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before your eyes

Before Your Eyes: Pushing the Boundaries of Storytelling

by Martha Simmonds

By far one of the most exciting releases of 2021 so far, Before Your Eyes, developed by GoodbyeWorld Games, displays the true affective potential of games as a medium, leading players on a short hour-and-a-half long journey through a lifetime.

While such a statement feels familiar when talking about indie games, Before Your Eyes certainly deserves the accolade. This is because it is one of the achingly few titles which finds a perfect, yet simple, synergy between the game’s systems and the story it is telling, making its themes hit home twice as hard.

Let me explain.

You Can’t See It All

Before Your Eyes places you in the shoes of a wandering soul, recalling its life in the hope of being accepted into the afterlife. This sees you relive your life in brief glimpses, taking you from the very first memories of childhood to the moment of death.

However, before you are provided with an ounce of story you will be met with a unique menu—one that you’re unlikely to have ever experienced in a game before. In this menu, your face will pop up on the screen, shot through your webcam, where you must calibrate the software to recognise when you blink. Thus, enabling your only mode of interaction with the game world—looking and blinking.

As you recall each memory, you are allowed to bear witness to the narrative only for as long as you keep your eyes open. This takes the phrase “blink and you’ll miss it” incredibly seriously, making you quite literally fight against your temptation to blink in the hope of getting an ounce more content but then… your body gives in, forcing a blink, forcing you to move on.

This ingenious, novel mechanic is perfect for Before Your Eyes. Not only does it help draw you as the player further into the game world, but it also ties in perfectly with the themes of our lives passing by in the blink of an eye—something we can all surely relate to all too well.

The fact that Before Your Eyes was brave enough to implement a unique mechanic which forces players to miss content is a testament to the team’s creative vision, and it is certainly one which pays off.

Tears, Reflection and Perspective

Beyond the astonishing central mechanic, Before Your Eyes leads you through an incredibly touching narrative which gently reaches out from the screen. Reliving your life from beginning to end, you witness relationships grow—be it familial, platonic or romantic—and witness dreams come and go, immersing yourself in a life which feels incredibly close to home.

Equally joyous and heart-breaking, this narrative is sure to give each and every player a whole host of food for thought to process after experiencing it.

For me, the most potent theme was that of perspective. In a notable moment, after recalling your life, you are tasked with describing your life in set binaries. Was your mother loving or pushy? Was your childhood happy or lonely? As you have quite literally just relived these experiences, it is painfully obvious that such binaries are simply not truly representative of the whole story as we know things are far more complex than these black-and-white labels.

Such a theme is incredibly potent, and one totally worth remembering in everyday life. When asked how your teens were, what your relationship with your parents is like, or what your goal in life is it’s easy to hit on simple one-word answers, but, as Before Your Eyes reminds us, life is never that simple. As such, we should remember to recall life in all its complexity, instead of simply reducing it to simple, distorted, labels.

Be The Game

Through its immersive central mechanic, which transforms your physical body into a controller, and its deep narrative, my experience of Before Your Eyes was as close to a virtual reality experience I’ve had outside of a headset. Heck, when I came to write this article, I misremembered the game as being in VR!

In such a way, Before Your Eyes offers up one of the most immersive narrative experiences in gaming history. And while its light-hearted aesthetic may not be to every gamer’s taste, and its heavy themes of memory, grief, illness and death may be hard for some to stomach, drawing tears from their already bloodshot eyes, it is most certainly worth taking the ride. It certainly leaves you with a tonne of food for thought.

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