Before Your Eyes is a fully-voiced “emotional first-person narrative adventure” (“Before Your Eyes”) written by Graham Parks, developed by GoodbyeWorld Games, and published by Skybound Games for PC on April 8th, 2021. It is priced at $11.49CAD, and is played with a mouse and webcam post-installation, wherein the player assumes the role of a boy named Benjamin Brynn, who has died. Upon being ferried to the afterlife, the Ferryman sends you, as Benjamin, back to relive the course of his life—the people he has met, the things he has seen, the mistakes he has made—through his memories, in order “to see the Gatekeeper. To be judged,” (Parks) so that his soul may rest in the appropriate afterlife. Every time you blink in real life, the current memory progresses or ends, and you are forced to move forward to a new one even if you do not want to; though, likewise, one might escape a bad or boring memory by forcing a jump forward. However, despite it contradicting the game’s essence, in the case of the player wanting to experience every scene to its fullest, or if one simply does not have a webcam, the game offers a left-click toggle wherein a mouse click—rather than a blink—advances the story, giving the player more control over the advancement of the timeline. The Ferryman notes that he would “ask for your name, but sadly you have no mouth to speak with, or hands to shake with, or nose to look down with” (Parks). You just have your eyes.
Upon launching the game, the player is met with text that outlines the functions of the game, and says that “when you see a metronome and blink… you’ll jump forward. Keep blinking,” (Parks) and the Ferryman—who is aware of the game’s mechanics—notes that each blink “could be a second. Could be five years” (Parks). Additionally, some blinks—upon rolling over things with your mouse—are used to uncover more of a scene prior to a metronome blink, with the world occasionally reacting to and interacting with where you specifically direct your attention, revealing more context and information. The metronome is key, as scenes will not allow you to jump forward until a certain point; they begin by being unskippable in order to establish the story, and some have lots of time before the metronome appears while others have barely any. Once the key context has been laid out, a metronome will appear, and so a blink will end the scene and begin a new one. Furthermore, in some scenes, you will be prompted to blink—or not—in specific spots in order to make a choice; though one must note “how little they impact the overall narrative” (Stewart). This is because the game uses programming that is similar to “systems [that] create hypertext narrative using AI techniques” (Hayles), wherein “hypertext, attempts to share control of literature with the reader. A reader can click through a document without conforming to any linear order the person who created the hypertext document might have intended” (Guterman); this is similar to Before Your Eyes because the player makes those choices through blinking at or clicking on options, which provide “links to other things (a feature of hypertext)” (Swebb). However, regardless of which choices are made and in what order, Benjamin will still die in the end. Thus, unlike some games that offer multiple endings, this game gives the illusion of free will, which is in accordance with its main message: we all die someday, and therefore, we will always reach the same end goal, while your choices—within the game and real life—merely change how you get there, not whether you get there or not.
The game is considerably short, only taking “about an hour or so to get through” (Stewart). It has thirteen chapters, with the titles ranging from “The Day Begins,” to “The Ferryman’s Questions,” to “Pain,” with many twists and turns along the way. Each chapter holds different scenes throughout the life of Benjamin, such as the day he got a kitten, the day he met his childhood friend Chloe, and the day he gets sick, as the player follows him from his birth to his death from an unspecified disease (and thus, trigger warnings apply in that his death is not just a death, but a painful one). The game is meant to give the player perspective in “coming to terms with our own mortality, [and] being haunted by the fear that you somehow wasted your potential” (Stanley). The Ferryman orders the player to not “be afraid. And don’t try to fight it,” (Parks) because “the thing to remember about blinkin’ is, well, it’s only a matter of time” (Parks). In this, so is death.
This game in itself fits the e-literature genre because “electronic literature, according to Associate Professor Noah Wardrip-Fruin from the University of California, ‘is any work with important literary aspects that requires the use of a computer (for authoring and/or the audience)’” (Boyeston); Before Your Eyes fits this definition, as it is “a first-generation digital object created on a computer and… [is] meant to be read on a computer” (Hayles). This is because the life lessons it teaches are very important, and it does so through the functions of its narrative; as with other e-literature games, Before Your Eyes “could not have been created, or enjoyed, without this computer assistance” (Boyeston). Essentially, without a computer, this story could not be told in a way that truly engrosses the player within it and allows them to apply it to their own lives, as true interaction, choice-making, and variability would be impossible.
At the same time, the internal characters themselves recognize this as well; the Ferryman himself carries around a dictionary on his boat, always looking for better words to use, and claiming he is “the best orator… Class A storyteller” (Parks) who “has got some words for ya” (Parks). Additionally, Benjamin himself tries out different hobbies that range from visual art, to music, to writing; in fact, the story of the game is written as his manifesto, on his typewriter, while he was ill… After all, this game is an interactive story, and “games, after all, often share codes and techniques, such as narrative, with literary texts while introducing new, non-literary features such as mechanics, hypermediated interfaces, and navigable worlds” (Jagoda).
Boyeston, Jackie. “Games and e-Literature.” Retronuke, Mega Cat Studios, 9 Sept. 2017, link.
“Before Your Eyes.” Steam, Valve, 8 Apr. 2021, link.
Guterman, Jimmy. “WHAT IS LITERARY HYPERTEXT?” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 21 Aug. 1998, link.
Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What Is It?” The Electronic Literature Organization, 2 Jan. 2007, link.
Jagoda, Patrick. “Digital Games and Electronic Literature: Toward an Intersectional Analysis.” 2013, 35. ELMCIP, link.
Stanley, Alyse. “Before Your Eyes review.” The Indie Game Website, 15 Apr. 2021, link.
Stewart, Marcus. “Before Your Eyes Review.” Game Informer, Game Informer, 20 Apr. 2021, link.
Swebb. “Video Games and Hypertext?” Electronic Literature, 26 Jan. 2012, link.
“Team.” Before Your Eyes, link.
This entry was written as part of Dani Spinosa’s course, ENGL 4309: Digital Adventures in English for Trent University in February 2022.