Why You Should Teach With "Before I Forget"

What's going on everyone?


It's been a little while since my last post, but it is the summer after all. I've also been playing more video games for my own enjoyment rather than for educational purposes. When I learned about a small video game about dementia, however, I knew I needed to check it out and make a potential lesson. 3-Fold Games' Before I Forget is a must play for anyone who is a fan of the walking simulator genre. You can find the lesson plan for Before I Forget here.


Before I Forget is not what will come to mind for most people when they think of video games. It is a game in that you play and progress through the story using a controller, despite the lack of interactivity. Instead you are in the passenger seat of a heartbreaking story of Sutina, who is a woman struggling with Alzheimer's Disease. The player moves throughout different rooms in her home, each of which help piece together her fragmented memory. Yes, you hold the controller and move the narrative along, but there is ultimately nothing you can do to alter the course of the game. Before I Forget is not meant to be a fun game; instead, it is a narrative exploration game where the protagonist's memories are constantly jumbled and fading away. It is a game about what happens when someone is unable to remember the things they have done or the people they have loved. It’s a love story that puts you in the shoes of someone who is no longer able to remember the entire story. 

Before I Forget is a genuinely sad game from start to finish. It is very intentionally trying to visualize what it might be like to live with dementia. From forgetting certain memories, to getting lost in your home it is a portrait of mental illness that has afflicted the loved ones of so many people. Some of our students most likely have family members that are currently affected by dementia. Playing this game can provide an outlet for students to discuss this mental affliction, and mental health in general, in a class setting. Most people know someone who was affected by dementia or some other mental illness as they got older and providing a safe discussion space in a classroom can help students unpack all of the emotions that come with that. The game is also a perfect example of how video games as a medium have evolved beyond just “play.”


The game starts with the player in a completely colorless room. Sutina also can't seem to remember where everyone is or even if she is supposed to be there. The player can examine post-it notes, post cards, and photographs that help Sutina piece together her life-story and understand her current surroundings. The layout of the player's home is disorienting as the protagonist can't seem to remember which room is where. There is a tear jerking moment when you are in search of the bathroom, but you end up in the closet every time you try to open the bathroom door. This ultimately leads to your character having an accident as she couldn't make it to the bathroom in time. There is nothing the players can do to stop this even though we knew where the bathroom was.


You find a number of different items that begin to jog Sutina's memory as you work your way through the home. The layout of the home was clearly put together in a way that would allow Sutina to figure out where she is everyday. There are photos placed at her bedside, magazines with Sutina on the cover to help her remember her career as a cosmologist, and post-it notes reminding her where she can find food to eat. A number of these items will even trigger flashback sequences to a much earlier time in Sutina's life. Part of what makes this game unique is that both the player and Sutina are learning about her own past together. Every twist and turn for the player is equally, if not more so, shocking to her.


Color will slowly fill out Sutina's home as she sorts through her confusion and regains her memories. It's a simple but effective way to convey how someone with Alzheimer's can start their day confused, but gradually become more aware of their surroundings as the day progresses. Even after completely filling a room with color, however, there is still a chance of walking into the next room and ending up lost. And as you get closer to the end of the game, Sutina gradually becomes more distressed as she begins to piece together her own life story.


This entire game is a lesson in empathy. There is not much fun to be had here. Video games are not always about that. Before I Forget is a clear example of how video games have evolved into something more than just their fun origins. It's first and foremost a story and it is one that deserves to be taught within an educational setting.


Thanks for reading,

Zack


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