When you’re playing Before I Forget, wandering around a house inspecting everyday objects, trying to trigger a memory, it feels like a lot of narrative-driven video games: you’re attempting to piece together a story using clues left behind. But this game puts you in the shoes of Sunita, a woman suffering from early-onset dementia, which infuses what you’re doing with sadness and significance. The house is delineated in monochrome, colour seeping back as she gradually reconnects with her past self. Examining a photograph provides a clue to her identity; a familiar piece of music might recall an important person in her life.

Other symptoms are conveyed in more disconcerting ways. Sunita can become lost in her own home in a nightmarish loop, opening doors that all lead to the same dark broom cupboard. Before I Forget was exhibited as part of The Leftfield Collection’s experimental indie-game lineup at Rezzed games convention in London earlier this year. Developer 3-Fold Games hopes to provide a sensitive and emotive portrayal of dementia.

The idea originated at a game jam event in Bristol, where narrative designer Chella Ramanan, artist and programmer Claire Morley and audio designer Sharon Taylor took an unconventional approach to the theme of “borders”. “The obvious thing was refugees, but we settled on the idea of psychological borders,” says Ramanan, whose fiction writing is preoccupied with memory. “What happens when we lose our memories? Do we become a different person, do we lose the person we were before?” The trio won the game jam’s audience choice award, which led them to expand the experiment into a full game.

A relationship between dementia and video games already exists. Research has indicated that brain-training puzzle games can help improve memory in older people, and a mobile game called Sea Hero Quest uses player data to contribute to research on dementia. While 3-Fold Games’ research has involved talking to care assistants and experts, the aim is for Before I Forget to be an “impressionistic” exploration of dementia rather than an educational tool, something that will allow players to gain some understanding of what it might be like to experience the condition. The Alzheimer’s Society estimates that dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK and that this figure will rise to more than a million by 2025.

Before I Forget.



Impressionistic … Before I Forget. Photograph: 3-Fold Games

“Dementia is something that touches a lot of people, whether it’s themselves or people they love or care about or work with,” says Ramanan. “People who’ve played it who have grandparents or loved ones who have dementia have been very touched by it. It is great to know that we’re kind of getting it right.”

Ramanan says it’s important to show other aspects of the condition, instead of simply playing up horror tropes. “[Dementia] is a broad term for a lot of symptoms,” she says. “Sufferers aren’t necessarily the saddest ones in the relationship. It’s the ones they’ve left behind who are probably more upset, whereas the person in dementia can slip into a happy memory in their past, not knowing that they left all those people behind. It’s not all darkness and despair.”

Before I Forget will be released at the end of 2018 on PC and Mac.



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