Florent Maurin, the CEO of The Pixel Hunt, has said that he was inspired to create a game that would resemble a conversation over WhatsApp by an article in Le Monde that tells the story of two Syrian migrants via their text messages. Maurin enlisted the help of a Syrian woman featured in the article to ensure that the fictional story of Nour and her husband Majd, whose role players assume in the game, would have an air of verisimilitude. Maurin noted that while working on the project it struck him that “migrants are held to a very high standard.” In a piece for Gamasutra he went on to say, “They have lost everything, risked their lives, may not ever see their families again… and yet they are requested to stay calm as they sleep in the streets, waiting for a hypothetical place to settle. There’s something deeply disturbing to that.” Arguably, the strongest quality of “Bury me, my Love” is that it confronts players with situations where the characters find it nearly impossible to not compromise their moral integrity. Resilience, a quality easy to pay lip service to, is presented as something that almost always comes with a cost to one’s dignity, one’s wallet or one’s well-being.
In the context of the Syrian civil war, Nour’s professional training as a doctor makes her an especially vulnerable target given that medical workers were often targeted by the military arm of the Assad regime. With her husband’s blessing, Nour embarks on a journey to Europe with the understanding that Majd will follow suit after he has raised enough money. In the meantime, tough decisions abound. The player’s task is to help Majd support his wife through her ordeal with good advice and emotional understanding. It’s clear from Nour’s first text messages that the couple will have to grapple with all manner of pressing contingencies. The first decision players must help Nour with is whether she should pay a “risk premium” to a cab driver who breaks their prearrangement. People are desperate in warzones, thus Nour has every reason to wonder if the driver is being straightforward with her when he tells her he has hiked his rates because of shooting near the Syria-Lebanon border. Helping Nour figure out who can be trusted is something that one will be called on to do repeatedly. Usually these decisions must take the form of snap judgements since information is unavailable.
Nour’s route to and through Europe will vary depending on the choices players make. Important decisions such as whether to trust a smuggler seem to often come with some downside. When, for instance, I encouraged Nour to take a boat to from Turkey to Greece, she finds herself on a vessel so overcrowded that she ends up smothering a little boy she was trying to protect. Another, less-dramatic, moment that stayed with me was a simple text that sends to Nour Majd (without my input) admonishing her to not share her water bottle with a group of migrants because she should prioritize her needs. I found his statement selfish but understandable. Neither he nor Nour are perfect. Their dialogue is laced with squabbles, endearments, dumb jokes, worries, typos, memes, and repartee -- not to mention emojis and pics. Their words are interesting enough that I didn’t mind following them on a TV or on the screen of the Nintendo Switch. But after I ended up getting Nour stuck in a refugee camp in Bulgaria, I decided to have another go on my iPhone. It certainly felt more natural to read the couple’s texts on a phone. The smartphone version also has real-time settings and push notifications. If you choose, Nour can reply to you after time has elapsed so that when she says she has to go, she is unavailable. This gives the conversation a more natural tempo.
“Bury me, my Love” offers an imaginative window into today’s shadow world. It’s been reported that the last decade has seen the largest migration of people since the World War II. Perhaps the soundest way to try to comprehend such a phenomenon is to start on the micro level with what the choices and risks look like for the individuals involved. By that token, one hopes that Nour and Majd’s story will increase curiosity about the struggles of real people forced from their homes by circumstance.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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