Nearly every moment I spent in GoodbyeWorld Games’ Before Your Eyes was an act of resistance. The narrative adventure game sat me in a boat with a ferryman tasked with guiding souls to the afterlife. But first, he wanted to hear my story. That meant reliving all the important moments of a life once lived, with the catch being that, if I blinked, they would disappear right…well, before my eyes.
At first, Before Your Eyes lulled me into a sense of security as its webcam-utilizing blinking-based progression seemed a gimmick to be overcome. I realized I could go a lot longer without blinking than I thought, only to reflexively blink and move past memories of my character’s childhood without the game giving it a second thought. At a certain point, it became an issue of pride and refusing to be overcome by the rules set forth before me. Even as my eyes were definitely ready for me to close them for a split second and get back to business. Before Your Eyes never set most of these for longer than I could physically tolerate, but even as trivial as these snapshots of someone’s life seemed at the time, looking back on anyone’s life makes you more diligent about the details. Things you thought insignificant suddenly warrant deep introspection. Even if it means keeping your eyes wide open as you scour every inch of a childhood memory.
As one’s life does, eventually things go from precious grade school reflections to the big stuff. You know those questions you suddenly have to ask yourself. What are you going to do with your life? What are the people in your life to you? And with time, do you look back on those relationships differently? When confronted with these questions and quite literally forced to look upon them, even the act of blinking and skipping over them seemed like a split-second too many spent with eyes closed. Adding a weight of anxiety as I tried to see and hear everything I could before my eyes predictably betrayed me. Just how different would things be by the time my eyes were open again?
Then eventually, things became very different. With each blink of an eye, I saw new stages of someone’s life and the eventual pitfalls that come with time. Leading to moments like standing at a funeral, being expected to tell a room of relative strangers about the life someone else led.
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Telling a stranger, even someone as otherworldly as a ferryman guiding me to the afterlife, the bullet-pointed recap of your life is one thing. But being forced to reckon with the sanitized version of things you tell an acquaintance and the truths I first omitted was the moment where Before Your Eyes’ blinking controls became more than a gimmick. Those skipped scenes were more than a collection of seconds that would pass me by while my eyes were closed. The resistance came not from refusing to be bested by a video game, but from a desperation to see things through. And a hope that maybe, if I kept my eyes open for a second longer, things might be different.
In one of the final moments of Before Your Eyes, I was explicitly told I could close my eyes. And yet, I persisted. Desperately holding onto a moment that I couldn’t salvage. I could practically feel the ferryman’s hand on my shoulder as he told me he didn’t need to see anymore. But as long as my eyes were open, the possibility that something could change still felt within my grasp. Until, inevitably, I couldn’t hold it any longer.
Before Your Eyes is a story entirely experienced in retrospect, and that time for introspection afforded to us in hindsight is never there when we’re in the moment. Those scenes I thought were trivial at first now felt a greater weight when I was asked to skip them a second time. A relationship with a parent that seemed overbearing may feel more caring by the time it’s gone. A friend who you kept hidden away from the worst of you might be your greatest asset, but only if you give them the chance to try. It’s the “blink and you’ll miss it” idiom made unsubtly into a video game mechanic in a way so affecting I don’t think I’ll be able to shake certain scenes.
Now that I’ve finished it, I think I’ll keep my eyes open a little bit longer moving forward. Whatever seemingly insignificant moments await me, I don’t want to miss any of them.