Imagine you’ve woken up alone in your house but you can’t find your partner. They’re not in any of the rooms and you keep finding Post-It notes to remind you to do things, but you don’t know what they mean or who even put them there.
This is the reality for main character Sunita, who has dementia and is struggling to cope with the present and constantly revisiting the past. In Before I Forget players will explore Sunita’s house as she searches for her husband Dylan and recounts the memories of her life by interacting with items in her home.
If there was ever a video game genre that was the perfect medium to tell a story, it would have to be the brilliantly simple walking sim. From the likes of What Remains of Edith Finch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, there’s nothing quite like literally stepping into a character’s shoes and exploring the world as they see it.
In Before I Forget, you play as Sunita as she explores her London flat. Although I was familiar with 3-Fold Games’ story and aware of Sunita’s mental state, I still found myself trying to figure out exactly what Sunita was experiencing and where Dylan was, what had happened to him, and who keeps leaving messages on Sunita’s answering machine.
As the story progressed I began to spot the signs of her condition as I read the note "buy more peaches" followed by another Post It with "STOP BUYING PEACHES!!" on it, which I then realized was meant for Sunita as I opened a cupboard and found it full of the canned fruit. I also started piecing together the couple’s history as I turned over photos, found wedding day congratulation cards, and even got flashbacks to holidays the pair shared.
It isn’t just walking around the flat though, you're also transported into Sunita’s childhood as you use a telescope to find constellations with her Auntie - who tells the detailed stories of each stars’ origin - and even get to experience a slice of Sunia’s career as you read through her emails, find magazines with her photo on the cover, and pick up awards she received.
One aspect I enjoyed playing through - but hope I never have to experience in real life - is when Sunita experiences delusions and ‘brain fog’ as her surroundings begin to morph and trick her. In one instance Sunita says she wants to travel to a specific room, but as she attempts to make her way there her surroundings distort and disorientate you, and you end up in the same room despite trying several different doors.
This section was a little distressing to play, but it brought home the severity of Sunita’s condition and made me start to get existential as I reflected on how difficult it must to have your entire world turned upside down by dementia. There are other sequences where Sunita encounters things that block her path, which I knew were purely in her head, and one scene that led me down a path full of closed doors and never-ending hallways. Again, it really put into perspective how confusing life is for those suffering from the likes of dementia.
Towards the end of the hour-long experience, you're presented with the truth about Dylan and Sunita’s current situation. The sudden realization that Dylan wouldn't be coming home - and that several years of Sunita’s life had quite literally flashed before her eyes - really hit me and sent me on an existential spiral. I began to question what would happen if I suddenly woke up and my entire existence wasn’t actually what I thought it was. This isn’t to say that this is a sad story though, it just really made me thankful for what I have, and if anything, reminded me to always appreciate the present, and to try not to sweat the little things.
It’s no surprise that Before I Forget was nominated for an award in the Games Beyond Entertainment category of the 2021 BAFTA Game Awards as it definitely feels less like a game and more like an experience. The game’s beautiful pastel color scheme and emotional score made me feel like both Sunita herself as well as an outsider watching the story unfold from a distance. I finished the game just wishing that Sunita could live in her safe bubble where she and Dylan are happy, healthy, and no longer drowning in peaches.
Before I Forget is now available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.