Before Your Eyes is a game where the controller is literally your blinking eyes. Created by GoodbyeWorld Games, Before Your Eyes was originally released in April last year, but the game’s now on mobile and part of Netflix’s subscription service. That was the push I needed to finally play it, and I can confirm that it’s brilliant. It’s an innovative, emotionally crushing game, and now that it’s on even more platforms, excuses to not play it are quickly dwindling.
Before Your Eyes tells the story of a person who’s recently died and is met in the afterlife by a ferryman dedicated to telling the dead’s stories. Benjamin Brynn can’t speak, so he must blink. The story has to be entertaining in its own right, but it is also true — even when it hurts. Because if Benjamin is lying, he’ll stay stuck in this in-between, destined to the afterlife as a squawking seagull.
To recount his story to the ferryman, vignettes from his life literally flash before his — and my — eyes, propelled forward every time I blink. It works because the phone camera is tracking eye movements, which can be recalibrated throughout play if needed. I didn’t need this, though; the first calibration stuck and the blinking mechanic worked flawlessly for me throughout. So, I map out Benjamin’s life by blinking, starting from early childhood with his mom and dad.
Benjamin’s mom is an accountant and a composer, a genius on the piano who pushes her child to follow in these footsteps. His dad is there, a source of unconditional support that tampers the pressure of Benjamin’s life. He also grows up alongside a neighborhood best friend; these four characters fill out the core of the story.
The blinking mechanic is evocative, yes, but it’s also a challenge. Blinking is, after all, sometimes an involuntary mechanism. In instances where I wanted to stay in a particular scene, lingering on Benjamin’s memories, they’d be snatched away as I struggled to keep my eyes open; when I don’t want to blink, it’s always harder not to. It’s a perfect reflection of the game’s narrative conceits, because life is, after all, slipping away with each blink of an eye.
I went into Before Your Eyes knowing very little about it in general, never exactly making the connection to “life flashing before your eyes.” I don’t want to talk too much about the story, because there’s beauty in the script itself, but also in how such a simple mechanic, elegantly deployed, can elicit empathy and regret. But be wary: The game is both joyful and devastating. Later in its run time, Before Your Eyes flips the blinking mechanic, forcing me to close my eyes for a while. These were necessary reprieves when I could hardly see the screen through my own tears.