Across the decades, many critics have asked if video games can be considered art. Gaming’s technical nature makes it a complicated debate, and artistic value is inherently subjective. There’s no winning formula that covers it all, but I’d argue that good art taps directly into human emotion. Among other mediums, gaming stands unique by being an active medium and placing us directly into someone else’s shoes.
We’ve witnessed truly expressive games over the past several generations, ones that evoke strong emotions, and many will recall the heart-wrenching example of That Dragon, Cancer, which showed a family dealing with the loss of their child to the disease. Now there’s Before I Forget, a tale of one woman’s struggle with dementia.
Developed by 3-Fold Games, Before I Forget is designed to be experienced in one sitting; it’s completable in roughly one hour. Originally launched on PC last year, 3-Fold have now brought it to consoles. Many might shy away when hearing about its subject matter, but they would be doing themselves a disservice to not pay attention.
Before I Forget Review: A Deeply Compassionate Adventure
Before I Forget is an intensely thought-provoking story, one that’s profoundly emotional and realizes that dementia is often a slow, meandering illness that can take many forms. Broadly speaking, dementia is the term describing a range of neurological conditions affecting the brain.
Most associate it with forgetfulness, but the afflicted can vacillate between moments of clarity, confusion, and even hallucination, among many other symptoms. Though Before I Forget could never truly convey that reality and what living with dementia is actually like, 3-Fold Games have crafted a window through which we can gain compassionate insight into how this condition can affect someone’s life.
In Before I Forget, you play as Dr. Sunita Appleby, a woman of high esteem with early-onset dementia. She’s simply trying to live her life, and events unfold across her journey as a mystery. Exploring her home, players experience two stories. One celebrates a fulfilling life, career, and marriage to her husband, Dylan. The other is a harrowing tale of loss.
Sunita’s memories are jumbled and often “nonsensical” at first, but by exploring her home, sifting through these recollections slowly paints a larger picture. In trying to locate Dylan, Sunita’s memories are jogged by examining various objects. Whether it’s the umbrella she held when they first met, the scientific accolades she received throughout her career, or even a simple teacup that’s been knocked over, we gradually come to understand who Sunita is.
But it’s rarely as simple as just wandering around a house. There are several moments when something isn’t quite right. A hole that suddenly appears in the floor, doors that don’t lead where you’d expect, phones that ring incessantly, and sharply worded notes that appear on walls.
As the player, your goal is clear. As Sunita, your means are not.
If you’ve ever had to care for an elderly relative in this state, the reality is upsettingly familiar. Before I Forget conveys emotions through its excellent visual presentation, vividly illustrating the color and detail returning to Sunita’s world after examining objects — and it’s all backed up by a haunting piano melody.
Before I Forget isn’t designed to make Sunita pitiable. Despite the difficulties she faces, 3-Fold never allow dementia to define who she is, making for an incredibly compelling journey.
From the start, I knew where this story was leading, but focusing on the end misses the point; the journey brings it to life. It’s clear that 3-Fold Games are self-aware enough to understand their restrictions in detailing such an undefinable illness through a game, but they do it with such compassion, while offering a better understanding of the affliction that affects so many.
Before I Forget Review — The Bottom Line
- Provides highly compassionate insight into dementia
- Profoundly emotional
- Excellent presentation
- Minor framerate drop in the dining room
Many games take us on emotional journeys but, perhaps due to my personal experiences, nothing’s ever hit home quite this hard. Through effective presentation and deeply compassionate understanding of this complex illness, Before I Forget is a truly remarkable game.
It realizes people aren’t defined by their illness, and by focusing on Sunita’s life and accomplishments, we’re shown an accomplished woman that lived richly. Until any of us in those shoes directly, we cannot truly understand dementia, but the game conveys its message so effectively that we can at least come to understand small portions of it and how to treat those affected by it.
If I had to offer any criticism, there’s a noticeable framerate drop when exploring the dining room, but that does nothing to detract from the wider picture. There’s literally nothing else.
I’ve never experienced anything like Before I Forget, and I strongly urge everyone to play it.
[Note: The Nerd Pirates provided the copy of Before I Forget on Xbox Series X for this review.]