Indie Spotlight: Back Then
Updated: Sep 15
We're shedding some light on an upcoming Indie Game titled "Back Then..." featuring an interview with the developer, Outriders Studio
Sometimes games hit us with an emotion we weren’t expecting - grief. If you asked most gamers what genre typically attempts to tug at the heartstrings, many would agree that RPGs have been where it’s at over many generations of gaming. From sudden unexpected twists like in Final Fantasy VII, and even bizarrely upbeat games that have a darker context such as Eternal Sonata, a game literally centered around the final days of Frédéric Chopin on his deathbed. Even modern games like Red Dead Redemption 2 weren’t afraid to force you to deal with the very real emotions that come with losing someone dear to you.
"...what about the grief of losing somebody who is still alive?"
However, one concept that I can’t recall seeing is the subject of our latest Bonus Round interview on Episode 19 of our QTB Podcast. Dealing with the grief of somebody close to you dying has certainly been explored, but what about the grief of losing somebody who is still alive? With the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a mental illness that a 2019 study found is impacting over 50 million people worldwide, that is a reality that family and friends face every day when a loved one is diagnosed.
Ruben Pereira sat down with me to discuss the upcoming title for Outriders Studio, titled “Back Then”, in which the protagonist is dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The game, which is a slow-paced narrative-driven journey, chronicles both the past and present life of Thomas, a poet who is mentally deteriorating due to his condition. Through flashbacks, we learn more about his life and struggles, and something very important happens - either we empathize with this storytelling through personal experience, or we become educated on an incredibly disruptive mental condition that can literally tear memories away from us.
“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.”
For Ruben and his team, it was the former. “The team and I were discussing possible ideas for a game based on the scene of ‘home’... We quickly found out that all had a family member with Alzheimer’s, and that’s when everything kind of clicked. Telling a heartfelt story about Alzheimer’s, for a lot of us, serves as venting and even gives us a sense of catharsis. Very rarely do people actually talk about this disease, so we’re taking this game as an opportunity to not only make a relatable and emotional story but also at the same time to spread awareness,” Ruben told me during our interview.
Bringing Awareness Through Gaming
According to Care to Dance, a non-profit organization specializing in using music and dance as therapy for those suffering from the disease, the number of people in the USA alone with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple in the next 40 years. While there is no known cure, many studies have been done on finding traits or habits that result in a lower rate of dementia in seniors. And yes, a study did find that dancing and music could be linked to lower rates! While overall the general consensus is that a healthy lifestyle is the best way to be proactive against this disease, that is little comfort to those who have an Alzheimer’s victim in their life.
During our interview, Ruben offered advice to our listeners that may have a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. “We can be there for them - to listen, to be patient. And above all, just because they forget themselves, doesn’t mean we have to forget the love we have for them. Be strong. That is the most we can do, and sometimes that is enough.” A powerful but simple message from somebody who has had this disease impacts his family’s life.
As Norweigan writer Arne Garborg once said, “To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.” With a disease this devastating, sometimes they literally do forget their heart song - and sometimes, as Ruben said, just being there to teach them the lyrics again is enough.
Sometimes a game can do so much more than just provide an experience - it can educate while it entertains. Outriders Studio is aiming to do just that, and if you want to support their journey on raising awareness for this disease, check out their Twitter at Back Then (@BackThenGame) / Twitter!