By Jade Entien
Some people don’t like to tell their life stories. They often have legitimate reasons, like that they don’t think their lives are exciting, or they’re embarrassed by certain parts of it. However, it would be amazing to hear what they have to say, because everyone leaves behind parts of themselves for the world after they pass. What story do you hope to tell when you reach the end of your line, and do you think it’ll be worth telling?
In “Before Your Eyes,” a game by Goodbye World Games, you have the chance to examine – and the opportunity to change – a life. You play in the first person as Benny from his very first to his very last breath, and this unfolds as you tell the Ferryman (an anthropomorphic wolf in a cool yellow raincoat) his story. You watch Benny’s grow and age and make choices about what he’ll do as you encounter the milestones in his life. Some of these include rebelling against his parents’ wishes and making art. Throughout the game, there will be moments where you don’t want to blink because you might miss the beautifully designed, dark cinematic moments that enhance the story. As the game progresses, it starts to take a difficult turn as you experience a sad truth (which I won’t reveal!) Through the dark and the light, you’ll experience an amazing and memorable story via an interesting game technique that really leaves an emotional mark.
As they start the game, players must first set up their webcams. (But even if you don’t have one, you can still play the game, and kudos to the developers for recognizing that, and for providing subtitles for eight languages.) You use your mouse to navigate and look around for the blinking eyes that advance the story. The idea of using my eyes to navigate and play and make choices was new to me, and I quickly noticed this would be a bit problematic since I like to write and take notes as I play. But I was able to make it work by jotting things down randomly on a piece of paper while keeping my eyes on the screen. The game started slowly as I got accustomed to interacting with a game in this new way.
After meeting the Ferryman, everything started to take off. Learning that The Ferryman would take me to see the Tower Keeper, a mystical woman who decides which people get to live in her city and be judged, had me thinking about what choices I’d be making. Before I was ported into Benny’s first memory, I tried to see how long I could go without blinking. The Ferryman had A LOT to say, and eventually, I had to blink.
I found Benny’s beginnings to be very compelling. “Before Your Eyes” is fully voice acted, and you can feel the emotions in the actors’ voices. Sometimes, the conversations between his parents, Elle and Richard, consisted of asking each other what Benny’s future held in store for him. Richard is always there for his wife and child and he adds to some of the more funnier moments. Like when we couldn’t figure out how to work the camera! And Elle is such a sweet, hopeful, but often sorrowful kind of mother.
I realized Elle was one of those “failed” artist types, because she was not so successful in her music and took up an accounting job. His mother mentioned earlier in the story that Benny’s grandfather, wanted to leave something significant behind that would live on when he died. But unless his daughter did something that he could live through, children themselves don’t count as something “significant” to leave behind. So she pushes her dreams on Benny as soon as he plays her composition on the family piano, seeing a bit of herself in him. Elle immediately prepares to transfer him to a magnet school, for which he has to pass the audition. She limits his interactions with his closest friend next door Chloe, initiating endless practice sessions and causing Benny to grow anxious, and desperate to meet his mother’s expectations. Chloe offers Benny the chance to spend a night on the beach with her the night before his audition. I obviously rebelled against our mom and went out with Chloe. It was one of those moments I just didn’t want to blink; I just wanted to hear her talk and enjoy this moment.
On the day of the audition, I felt like I was there with Benny as we tried to play a Bach piece for the dean. Trying to follow the notes, I wanted to succeed, but I couldn’t keep up. Benny’s heart was racing, and the dean proposed he audition again the next year. Later on, Benny becomes bedridden with an illness and has to stay out of school. He devotes himself to visual art, his forgotten passion.
“Before Your Eyes” allows you to draw what Benny sees by blinking at something Benny sees, like a pond, and to put it on paper or canvas by blinking again. If you’re able to hold your blinks, you’re given multiple options to create in different styles. As you become more popular as an artist, you are faced with tough decisions. Eventually, Benny returns to the home where he grew up, and we struggle to create a piece that captures Elle’s beauty. Once we finally finish the masterwork, it’s framed in a museum dedicated to Benny’s artwork that we go to see. Toward the end of the visit, we reunite with our old friend Chloe – who we haven’t contacted in forever – in the gallery. Soon, everything fades out as we are brought back by the Ferryman. At first, as the Ferryman retired our story, I thought this was the end of the game. But sadly, it was not. The Ferryman accuses us of lying about ourselves, and he sends us back to relive our life. We must go through all memories once again as he shows us what really happened, our true fate. And it is tragic. I realized that the Tower Keeper knew about our story from the start… she had been there for Benny all his life.
The only negatives I found about playing “Before Your Eyes” is that sometimes the game will take the slightest eye movement as a blink, and sometimes the Ferryman’s surroundings on the boat looked blurry – but the subtitles were clear. This might have been intentional, or it might have been just my computer acting weird! The 3D designs for both the surroundings and the characters were well made and added to the creative feel, especially in the art museum and on the beach. When we reach the end, the storytelling in the game switches back and forth between Elle and the Ferryman each time we blink, which I thought was gorgeous. The Tower Keeper looks on as Elle and the Ferryman tell her their versions of Benny’s life. The narrative, the voice acting and the characters were all terrific.
I’ll admit to getting very emotional, and I teared up a little throughout the game as I learned what happened to Benny. I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter for “Before Your Eyes” and the talented folks who worked on it. I’d recommend “Before Your Eyes” to people who enjoy narrative stories and are interested in a challenge. Trying not to blink through the game proved to be a struggle, and I missed a few meaningful events. However, I’ll be playing again to see them! It’s an honor to have experienced this wonderful story-driven game with its unusual and impressive style of gameplay. You not only live Benny’s life, but you change it for him and those around him, and hopefully making it more worth living.
Jade is a non-binary high-schooler from the Bronx and a New York Videogame Critics Circle contributor.