Life sometimes feel like it’s passing in a blink. And Before Your Eyes—an indie visual novel game that uses your computer’s camera to track your blinks and eye movements as part of the gameplay—definitely brings that adage to mind.
This game lets you play as a young guy named Benjamin Bryyn—or at least as his soul. As things begin, Benjamin has already passed on and finds himself a bodiless soul floating in an abstract, dreamy world. Then a weathered dog-like Ferryman pulls him out of this river of souls and asks him to recount his life story. It’s the Ferryman’s job to present that story to “The Gatekeeper.” Recounting the tale will either prompt the gatekeeper to let worthy souls enter into a heavenly city or be banished to exist as a seagull: sentenced to squawk endlessly at the world.
On top of that, there’s one other stressor in the mix: the gatekeeper has the ability to quickly ferret out lies or untruths. So, Benjamin’s story must be factual and honest if you don’t want fast passage to the nearest salt-encrusted dock and seagull misery.
Gameplay-wise, Benjamin’s story becomes a series of blink-and-you-might-miss-it moments from his life. The game learns to recognize your eye-movements and advances the story—several minutes, hours, days or years—as you blink. You also use your mouse to make story direction choices and perform mini-games. These include connecting star-dots while sitting at night on a beach or playing a piano in rhythm-based challenges, among other challenges. (You can use the mouse as a substitute for blinks if your computer isn’t equipped with a camera.)
In practice, the blinking mechanism is quite ingenious and it makes you want to keep staring as you pick up important moments in the quickly aging young man’s life. And when you blink and open your eyes to the next page of the story it adds an emotional, fleeting-life resonance to the tale at hand.
The choices you make in-game have a fairly minor impact on the overall story. But they do remind players that our choices matter in life. The tale also encourages players to love and encourage others, as well as living and being emotionally present throughout a “full life.” Even a short life on Earth can be something memorable, it tells us. And your actions can, and do, change others, for good or bad.
In addition to those messages, the game also lightly stresses the importance of family, as well as the impact a loving family can have in shaping us. Players also see that friendship can bloom between people who initially seem very different. And friendship, the game tells us, can sometimes lead to deeper feelings and commitments.
For people of Christian faith, the biggest concern of this abstract “ferryman in the afterlife” story will likely be its spiritual worldview. Though never pointed to or explained, the ferryman concept is drawn from ancient Egyptian religions. And the cat-like gatekeeper has a third eye and harkens to Hindi beliefs and other Eastern spiritualism.
We also hear misuses of God’s name in the dialogue. And there are one or two uses each of “h—,” “crap” and “d–mit” in the mix, too. Adult characters drink wine with dinner.
This game’s spiritual context (which is never really explained in depth) might not sit well with some families. But, there’s also some creative gameplay to be enjoyed here, and emotionally moving reminders that our existence does indeed pass us by, almost in a blink. We should take time to slow our rush, the game tells us, and to live even the bad parts of life well. Those are encouragements we don’t often get in such a short, pleasant package with only a handful of concerns apart from its spiritual conceit.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.