Before I Forget
Who do we become, when we forget who we are? Exploring dementia & identity through games, with Chella Ramanan & Claire Morwood
“…We are interested in telling those stories that don’t get the space they deserve within games...”
We are 3-Fold Games, a micro games studio, consisting of Chella Ramanan and Claire Morwood. Chella Ramanan is our narrative designer and Claire Morwood is our programmer and artist. Together, working mostly remotely and without funding for the majority of the project, juggling full-time jobs and life, we made a game over the past four years. It’s called Before I Forget and it’s about a woman with dementia. And we finally released it in July 2020.
In 2016, two women wanting to make games signed up to the XX+ Game Jam in Bristol, UK. A game jam, for those who don’t know, is a weekend-long creative event where people are thrown together to make a short game or prototype based on a given theme. This particular event was open to women and non-binary people, in the South West of England. And we both signed up.
We were put in a team together with another woman and spent the next 24 hours, or so, making a game based on the theme ‘borders’. We tossed around a few ideas but finally settled on the idea of a woman with dementia, in a house. The idea was a story concept Chella had been kicking around for a while but had done nothing with. Often, an idea needs the right medium to find the story it’s meant to tell and this was the same with Sunita, the protagonist in what would become a game called Before I Forget. A lot of Chella’s writing explored connections between memory and identity, asking what happens when we lose our memories. Who do we become, when we forget who we are or the people around us?
The concept sparked lots of ideas for Claire, who had experience as a programmer and artist. She introduced the colour spreading element, which became a core motif for the game. As players interact with objects in the monochrome house, colour comes back to that part of Sunita’s world, representing a lucid moment, as her memory is triggered.
By the end of the game jam, we had a proof of concept prototype that introduced the story of an Indian woman, Sunita, who came to the UK in the 1960s and married a man, Dylan. Dylan is represented by music, as she looks for him. Players enter a monochrome house at the beginning but trigger Sunita’s memories when they interact with objects, letters, photographs in different rooms. This allows them to piece the story together and find Dylan. It was a scrappy prototype, but it was effective enough that Before I Forget won the ‘audience choice award’, as the game people at the jam would most like to see finished.
If it hadn’t been for this game jam, we’d never have met. But if it hadn’t been for that award, we almost certainly wouldn’t have continued making Before I Forget. That moment just shows how important it is to have validation from your peers. For someone else to respond to something you’ve made and recognise something in it is invaluable. High on the win, we looked at each other and smiled and said ‘So, shall we carry on and see how far we get?’
We spent almost the next four years working on Before I Forget. We founded 3-Fold Games and found a good creative partner in each other, which is essential when you’re working remotely. The stresses of working on a project in evenings and weekends with no funding meant we saw the best and worst of each other. When one of us was down, the other one was up, and vice versa.
We did apply for funding, but that just became a disheartening time sink for a game that didn’t fit the mould for traditional games investors and felt ‘too gamey’ for arts funding. We tried to make something that was more suited to the market but quickly felt like we were losing the heart of our game and just decided to make the game we’d started at the game jam.
Through 2020, we’ve all discovered that working remotely does work, but for creative projects, we found that the weekends we spent together at Chella’s house were so much more effective. There’s so much creativity that sparks from being in the same space and hashing out a problem while slurping soup in the garden or throwing another log on the fire and making a cup of tea or walking through the snow together. We worked remotely 90% of the time, but that other 10% was crucial.
Every year, we thought that would be the year we’d launch, but 12 more months would slip by until we finally got some finishing funds from Humble, which helped Claire work on the programming full-time and get it finished.
The game focuses on celebrating Sunita’s life outside of her disease, while not shying away from the realities of living with dementia. We collaborated with medical experts during development in order to refine the portrayal of Sunita’s symptoms and timeline of events, including a partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK.
We are interested in telling those stories that don’t get the space they deserve within games. By exploring diverse narratives, we are expanding the perception of games and the types of stories they can tell. That’s what we tried to do with Before I Forget and hope to do with our future projects.
Chella Ramanan is a narrative designer of Scottish and Caribbean heritage. She wants to tell stories that represent her own experiences and explore underrepresented perspectives. She currently works full-time for a AAA game studio, in Sweden. She is a former games journalist and co-founder of POC in Play, with awards, including the Evening Standard Progress 1000 influential Londoner for her work in diversity and inclusion in the games industry.
ClaireMorwood is a self-taught programmer and artist and is currently freelancing. She has been making games in her spare time for most of her life and is also passionate about helping others do so by organising game jams and workshops. She is involved in a local meetup for women in game development and enjoys giving workshops there as well as at other events. She has also run talks and workshops at several international games events.
(all images reproduced with kind permission by 3-Fold Games)
What We Are Reading…
Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play
By MEAGAN MARIE
Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play is a celebration of women’s accomplishments in the video game industry, ranging from high-level executives to programmers to pro-gamers. This insightful and celebratory book highlights women who helped establish the industry, women who disrupt it, women who fight to diversify it, and young women who will someday lead it. Featuring household names and unsung heroes, each individual profiled plays an important role in the gaming industry.
What We Are Playing…
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