Before Your Eyes: Masterclass in Immersion
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Every day, games are innovating to find new ways to make things more immersive. Full body suits that fire off bursts of force feedback wherever you're shot in game, wearable nodes and gloves that give you full digital control over your virtual reality games, and hit-or-miss face/body scan technology that gives you a full digital avatar to place yourself into the game.
The ever-improving technology is always mind-blowing when you first experience it. I'm all for new ways to play and slowly erasing the barriers between our selves and the digital realm to bring about the singularity...
So why is it that one of the most immersive games I've played in years requires technology we've had access to since the 90s and only focuses on one part of the human body?
It's because Before Your Eyes is something incredibly special.
Before Your Eyes, developed by GoodbyeWorld Games and published by Skybound Games, released for PC on April 8, 2021. It tells the story of a soul whose time has come, meandering through his life's memories with the storyteller who will present his case to the keeper of the afterlife.
The less said about the story, the better. It is one best experienced on your own — charming, funny, touching, intensely intimate, and purposefully relatable to folks of all walks of life. While that all might sound like your garden variety "indie," it's so much more.
Before Your Eyes, as you might have guessed from the intro, tries something different when it comes to how you play. Your character, Benjamin Brynn, is stationary throughout the game. You control where he looks with a mouse or a stick... and the story is entirely progressed by your eyes as processed by a webcam feed.
Your blinks allow you to make choices, unlock pieces of an otherwise obscured scene, and most importantly, move you through time as you view the life of your wayward soul, Benjamin.
When you first enter a memory, you're able to examine the scene, interact with a few objects, and take the moment in. Eventually though, an hourglass appears at the bottom of the screen. From that moment on, beware: Any blink will push you forward through time and into the next scene.
There are ways to play the game without a camera, but I think that doing so would steal a truly unique experience from players. To work around any potential technical difficulties, the developers did all they could to remove any barriers that could hinder the experience. A wide range of webcam qualities are supported, calibration accounts for any potential challenges, like glasses and imperfect lighting, and recalibration can happen at any time.
When I first played this game, I streamed it. (You can watch my full playthrough here.) One of the most frustrating experiences was blinking through a scene I wasn't finished with. Whether because I hadn't interacted with every possible object in the area or because characters speaking near me hadn't finished relaying their thought, I was often betrayed by a rogue blink that pulled me out of the moment.
My best friend was about to relay some important deets about our relationship, after I had just connected the stars above me to spell out the words "STAY HERE." A literal message from the cosmos asking me to stay in the moment... and a blink whisks me away with no regard for my personal feelings. What a dick.
I was playing piano at my parent's party and they were about to talk about me — probably to praise me — and instead of being able to gobble up that sweet sweet dopamine, a blink escorted me out of that memory and into another. These treacherous eyes!
I was so frustrated that something my body needed to do, something both in and out of my control, was directly affecting my enjoyment of the game's story. If I could only just stick it out a bit longer, I could hear what they were going to say, I could appreciate the game even more. But of course — that's the point.
The character I was playing as was dead, reflecting on their life, desperate to stay in the happier moments and appreciate them fully — finally realizing how important they were in retrospect. But there was no going back, and we (the player and the character) would either have to suffer to stay there or learn to live with the fact that these moments are fleeting.
It started as frustrating and soon became the most fulfilling part of the experience.
I hesitate to play the game a second time, even though there are things I know I missed, moments I played differently than others, and choices I made that led to some major outcomes in the storyline. But I'd rather keep my own version of the game's events in my memories than strive for perfection and omniscience. I had my chance. And I'm okay with that.
A webcam, a mouse, and my very own eyeballs. These three things transported me into a life that wasn't mine more than any other game has ever been able to before. By the end of my playthrough, I was fighting back tears fully knowing I'd have to blink them away and lose out on some of the most powerful moments that wait for you at the end of the game.
Before Your Eyes is a deceptively simple game and an incredibly special experience. If you're unable to play the game for whatever reason, I encourage you to seek out a full playthrough online. Mine or someone else's if you prefer. (I recommend Isla Hinck's playthrough on the Easy Allies channel, which provided the perfect way for me to experience the game a second time.) You'll find the same thing waiting for you as I did. Empathy, vulnerability, and beauty.
Before your eyes close for good, I wholly recommend you play this phenomenal game.