We are all storytellers. Every day we write a new chapter and recite it to ourselves until it is indistinguishable from reality. Before Your Eyes by Skybound Games is a game about the stories of our lives, how they can fail us, and how easily we let others write them.
We are all storytellers. Every day we write a new chapter and recite it to ourselves until it is indistinguishable from reality. Our stories are often confusing, disjointed and contradictory, and sometimes impossible to reconcile for ourselves, let alone for someone else. So we borrow the words and experiences of others to fill the gaps.
When I encounter a game that resonates with me and helps me better understand my story, I think it’s worth talking about. Before Your Eyes by Skybound Games is a game about the stories of our lives, how they can fail us, and how easily we let others write them.
(Full spoilers for Before Your Eyes follow)
At a glance, if you'll excuse the expression, Before Your Eyes is a game with only one game "mechanic" - blink. Cleverly using a player's webcam to detect their blinks, the game moves between a series of vignettes, a pastiche of youthful experiences and pressures as a child grows up.
The thematic focus of the game is on the passage of time and the impermanence of memory. Using the player’s blinks to suddenly and involuntarily thrust us through minutes, days and years of young Benjamin Brynne’s life, we have to fill in the gaps we missed, just like he does. After all, when we are near death, the story of our life will be partial, tied together by sheer force of will and fear of the ambiguity behind us and the void ahead. Our story is all we leave behind when we’re gone.
So Benny remembers his life. His first day at the beach. Video games with his best friend. His first pet. His parents’ struggles at work. Overhearing difficult conversations. His first time playing a piano. Demands to perform and succeed. A late night phone call that made his mother cry.
So, like Benny, we have to make up the rest of our stories after the fact, bridging the gaps with who we think we are. What we think we would have done.
And, at the end of his life, that’s what Benny does. Facing judgment, he tells the story of how he grew up under pressure to perform. How he succeeded beyond all expectations. How the source of those expectations, his mother, suddenly left his life and how he turned even that pain into greater inspiration, even greater works of art.
It's a compelling story.
But it's a lie. It’s the story of a life where all the gaps are filled with the expectations of others. It’s not really his story.
In reality, Benny’s story is not one of clarity and fulfillment. In its place is cruel, random chance. A child who wanted nothing but to make his mother proud is instead silenced by agonizing pain and an excruciatingly finite existence.
And as his sickness and overwhelming sense of failure overcame him, he did what always feels impossible. He began to rewrite his story. Full of fear, and loss, yes, but also full of incredible love, play, friendship, and creation. Benny’s story became his again.
I’m not going to tell you Benny’s final story and who helps him write it. Before Your Eyes is about an hour and a half you should experience for yourself, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter. His story is his own, and yours will be different. What matters is that Benny did find peace in his own narrative. What matters is we can too, no matter how short or painful our story is. No matter who else it satisfies.
So maybe my story is enough for me.
Maybe I can find peace in it.