Before I Forget review: an empathetic exploration of dementia

I love that video games have got to a point where we don’t always have to talk about them in the traditional sense any more. Things like mechanics, technical aspects and iteration on genre all have their place, but what I’m interested in is what the developers set out to accomplish or convey. I’m not about to enter the fray on the tired debate of whether or not video games are art, but I feel like in many ways they are an extension of those who make them.

Before I Forget is a first-person narrative driven experience that follows a woman named Sunita who unfortunately has dementia. You as a player know as much as she does as a character at the outset, which plays brilliantly to her affliction. Your confusion mixed with her fear and anxiety is a masterful way of conveying this terrifying disease. As you maneuver Suni around her home, you can trigger memories by interacting with different things around the house. You build the story piece by piece, and in doing so you discover Suni’s past and build up to her present. It’s very affecting on many levels, with an emotional resonance I’ve never seen in other experiential games like this.

To talk about the plot details would betray why you should play Before I Forget in the first place, so I’ll try to explain things in broad strokes. The game is like peering into the life of a person from the outside, and as you learn more and more, you start to become empathetic. The visual design is subtle, feeling very much like a proper home. Everything looks a bit drab at first, but as you unfurl new memories, you’ll notice color splashes as you go giving Suni’s home this cozy feel. Other moments tear you away from that as you realize she doesn’t understand what’s going on and conveys that accordingly. Before I Forget sends you on an emotional roller-coaster where you share in Suni’s passions, triumphs, misunderstandings and tragedies.

Dementia is something that no one can fully understand and talk about properly, because that’s the nature of the beast. Before I Forget is a great representation of what we imagine it’s like from an outside perspective. It does things that are intentionally discombobulating to convey the disease, and when you start to catch on to what’s really happening, this is used to build a connection to Suni that bridges the gap between you as the player and how it makes you feel about her situation. I can honestly say I’ve never thought about that while playing a game ever, but I’m excited for the potential because of it.

I was drawn to Before I Forget because before I lost my grandma to pancreatic cancer, I had to wrestle with her dementia. It’s a scary state of being, but one I was just as curious to learn about as I was fearful of. Beyond its ability to tug at your heartstrings, Before I Forget is a great tool for raising awareness of mental disorders. If nothing else, Before I Forget is a beautiful reminder that we should care for everybody, most of all those who unknowingly suffer. If more games were like Before I Forget, the better our world would be.

Before I Forget was developed by 3-Fold Games, and it’s available on Switch, Xbox and PC. We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Before I Forget was provided by Nerd Pirates. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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