Chances are you may have missed what was quite possibly in the top spot of my favorite games of 2021– Before You Eyes. An emotionally taxing narrative game that utilizes a webcam and your eyes to track blinking as an input creating a wholly unique experience unlike anything else entirely. The journey in my opinion is best ventured going in with little to no knowledge of the game’s themes or story. So with that being said if you haven’t played the game yet and wish to remain in the dark, come back later when you’ve played through.
The rest of this article will discuss all aspects of Before Your Eyes.
After watching a friend play through Before Your Eyes for the first time while on a Discord call with a few other friends, I found myself mostly muted while crying and blowing my nose in-between sips of my whiskey. Before Your Eyes managed to still hit me as hard if not harder the second time around, which was surprising to me since I wasn’t even the one in front of the camera.
Before Your Eyes utilizes the camera blinking inputs outside of being a gimmick. You are reliving the character Ben’s life, so yes, the story flashing before your eyes at the act of every blink could’ve just been a clever way of telling a story, but it goes deeper, it smacks you harder thanks to its pacing, story structure, and a genuine human desire and response elicited from this mechanic’s implementation. When the metronome pops up on the bottom of the screen the conscious effort of feeling your reality seep into your game experience, you have to stop and think about something so mechanical and innate– blinking your eyes. Something so important to our lives, that we instinctively do all day everyday. We don’t think about it, we just do it. A bodily function taken for granted, but with every blink there’s a chance you miss a moment, a word or sentence that holds more value or maybe nothing at all. This desire to want to stay in the moment, to capture all of what each memory in Before Your Eyes has to offer is governed by your body. And yes, you can control it, and stay aware of it but sometimes you just blink. As we do. This propulsion through the story that’s elevated by blinking is something that cannot be duplicated on a controller. The additional tension that builds up as you hold back not only your body’s want to blink, but flowing tears, is something that elevates the entirety of Before Your Eyes. Even after my initial time spent with the game, I couldn’t help but wonder if part of my wet eyed response was due to trying to keep my eyes open. Although, after watching someone else play and still be drenched from eyelid to beard quickly made that notion a fleeting one.
Those feelings, that level of investment in every scene compounds and drills home the story of Ben’s life. This thought of taking something so minute as blinking and making every wink matter reflects directly on Ben’s story. Part of why this mechanic is so impactful to me and the vessel it is for the story it tells is that my partner who has Myasthenia Gravis has many of her body’s functions, that most of us would take for granted or not even spend time thinking about, affected on a daily basis like breathing, walking, or even blinking. Having to spend brainpower and put thought into remembering to do those things, or chew your food, are reminders of how something that feels so automatic and natural for most of us to do are monumental hurdles for some. This focus on your eyes throughout the game had me transported to each moment, so fixated on what was happening while being hyper-focused on my eyes taking no scene or bodily function for granted as the Ferryman charted us through Ben’s life.
Perception and reflection are key themes in Before Your Eyes. How Ben and the people around him all perceive each other’s life how certain interactions are interpreted on all sides of those moments are integral to the story being told and I couldn’t help but fit my own narrative into these slices. We’ve all felt like Benny. We’ve all felt like our life can be meaningless or ordinary, a story not worth being shared or feeling like our journey is marred by illness or “wasted” creative talent. In these moments I couldn’t help but realize my own journey, my own moments, maybe the fleeting ones that I overlooked as important or impactful. How I treated someone or how they treated me. How I want the words that replace my existence after I’m gone portray me. How people remember me and not just in some grandiose way, but how I live on in the minds and hearts of the people I loved or the people I’ve connected with in my short time here. How focusing on the mistakes I’ve made, the opportunities I missed, or the talents I’ve wasted shouldn’t be the crux of my being. How even if the words left on my pages aren’t worth reading, to be glad that I wrote them anyways, even if it was just for me.
The other avenue that Before Your Eyes resonated with me in depth was relating Benny’s story to my partner’s through my own eyes. How I reckon with her illness, how at times I feel powerless in being strong for her while also being unable to help her knowing that her condition is out of both of our control. How sometimes I can see that she might feel like Benny did, like her illness may have robbed her of feeling like her story is worthy or her journey is important. I know that not to be true, I can see who she really is, what she does, how wonderful her existence is for me and everyone else she comes into contact with. If she wrote her story and I wrote her story, something tells me they might mimic the final scenes of Before Your Eyes in certain ways.
Before Your Eyes remains to be a game that has stained my brain since I’ve played it. Something that will live with me for a long time to come, if not indefinitely. It took the time to teach me to care about myself more, to be cognizant of the experiences I’ve had the fortune to live through, and that everything shouldn’t be measured by our failures or faults but that there’s beauty in the entirety of our lives.
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