Before I Forget Is a Touching and Intimate Exploration of Dementia and Loss

"The stars show us how small we are."

From prized possessions to your loved ones, not much in this world belongs to you at the end of the day. Memories are one of the few things that we can individually claim as ours; that define us and form the unique fingerprints we leave upon places and people. It’s what makes the concept of memory loss so terrifying to me, especially these days as I watch my father make more frequent trips to visit his mother with Alzheimer’s. Her experience is one I learn about almost exclusively through his lens as the person who has to take care of her when he makes the multi-hour long drive to her small, isolated apartment.

And that’s one of the beauties of Before I Forget — how it centers the perspective of the person who is fighting such a cruel disease. In Before I Forget, you play as Sunita, a woman living with early-onset dementia, as you uncover her memories in the process of exploring her house. As you familiarize yourself with Sunita’s life through the objects in her home’s various rooms, she refamiliarizes herself with her experiences of love, family, and loss.

Many stories revolving around a person with a terminal illness are told through the viewpoints of their loved ones, rather than the person diagnosed with it. They center the exploration of how a terminal illness upends peace; of how painful it is to see someone you love lose parts of themselves. It is less common that we experience these stories through the exclusive perspective of the person struggling with a disease, trying to pick up the pieces they are leaving behind.

It is even less common that we see these stories deemed worthy of exploration if they belong to people of underrepresented backgrounds. As a woman of color, learning about Sunita’s life is all the more painful when I am faced with the mountainous evidence of how much she has experienced — and is forgetting. By all accounts, she has lived the life I dream of having: one in which I have a comfortable, beautiful home; in which I fulfill my career goals and am respected for my work and contributions to a field; in which I find a loving partner whom I form a life with. To people with a background like mine, these things often seem unattainable while they are merely expected for many others. As I learn who she is, I am filled with equal amounts of pride for her and heartbreak over how, through senseless tragedy, she has forgotten so much of her life and subsequently been robbed of the full ability to feel that same pride for herself.

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Sunita reads greeting cards received from her parents in India, questions the peculiar sticky notes pasted on a fridge, counter, or wall with unremarkable reminders written on them, and finds several records lying about — records composed by her husband Dylan. As she reacquaints herself with fragments of her life, the once initially monotone rooms are filled with vibrant colors. Despite the pastel palette of these hues, at times they are almost uncomfortable and blinding to look at; as if the experience of remembering is both reaffirming and painful. And it is — for, due to having forgotten many details of her life, Sunita’s life becomes an emotionally difficult mystery for both you and her to navigate.

Mysteries in video games that rely on environmental storytelling like Before I Forget often require you to both be and inhabit the role of an outsider. In games like What Remains of Edith Finch or Gone Home, you are an external being coming into an already lived-in space that neither you nor the protagonist truly knows. However, Before I Forget takes another approach. In Before I Forget, you are an outsider but Sunita is intimately familiar with the space you’re exploring, even when she isn’t convinced that an impressive trophy on a bookshelf belongs to her. As she inspects a takeout menu in the kitchen and a wedding card signed by friends, she reflects on her memories of a house and life well-lived. It’s a different interactive dynamic, one that makes specific moments in the narrative all the more affecting.

At one point in the story, Sunita needs to use the bathroom, but I fail to get her there in time as I hurriedly open doors that lead to a closet or to nowhere at all. She knows the bathroom isn’t behind the third door I anxiously throw open, but she’s unable to remember where it is exactly. I don’t know where it is at all. I fail to help her remember before it’s too late. Despite our differences in familiarity with the house and in our experiences, at that moment, I feel her powerlessness; her frustration over navigating an environment so familiar yet so foreign.

I’m remiss to say much more, especially because Before I Forget is short enough that you can finish it in under an hour. But it is incredibly touching with the small amount of time it has, much like Sunita; like all of us in the grand scheme of the universe. It is reflective of an experience that goes vastly underrepresented, despite the fact that a human being in the world reportedly develops dementia every three seconds. It centers Sunita, her pain, her joys, her agency, and, ultimately, her authority in telling her own moving story, even if she must take her time to remember all of its parts. This is 3-Fold Games’ first project, and I’m excited to experience whatever heartfelt narrative comes next from a studio let by two women with the mission of centering different, inclusive perspectives.

Before I Forget is developed by 3-Fold Games and published by Humble. It will be available on Steam and on July 16.