Gaming

Before I Forget review: compassionate game about living with dementia


You wake up in a handsome apartment, sparsely furnished, the walls and tables covered in Post-it notes. Each one is a scribbled reminder (the date) or a stern warning (leave the hob alone). The mementoes on your shelves, the pictures on the wall, the photos in the frames remain blank until you interact with them; then the detail emerges like a photograph developing, to reveal a snippet of reminiscence. The harsh ring of a telephone interrupts your rummaging. A care worker leaves a message. Combine the clues and Before I Forgets first mystery is solved: you have advancing dementia, that slow-burn neurological fire that consumes certainties and leaves only questions, in both the small things (Where do I keep the phone? Where is the bathroom?) and the large: who am I? Who cares about me?

So it is that player and protagonist share a quest. Together you must piece together her life’s memories, and from scant household clues rethread the narrative string that ties them into her life story. This is video game design on a domestic scale: your character is housebound, therefore you too are unable to leave the flat. Only the windows offer a view of the outside world, with its letterboxes and birdbaths, its chimneys and children. Otherwise, the exploration all happens in the mind as your character scrabbles to dredge artefacts from her past.

Watch a trailer for Before I Forget

Clues are found in a variety of places. A dusty telescope triggers a childhood memory of a long-lost aunt interpreting the sweep of a constellation. A folder of old emails on your desktop computer charts a former colleague’s initial irritation at your professional mistakes, followed, post-diagnosis, by expressions of emotional support. The date of the last message – a full four years ago – tells its own hurtful story.

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Unsurprisingly, this is a game of deep melancholy: there is a pervading sense of loss, which must be experienced afresh each new day. The tragedy of your character’s dementia is deepened as you piece together the catastrophe that predates (maybe even prompted?) her illness. In storytelling, compound sadness is a risky business. It might have overwhelmed here, too, were it not for the fact that the game is considerately brief, best experienced in a single 60-minute sitting. The result is a memorable, affecting journey that is as much a celebration of the tenacity of the human spirit as it is an exercise in profound compassion.



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