her day. It’s scattered and driven by both her narration and your curiosity since you’re welcome to move freely in a section of her living space. It’s stressful and uncomfortable. It’s also beautiful and it feels accurate in what I’ve read about dementia. Before I Forget portrays dementia with grace and empathy and in doing so, allows players to view and experience life through the eyes of someone who suffers from this very real and difficult mental illness.
Peace, Love, and Empathy
You control Sunita as you move around her house, read notes, look at objects, and explore. As you discover things about Sunita’s life, she begins to recall memories with varying degrees of clarity. It’s really hard to witness, especially when you’re able to ascertain just as much or more information than she was. Sunita is also looking for her husband, Dylan. You learn about Dylan, Sunita, and their relationship as you explore but Dylan is nowhere to be found. It isn’t initially clear if he’s in another room or simply not home right now. I’ll let you find Dyland with Sunita because it’s wound so tightly into an impactful and emotional story.
As you explore and as Sunita interacts with objects, details and color fill in around the object as she comes back to the present and puts the object back in place. It’s such a clever way to communicate her condition while also showing the player how her world is being redrawn as she remembers. It’s heartwarming to see the world fill in as Sunita recalls her life, past, and the present but it’s also sad and hard to witness. It’s great to see things come back to her but the fact that she had to remember was hard for me. It made it even harder to think about how she likely recalled these memories on a regular basis. This is just her routine. This is her life. If there isn’t a caretaker there or something to interrupt her routine, like a doctor’s appointment, then this is just her life. She’s an explorer in her own lived-in world. It’s so hard to watch and witness. It’s even harder to see it firsthand and experience it with Sunita.
Going through the motions
The game’s music and sound effects are minimal but work to serve the story in interesting ways. An answering machine, scattered orchestral music from Dylan, a radio, and other brief stimuli from the outside world help paint a picture of Sunita’s condition while also showing the details that are most vivid and present in her mind.
It’s a short experience but it’s more powerful as a result. Before I Forget is about an hour long but I wouldn’t want its length changed in any direction. It provides the perfect amount of time for us to witness Sunita’s life. It’s long enough to feel like life but short enough to reflect the living hell that Sunita and so many others go through who suffer from dementia and other related mental illnesses. It’s a day that feels like an eternity and repeat playthroughs drove this deeper into my mind.
I had an Uncle who suffered from a rare form of dementia known as Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). He was diagnosed late but I believe the illness started to grip him when he was 29 years old. He sadly passed away in 2012 at 34 years of age. It’s a fatal and rare form of dementia that he also, unfortunately, got really early. His experience wasn’t the same as Sunita’s in a few aspects but nonetheless, I really appreciated being able to learn more about this illness and to see life through the eyes of someone going through it. It helped me process his life and early death. Seeing the moments that brought Sunita joy, despite the fog surrounding her, helped show me my Uncle still had good moments with the bad. Knowing my friend still had reasons to smile provided my heart with some peace.
Life is painful but empathy helps
Millions of people suffer all over the world from mental illness and other forms of pain and I really appreciate and find so much joy in watching video games responsibly and earnestly communicate these experiences to us. This form of interactive and immersive empathy can communicate the lives of others to such an accurate degree, which helps us know how others feel and can ultimately help spread awareness to provide better research, funding, and treatment. This provides me consistent peace and I love seeing video games do what they can to uniquely explain and explore the human experience.
Before I Forget is the beautiful and haunting experience of Sunita. It’s sometimes hard to witness but I’d recommend it to anyone able to handle the almost overwhelming sadness of witnessing someone suffering from dementia. 3-Fold Games has committed to providing a portion of the profits to Alzheimer’s Research UK for purchases made on itch.io so I’d recommend purchasing there if you can. It’s also on Steam and was recently ported to Nintendo Switch and Xbox. I played my review copy on Xbox and didn’t encounter any issues with the port. I’m planning on purchasing it on itch.io to support the developer and Alzheimer’s Research UK. I’m looking forward to their next project as well. Before I Forget reflects a high level of empathy and a desire to use games to fight for a better world, which I’d love to see 3-Fold Games use in another game on another human experience.