I find it terrifying to think about losing my memories, but there are lots of reasons that it can happen — sometimes temporarily, but sometimes permanently. There are so many things from my past that I don’t remember, and so many memories that are forever inked into my brain. Which memories stay and which go?
Memory and, more importantly, memory loss, are at the center of 3-Fold Games’ Before I Forget, an hour-long video game wherein players guide Sunita, a woman with early-onset dementia. It begins as a blur, with Sunita refamiliarizing herself with a space that’s become unfamiliar — her home. Sunita’s memories are embedded — or not — within items carefully placed around the house. There’s an easy comparison to be made here to Fullbright’s 2013 first-person exploration game Gone Home. But unlike in Gone Home, the space in Before I Forget is an intimate reflection of the character’s own life; Sunita sees herself and her accomplishments in photos and notes left in drawers and on desks. It’s a space designed for Sunita to discover herself each day, from notes as mundane as a dentist appointment reminder to more urgent ones like, “Do not use the stove.”
Before I Forget is not a horror game, but there are eerie elements that reflect the reality of living with dementia. It can be hard to imagine what it’s like to lose your memory, to lose that specific part of yourself. People can relate to the feeling of forgetting a phone number or an appointment, but it can be harder to understand what it would be like to feel lost in your own home. One of Before I Forget’s most affecting moments is a representation of just that: Sunita wanders the halls of her home in a persistent search for the bathroom. Every door she opens leads her back to the closet — the one with the purple umbrella — until it’s too late. By forcing the player into this loop, Before I Forget is able to create an emotional and terrifying picture of life with memory loss.
Largely, Before I Forget is a sad game. For people with family or friends with dementia or Alzheimer’s, like me, it can be painful at points. What Before I Forget does is create a fuller picture of life with dementia than what is often portrayed in media. I can’t think of the last time I’d seen it portrayed at all, except for, perhaps, in Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. Alzheimer’s (and dementia caused by it) is used there not as a part of the character, but as the plot point, a way to evoke emotion from this tragic love story — a shallow way to force people to care. Whereas in Before I Forget, the game is painful to play — upsetting, too — but that pain is rooted in the reality of the disease, not simply to move forward a plot. But it’s not wholly sad: It succeeds in understanding that life with dementia is not only about loss of memory. Despite the disease, Sunita is depicted as a full person with a rich life, and dementia is not evoked just to create tragedy.
Part of the fear of memory loss, for me, is that I would be losing a part of myself, one that can’t be replaced. But the truth of it is that as long as I’m around, I will still have the chance to find pieces of those memories, however fleeting.